April 29th, 2008

Or 4, if you've been under that rock longer than I thought...Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few weeks (not that there’s anything wrong with that - I bet it was a really nice rock), you’ve probably heard about a certain little videogame that was released today. I’m of course referring to Grand Theft Auto IV, a game that was so anxiously anticipated, even I was excited about it - and I don’t even own an Xbox 360 or PS3 (yet). For just about any new technology debut (like the Wii, iPhone, PS3, Halo, etc.) I typically sit back and watch the pandemonium and wonder to myself if all that fuss was truly worth it. But this time my behavior was a little different…

In the case of the Grand Theft Auto series, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all the previous versions I’ve played (GTA III, Vice City, and San Andreas), and I was eager to see just how the series that pioneered and perfected true “sandbox” gameplay would evolve for the next generation of consoles. I had heard a little bit here and there (the details about the Euphoria animation engine were especially intriguing), but I hadn’t read too much for fear of spoiling the surprise. So I was anxious to witness the game for the first time myself.

I was so excited, along with a friend of mine from work, that we decided to have a “GTA Day” to celebrate - and experience the game together for the first time - with a small group of friends. I had heard that the storyline was quite a cinematic experience, so gathering some folks together just to watch it unfold over a couple beers actually had some merit. And the fact that this particular friend happened to own a PS3, had just bought GTA IV earlier that day, and had a wonderful 62″ HD TV certainly helped things as well (thanks again, John :-).

So we popped the game in, and after watching the game install itself for about 8 minutes, our journey began. Now, I’m not about to write my own full review of the game here, because (a) there are likely to be about a billion “breaking news” reviews that are being typed up as I type this up myself which will likely be far more insightful than this is, and (b) I didn’t see all that much of the city in the 3-4 hours of messing around in the game. But I did have a ton of fun - so instead I wanted to mention some initial things I noticed as well as share some hilarious experiences I witnessed in the short period of time we were playing.

So in honor of GTA IV, I present to you four important “lessons” I learned:


I. Try not to drool too much.

Initially I was most impressed with the visual improvements - the detailed textures and lighting, shadows, and reflections added to a greater sense of realism that was not generally seen in previous GTA games (they had a tendency to be more blocky and primitive looking). Not that the previous games ever really looked that bad, but they were not known for being particularly lush or impressive - whereas this new version of Liberty City is.

What hit me second was all the motion - the adjusted handling of the vehicles (many seemed “driftier” and actually more difficult to maneuver now) and the realism of the improved physics of pedestrians, miscellaneous objects, and the way Niko (the main character) reacted when inevitable collisions occured - a large part of which is probably attributed to the aforementioned Euphoria engine. These improved animations are largely what made the following events so amusing.

II. Avoid premature ejections.

For those familiar with previous GTA games, you might recall the ability to dive and roll out of a moving car. This could be particularly useful when your car is on fire and about to explode, or if you are not particularly fond of your passengers, perhaps. Performing this maneuver used to be a relatively harmless way to escape just about any bad situation - but not anymore. You are essentially ejected sideways from the car, and indeed you will still roll, but only before slamming into whatever trash cans, cars, or buildings happen to be in your flight path. This is especially disconcerting when you meant to check your fancy new in-game cell phone and instead find yourself skidding along the pavement on your face, taking plenty of damage along the way.

Along those same lines, it seems sometimes Niko may not be wearing his seatbelt (and clearly other drivers are not as well), as certain head-on collisions resulted in drivers actually crashing through their own windshields only to land on the pavement, or oncoming vehicle in front of them. Given a little more time with the game I may refine this to be my primary method of exiting vehicles as this strategy is likely the quickest way possible.

III. Don’t play in traffic.

Given that not everyone seems to be wearing their seatbelts, I would hope Liberty City would be full of more cautious drivers, but that does not seem to be the case. In past games typically the most reckless driving you’ll witness is from within the vehicle you are driving, but now it seems the AI has placed many more crazies just like you behind the wheels of the other vehicles. I notice this particularly when walking around on foot. It seems your parents were right when they said “look both ways before crossing the street” because it is especially true here. In the first couple hours I was playing I sustained more damage getting sideswiped by cars than anything else.

One notable case was after one of the daredevil maneuvers I mentioned before. After narrowly escaping the cops and bailing from my flaming mock BMW in a last ditch effort to stay alive I found myself initially flying majestically through the air, only to end up tumbling repeatedly head over feet- with plenty of Niko’s yelling and blood splattering to go with every impact. Amazingly, I survived, and with only a sliver of life left I shakily got to my feet to find the nearest hot dog stand for salvation. I guess it just wasn’t meant to be, though, because I took no more than two steps into the street when a taxi cab swooped in and tapped me in the kneecaps causing me to crumple down onto its hood, dead. C’est la vie.

IV. Don’t drink and drive… a motorcycle… and try to evade the cops.

Somehow after responding to incessant calls on the cell phone (I really hope that’s only a “feature” of the earlier part of the game) I ended up on some sort of man-date with a friend of Niko’s. The mission said to take him back to his house but I thought it would be fun to take a bit of detour along the way. I rammed an overstuffed motorcycle rider to “free up” his bike, and hopped on, with my friend riding in the back. Curiously, our characters both put motorcycle helmets on. “How responsible,” I thought.

I swerved in and out of traffic, tried to pop some wheelies (to no avail - together we were probably too heavy), but generally managed to stay on until we passed by what looked like a bar. The game said we could both go in, so I backed up, hopped off, and headed in. Seconds later it cut to the two of us staggering out, with my friend rambling on about something I couldn’t quite follow. I don’t pay much attention, we hop back on my bike and away we go. Little did I know, my character was drunk. Now please understand that I don’t condone real life drinking and driving in any way, but I do have to say the following game sequence was pretty funny.

To accompany my character’s impairment, the visuals of the game were tilting side to side and sort of swirling in and out. My character’s balance was clearly affected as I was having trouble keeping the bike upright - but I was doing alright, considering. Somehow the cops either saw me swerving about, or they saw me leave the bar drunk and hop straight on my bike, because they ended up chasing me down. At which point I either dumped it, or they rammed me, but it ended with me and my friend on the ground, stumbling about, surrounded by cops, trying to either hop back on the bike, fight the cops, or outrun them, and failing to accomplish all three. My character would crawl around, stand up for about a second, bob side to side, then fall back down again. Meanwhile my friend was no help as he kept standing up and falling down as well, all while yelling to me about some more gibberish. On the bright side, as we were getting cuffed and thrown to the ground we both still had our motorcycle helmets on. How responsible.


Anyway, those are just some of my initial GTA IV experiences. I’m not sure when I’ll get to play it again, so if any of you have managed to witness some amusing events of your own, please let me know. Once again this seems like the kind of game that can be played and replayed for quite some time - either in story mode or otherwise - and now it seems there are even more ways of getting yourself in trouble :-).

Better in the game than in real life, I suppose.


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3 comments for “GTA Day”

  1. Nice observations, now I want to leave work and continue on my journey since I only got to play a little last night. The possibilities are endless…

  2. awesome

  3. Great review, enjoyed the specific details and humor too.

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