Games for Lunch: Grand Theft Auto IV
Get even more Grand Theft Auto IV at Liberty City Central.
Developer: Rockstar North
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Release Date: April 29, 2008
Systems: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3
ESRB Rating: M
Official Web site
0:00 Believe it or not, I have never owned a Grand Theft Auto game. I rented 2 and 3 and dipped my toes in the water, but this will be my first time genuinely attempting to play through one. Wish me luck.
0:01 After the obligatory logos come a series of stylish drawings of crowbars opening crates, a girl licking a lollipop seductively, some guys playing dominos, and a hooker seducing a John. The pics come right from the game box, it seems. "Starting a new game..." a small message in the corner of a black screen tells me.
0:02 A dominatrix is beating someone (the boat captain?) in a small, spare room. Nice that we get the sex stuff going early! Outside two guys are getting ready to disembark a tramp steamer to Liberty City. "You ever been?" asks one. "No," says the other. "Crazy place, Niko," says the one who isn't Niko. "Like they say, it is the land of opportunity." Niko talks up his cousin and the promise of women, cars, parties, etc.
0:03 Cut to a shot of a guy mixing a diamond into his soup, for some reason. Niko continues talking about the regrets of his past. "We all do dumb things. That's what makes us human," says his companion. That's pretty deep for a game that just showed someone getting beaten by a girl in leather and spikes.
0:04 People getting off the boat are greeted by loved ones, but Niko is left alone for a few moments, until his cousin comes by in a beat-up junker. "Welcome to America! What a night last night. Two women! The land of opportunity. I've made it!" The cousin is very drunk and just as loud. Some nearby construction workers tell him off. "Let's go to the mansion, huh?" Niko says excitedly. "Yes, the mansion! Maybe you should drive," the cousin suggests wisely.
0:06 And I'm driving. The game gives basic directions in the corner: Shoulder triggers accelerate and brake. As I drive, my cousin tells me I can't cross the bridges because of a terrorism alert. How's that for a convenient plot device?
0:08 Now the cousin is bragging about having two women at once and all the various types of women available in America. "The city is like a big Uder Milken ice cream shop. 36 flavors of titty!" Boy, how can the ladies resist a guy like this?
0:10 My new home is far from a mansion, but the cousin assures me it's only temporary. "The mansion is coming. That's the dream. Make yourself at home, what's mine is yours." That includes the huge cockroaches and the fecund bed. "So, you full of crap or what?" I ask boldly. Seems Roman (the cousin's name is Roman) has been exaggerating a bit in his letters. "All I needed was one good guy. Maybe not take over the world, but do OK," Roman rationalizes his lies.
0:14 Niko shares some bits of his past at Roman's prodding. "During the war, we did some bad things and some bad things happened to us. I was very young and very angry. Maybe that was no excuse." This touching story puts Roman to sleep. Heh.
0:16 Roman's late to drop his cab off at the depot. He tells me to meet him at the office. I get my first achievement, "Off the Boat" for 5 Gamerscore points. That was easy!
0:17 Fast food vendors restore health? I thought this game was supposed to be ?ber-realistic!
0:18 Niko walks with an awkward, yet believable, gait, leaning into turns and bumping things like garbage cans and people realistically. Neat. I decide to be a good citizen and not hijack a car for the three-block trip to the taxi office, but I do jaywalk. HA! Take that, coppers!
0:19 My first mission, entitled "It's your call." Roman is talking up his secretary, Mallorie, but it's not working very well. "This is the woman I'm going to marry." She seems incredulous. Boss man Vlad comes in and emasculates Roman, threatening him over debts and generally yelling. "Say what you like, but he knows how to speak to a lady," Mallorie interjects coolly.
0:22 Back in control, I push the wrong button trying to get into the car and instead climb on top of it. The fact that this is even an option is hilarious to me.
0:23 I'm driving Roman to a back-alley poker game, where he says they call him "The Janitor" because he always cleans up. "I seriously hope your cards are better than your nicknames," I say. Heh. The back-and-forth banter is the best part of the game so far -- I could listen to this well-written and well-delivered dialogue all day.
0:24 Roman runs off, but not before giving me a cell phone and a warning about Albanians he owes money. As I wait in the car and look for them, the radio goes on about the traffic problems caused by the bridge closings, and how only the bleeding-heart terrorist-lovers are mad about it. Some nice over-the-top parody here.
0:27 Roman calls and tells me he's "getting so many bullets it's like I'm a fucking AK." Do people really talk like that? I'm a native speaker and I'm not that clever.
0:28 Roman's loan sharks come around, so I phone Roman and tell him to get out. Suddenly I'm driving on the sidewalk to get away from the encroaching Albanians. The high-speed exit seems unnecessary, though. The Albanians barely put up a chase. I am finding it a bit hard to corner at high speeds, though, and the slow-turning camera doesn't really help me see around the tight corners.
0:30 Looks like the city is finally my playground, instead of just a setting for a linear set of missions. I practice diving out of a moving car as the game tells me how to do it. As Niko rolls around in pain, I resolve never to take the game's advice again.
0:32 I get a text message from Roman. "Shit! Need help! Come to the depot quick!" I call him up and he tells me the problem is with some "charming money lenders." I tell him I'll see him soon, but I'm tempted to just go do my own thing. I give in to that temptation!
0:33 It's a beautiful day for a walk on the beach. I take in the sights through a pair of those crappy binocular things that are on every boardwalk in America. The water's a muddy brown and the lenses are a bit stained, but it still beats the mother country, I bet!
0:35 I wander up to a Coney Island-style carnival basketball game, but it's closed. Lame! There's a lonely car nearby, but it's locked! Hello! The game is called Grand THEFT Auto. Be bold. Break in!
0:36 No sooner do I think it then Niko actually breaks the glass and sets off a car alarm. I hit the triggers rapidly to hot wire it and off I go. A passing guy in a jogging suit doesn't even shrug his shoulders at the commotion. I know Americans are jaded to crime, but jeez.
0:37 My first pedestrian run down: an old man with a briefcase. It was unintentional, I swear. Hey, if he didn't want to get run over, he shouldn't have been walking in the middle of the sidewalk!
0:38 The radio tells me it's the afternoon, time to wake up and "realize I got my face tattooed last night, ya fucking moron." Uh, what?
0:40 I somehow find myself on the freeway with no easy exit back to the streets. No worries, though. I find my own path by barreling through some construction cones at top speed, making a perfect two-point landing five feet below. Now this is what it's all about.
0:42 Radio talking head quote of the moment: "They're only taking away freedom you don't use, anyway. What, you want the terrorists to win?" I literally laughed out loud.
0:44 Judging by the radar, there isn't much else to do but help Roman as requested, so I reluctantly double back to help the guy out. I gotta remember to see if that basketball game is open later, though.
0:45 Before I can get to Roman, some Albanian guy seems pissed that I ran by him, or something and he starts punching at me! I punch back reflexively with the B button and he's down in the middle of the street before I know it. A cop saw me, though, raising my wanted level to one star. Shit. Luckily, I step into a new mission and all is forgiven.
0:46 Roman's being threatened with a knife in a cut scene. I disarm the guy by breaking his arm clear in half. That looks like something that would be exciting to do in the game, instead of watch in a cut scene, huh? Sigh. Anyway, the knife guys run off and Roman blames all his problems on "assholes threatening me." No time for that, though. I have to go pick up Mallorie and her friend at the subway station. I can't help but feel my penchant for breaking arms is being wasted as an errand boy.
0:49 I like the way the map shows where to go, but it's hard to focus on it and the driving at once. I've hit more lampposts...
0:50 Mallorie tries to set me up with her friend Michelle during the drive back to her place. She has an odd way of doing it, though, as she also derides my sense of fashion as she's talking me up. Michelle gives me her number anyway. America. What a country!
0:52 Roman conveniently calls and sends me to a clothes shop where I can pick up some 21st-century threads. I jog on in to find that my "first clothes purchase will be free." Just like in real life! Hey, potential immigrants, come to America! Your first clothes purchase will be free!
0:54 "Press A to buy pants. Press LB to leave pants." This simple directive cracks me up for some reason. Maybe because it's 2:30 in the morning.
0:56 I buy some jeans and a mustard-yellow jacket that wouldn't look out of place on a homeless person. Just as I begin to wonder what in the world to do next, Michelle calls up and inexplicably asks me on a date. Do all immigrants have it this easy fresh off the boat? Hey, potential immigrants, come to America! Women will ask you out almost immediately!
0:58 Just as I'm about to pick up Michelle, Roman calls and tells me he's in trouble again. Hmm, do I go on my date or save my piece of shit cousin? Decisions, decisions.
0:59 So Michelle answers the door as she's finishing her hair. Niko notices all her stuff is new. She's obsessed with cleanliness. "OCD or something?" I guess beggars can't be choosers. Niko suggests going to the "funfair." Michelle correctly tells him it's called a "carnival" here. She seems less than enthused at the notion. Me, I'm just looking forward to that basketball game!
1:03 The car ride to the funfair is notable for its brief, awkward conversation and then an almost deafening silence. She doesn't even exclaim when I crash the car into yet another lamppost. Is she on Valium or something?
1:04 I purposely went over my allotted time just so I'd be able to tell you about that basketball game at the funfair, but I find out from Michelle that the thing is closed this time of year. There's a bowling alley open. I'll go reluctantly, but I'll do it off the clock, if you don't mind.
Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.
Why? I love the dialogue, and I can't wait to see how the game will open up once I work my way out of the tutorial slog.
This column was based on a retail copy purchased by the writer.
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