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My Problem with GTA4.

2011.06.01.15.35 · No Comments

I’ve got plenty of posts I’ve written over the years that I (apparently?) never bothered posting. Let’s post a few!

Also? Spoilers abounds!

The GTA3 series was about gangsters. The first one had “thugs” and “mafioso.” Vice City was more the latter, with San Andreas more the former. But GTA4 was more daunting. It wasn’t about style, it was about SOMETHING. It was about the pursuit of the American dream, freedom, and Niko’s quest for freedom from his past. But it failed for me. The culprit was the mis-marriage of narrative elements and gameplay. I think Rockstar bungled it by trying to make the narrative highpoint something it shouldn’t have been. To me, it was pretty evident where the emotional highpoint was in terms of gameplay. And that’s what they should’ve went with for the narrative as well.

First, the “point” of GTA4. In one of the earlier missions in the game you’re given the freedom to kill, or to not kill, someone you’ve chased down. The freedom of choice is a recurring theme in GTA4. Niko talks about choosing a new life, after he cleans up a few loose ends. His cousin Roman constantly chooses to get in over his head in attempt to get ahead. In the game you’re given choices in multiple missions. In at least three distinct places during the main narrative you’re given a choice between killing one of two strong supporting characters. (Francis McReary/Derrik McReary, Dwayne Forge/Playboy X, and Pegorino/Dimitri.) And then there’s what is, to me, the biggest choice in the game, foreshadowed from the very beginning of the game.

Note: The player CHOOSES to shoot Darko Brevic here. You don’t have to. Purely optional. But for me, this is undeniably the highpoint of the game emotionally and for gameplay, given that it’s a choice the player makes. That was the moment that you, the player, decides who Niko is going to be from that moment forward. You decide what kind of man he will be. (Sure it’s odd thinking “I let the man who killed my friends live and I’m mowing down dozens of passersby while driving down the street.” but that’s acceptable in GTA, and not indicative of the narrative. Those people are pellets in Pac-Man. This man, is just that. A man.) What I have a problem with is that this is not the end of the game.

The narrative continues, picking back up a completely unconnected plot that was interspersed in a lopsided fashion throughout the game. And then Niko is offered another choice, his final. You have to take a side in a mob dispute.

Wait, what? A mob dispute? I go through some deep emotional issues, dredge up the deaths of my entire fucking village back in Eastern Europe, and my childhood friends who died in a war? And deal with the fact that it was made possible by the only other surviving friend from that time, who is completely unrecognizable to me? And then… A mob dispute? What the fuck? It’s like your mother dies in a car wreck and your boss says “So, uh, the funeral’s Thursday? You’re uh, going to be able to come in this Saturday to fill in for Bob, right?”

After this monumental moment for Niko, which has no bearing on the rest of the game, you choose between helping Pegorino or Dimitri. Depending on which you kill, either your cousin or your girlfriend is killed, and you are forced to kill the remaining mobster. Forced to kill. Even after you just (potentially) let the man who got your entire army squad killed for a thousand dollars, live. The killing of your goddamned annoying cousin, or the girlfriend who was as interesting as a (blank brown) cardboard box, is the straw that broke the camel’s back? And for that you end on the down note of your decision to not have really mattered after all.

Allow me to offer a different suggestion. Something that should have happened before Darko Brevic was delivered. FIRST you do your requisite mafioso bit. Go ahead, make me choose. Kill one of the people I somewhat remotely feel something that could almost be considered an obligation to. Piss me off. Get me angry. This fucker, this Godfather-wannabe thinks he can kill the woman-I-(am-forced-to)-love/my-cousin-(that-annoys-me-but-fuck-it-he’s-family-you-know-what-I-mean-you-have-a-cousin-like-that-too)?! Fuck that noise, let’s jack a car and go kill some goddamn virtual bad guys!

Bam. Cut to the end. Done. I’ll miss my cousin/girl. They meant a lot to me. Well, to Niko/me. THEN… *ring* “What, what’s that? My phone? Hello? What? You found Darko Brevic? Where is he?”

(Skip to 4:15.)

Because goddamn it, that’s an ending. If you’re going to bother giving me a choice? Let it mean something.

Tags: Art · game · review · That Thing...

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