Tuesday, May 20, 2008

My GTA4 Ramblings

People have been asking my thoughts on GTA 4. Have not played tons of it so take this 'review' with a grain of salt. I put review in quotes cause it's not really a real review...more of a rambling. So take this rambling with a grain of salt. Or more to the point: take it as the ramblings of someone who has given about 2 hours of his life to it (both single and MP modes...and MAINLY multiplayer). So here goes:


Well I've never loved the GTA series...always appreciated and respected the hell out of it, but the mission design (fetch quests, checkpoint racing, and 'go here and get this object' tasks abound) and the 'we think we are edgy and satirical and funny but we are really just at a junior high school level of comedy but since at least- in games- it's more than most offer and since we've gotten alot of praise,we'll just keep on doing what we are doing' school of comedy really- as you can tell :) - annoys me. There's such an abundance of the comedy and world view that- even worse- it SEEMS like the makers of the game really feel they have discovered some unique world view/unique comedy styling and they just want to shove it down my throat. Not saying this is how they feel. It's just how I feel when I visit the worlds in the GTA universe. But that's just personal taste. It's done really, really well, I just don't care for it.

But so, there you go. Always stunned and in awe by every GTA game since #3 (the the 2D ones were sweet as well) but I've never been a convert to the GTA religion. So GTA 4 was not exciting me all that much...altho it clearly seemed impressive scope wise. To the point that it scared the SHIT out of me as a developer.

And I was VERY excited about the multiplayer in this one. First few nites I did Deathmatch games and the GTA race games and they were kinda MEH for me. But I finally got onto a few games of Cops and Crooks last nite (not sure if it was me or the GTA servers but I had not been able to log on for the last week and do any GTA MP)...I heard this mode was the crown jewel in the game's multiplayer and from a design standpoint, I really do think it's cool.

But the car controls are so bad- to me- that I could not spend more than 30 minutes with it. They are floaty and the cars flip over all the time. The physics model for crashes sucks because the density of traffic is so high and the speeds of the cars are so fast and the result of a crash brings the game to a dead stop...so it's a real momentum killer.

Also, because the city is so big and the road layouts so detailed, you really have to drive by the map. The city streets are kind of dark as well so it's tough to get going up to any real sense of speed and still be able to see the turns coming up in time. The other aspect that bugs me is the realistic city design (non breakable walls that you can't get your car over but you can't see until you are inches away from smashing into them, trees that don't get knocked down when you hit them,etc) does not seem conducive to the arcadey design of the MP modes. And so- with all these aspects- frustration easily sets in for me.

All that said: car control can be mastered. And a map can be learned. So I imagine if I had invested more than 1 hour in the single player, I would have learned the city a bit better and the driving mechanics would be second nature and my fun factor would shoot thru the roof. And I do plan on playing Cops N' Crooks again as I see the massive fun potential in that mode. I really, really like it. It just frustrates me right now.

BUT it does strike me as curious as to why Rockstar didn't fix these issues. Is it because they don't see them as issues? That's a fair reason, to be sure. I think a valid design argument could be made for needing to master a system before fun kicks in. It's just not the way I would go.

Then again- these guys are kings of the world sales wise and any designer would be wise to sit back and study the massive success- design and sales wise- that the masters at Rockstar have achieved. Now review wise? Well, that's something else.

Review wise, I'm sorry...the reviews this game has gotten seem nuts...and that's no backlash...I respect the hell out of Rockstar and am glad they are doing so well...they deserve it. But the praise the press has heaped on this thing seems a touch out of whack...it's like they are desperately trying to find a game that is 'important' and 'meaningful' so to prove they are more than just fanboys pounding out reviews for toys. I hate to be a jerk to the press because I like most of ALL the people I've met in the press and my goal is not to piss them off (hell, we all need the press in this biz) but COME ON...I am NOT saying GTA 4 is not an amazing game, I am NOT saying it's not a watershed moment, even. Perhaps it is. But Jesus, ya'll. There are some serious flaws in this game. Flaws that get in the way of the experience Rockstar has clearly busted ass to created. And I'm not saying some of the reviews have NOT mentioned these flaws, but the scores this game gets seem out of whack given that the game does- in my mind- have these flaws. But again, it's subjective and- to be fair- I have only played 2 hours while most of these guys have finished it. So you know, those flaws could easily fall away once mastery sets in and the gems of the game could then shine even brighter. I'm totally open to that. And if it turns out to be the case- as I play the game more- I'll be the first to admit the press was right and I was wrong.

And look, what do I know? Rockstar should be proud and excited for their massive success. And let's be honest. The majority of the people buying the game are willing to put up with tons of annoying elements (controls, annoying city layouts where the streets are too narrow for the speeds of the vehicles they let you drive,etc.) as long as they get to live the life of a modern bad ass. That is the real secret sauce to the series, to me. And in that regard- as well as many, many others- GTA 4 delivers. It just seems that it may not- once again- be my cup of tea.

BUT- a few more nights of Cops N Crooks and I may just change my mind :)