Tuesday, June 03, 2008

I Finished GTA IV! Final thoughts on an amazing game!

I kicked GTA IV's ass. *SPOILERS*

So last night, I finally got around to finishing GTA IV after having struggled with the final mission (Out of Commission) for several frustrating hours straight. I'm sure other gamers out there had an easier time with this mission, but for me the frustration stemmed not from the difficulty of taking out the goons, (that was the easy part), but rather it was the last half of the final climatic action sequence that required the use of vehicles...

The mission starts out with a Car Chase, then a Shootout (outdoors), Shootout (Indoors), and Shootout(outdoors) again, then a Boat Chase on a dirt bike, a Boat Chase with Helicopter while dodging rockets, then finally a chase on foot. Sounds like a sequence out of a John Woo flick doesn't it? Any little screwup will send you back to the start, though when you replay the mission, it cuts straight to the first shootout without having to go through the lengthy Car Chase, which is a very good decision on Rockstar's part.

After a while, I was able to get the timing for each aspect of the mission down to a T. Hasn't that ever happened with you, when you replay something so often that you become a robot repeating the exact steps in a finely choreographed routine? Well, that's what happened with me, from the order I take out the goons, to the way I cut corners on the bike. After so many retries, from there I was able to beat the mission.

My main issues with the mission were no doubt the dirt bike, and the helicopter. I've always had a love/hate relationship with the vehicles in the game. I can honestly say that I HATE the way the dirt bike handles. It's pretty bad. I messed up so often on the bike that I seriously wanted to throw the controller through the TV. At one point, my bike flipped over and I was stuck with the wheels in the air unable to shake it out of position. Total Bug. As for the Helicopter chase... it was tough! It definitely takes some getting used to. Shooting while controlling any of the vehicles in the game is a bitch! So I figured, even though you're presented with the option to shoot the helicopter's guns, I opted to ignore it, so I could just control the copter to the best of my abilities without having to aim.

Once I got passed all of the intricacies of the mission though, I must say the ending was fitting. The game comes to an appropriate end that's not dragged out, but it's just enough to leave the player feeling exhilarated. Yes I think exhilarated would be the best way to describe it. At least that's how I felt after playing through the game over the last few weeks, making friends, enemies, and hard decisions to let people live or die that affected the course of the story. That authorship the game designers have provided players with really does make the user feel more connected to the characters within the game, and the overall virtual world that's been created for them. It's like walking out of a theater after watching a really good movie, or putting a book down after reading the last page. It was satisfying.

This is one game where I never needed to look at a strategy guide/walk-through to get through the game, because I think the way it's designed makes it easy for the player to get to where they need to be. I never really stopped playing the game for more then a day or two, so what I had done previously in the game was still fresh in my mind. Unlike other games I've played, where I stop playing them for weeks, then go back to them, and have no idea what to do.

There's a lot of little bugs throughout the game that I noticed (ie. the bike issue previously mentioned), like when I was at a hot dog stand, Niko kept walking in a circle when I tried ordering a hot dog because there was something blocking the character from getting in the correct position to order the food. I still can't believe I actually made it though the game with all the disk read errors my 360 was giving me!

Another thing that bothered me about the game was the motion-capture, character models, and lighting. Though for the most part all three of these aspects of the game work well, there were times where they were just too painful to look at. Specifically, the hands, and facial animation as they relate to the characters performance. They feel like an actor is wearing a mask and gloves. The lipsync, hands and fingers are stiff, and the characters all have this weird floatiness about them, even when they're standing idle. As for the character models, to me they all look ugly, like they all came from the same generic mesh. The lighting for many NIS scenes are too dark, especially at night and in dimly lit rooms, where the clothing of the characters blends in to the dark. Damn they could seriously use some basic 3-point Hollywood lighting, and lighting rigs for the individual characters. But that's just me nitpicking.

I had fun playing this game, and if it wasn't for the fact I was sitting at home recovering from wisdom teeth surgery, I wouldn't be able to play the game as much as I did. What a great way to spend the time. Did I make an alternate save point to play the alternate ending? Nope. Would I play it again? Uhh not likely. I've had my fill of GTA for now.

I just got my copy of Danny Ledonne's Playing Columbine: A True Story of Video Game Controversy in the mail yesterday too. A great follow up to playing GTA, is hearing the opinions of academics, game developers, and Jack Thompson on school shootings, and videogames.

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