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Grand Theft Freetime

December 16, 2008

I received a gift certificate to Future Shop as a birthday gift from my co-workers a couple of weeks ago, and I decided to use it to purchase a copy of the newly released Grand Theft Auto IV for PC. for a few weeks now I have been watching Live Video feeds of people playing the game (thanks to XFire), as well as recorded video of the game (again, thanks to XFire) and I have been suitably impressed.

Back in the day I enjoyed playing GTA 1 and 2, but never really got into the fancy new versions until GTA: San Andreas came out for PC. The game had the scope and freedom that I enjoyed in a game, but also gave you the structure of a storyline and missions that I need to keep me from getting bored and – let’s face it – the sheer scope of the world that Rockstar Games has created. While I never actually finished GTA: SA, I got farther into that game than any other game I’ve played. I may have said it before – I am not a completionist when it comes to video games. My attention wanders from game to game like a taste-tester. Something more delectable comes along and I want to sink my teeth into it to the exclusion of all others. This is why Left 4 Dead is gathering dust on my shelf (that, and many of my friends are never around to play it with).

Back to GTA IV. I had heard a lot of bad feedback about how poor this game performs, how it’s broken, how so many people are having problems with it. Either I have been lucky, or the vast majority of people who are not having problems with the game are keeping quiet – which in my opinion is probably the case. Before I installed the game, I updated my video drivers because I had read that many of the problems people have been running into are due to out of date drivers. The one problem I ran into is that on the Sunday afternoon when I installed the game I could not connect to the Rockstar website to create an account to take advantage of the game’s online features. Not a huge deal – I tried again that evening and was fine. In addition to that you need a Windows Live account. I already had one, so I simply linked it to my Rockstar account and away I went.

The game starts with a light backstory – you’re in Liberty City to see your cousin, who meets you drunk on the pier when your ship arrives. Of course, he asks you to drive him to his place. This is your first taste of Liberty City – or at least this small corner of it. In the short drive to your cousin Roman’s apartment, I really got a feel for the detail that Rockstar Games has put into this title. Neon reflected off of brick and stone, tail lights reflected off of the hood of nearby cars, and the crunch of metal on metal has been captured to near perfection. However, even on my Radeon HD 4870, the shadows still had something to be desired, and if you spin your view around quickly you watch leaves resolve on nearby trees. A little detail I dislike, but really, it’s just a little detail.

You are left at Roman’s apartment alone, and told to come and visit him after you rest. I slept (saved my game) and left the apartment just as the sun was coming up. While this game is called Grand Theft Auto, I opted to walk the short distance to Roman’s workplace. At one point I even paused on a bridge to look out over the bay. A shoot out between AI characters behind me brought me to my senses – oh yeah, this is a GTA game. I walked the rest of the way to Roman’s cab company and started the game in earnest.

Some of the things that everyone loves about GTA are still in this game – my favourite being the radio stations. Not only is there great music, but the banter of the DJs and the talk radio hosts and their guests is hilarious. References to locations from previous GTA games (like San Andreas and Vinewood) help anchor Liberty City in the mythos that Rockstar has created. Another fun addition is the ability to have your own personal radio station. Just load MP3s, WMAs or M4A files into the GTA music directory and switch your radio to Independence FM. You can select to have just your music, or to have it interspersed with DJ banter. Strangely enough, I decided to drop in the MP3s I have of the Vince Guaraldi Trio’s music from Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown. Let me tell you, mowing down civilians and gunning down thugs while listening to the Peanuts gang singing “Hark the Herald” is more than a little surreal.

Driving in this game is a little trickier than driving in the older versions. The physics of the vehicles has been ramped up, and motorcycles are much more difficult than they used to be. Vehicles have also become satisfyingly destructive, as I found when I ran my Turismo into a concrete abutment on the Broker Bridge. I also found out that this game needs seat belts, as this collision also launched me onto the roadway. Surviving with only a few scrapes and bruises, I jacked a new car, payed my $5 at the toll booth, and continued on my mission. Weather also affects your driving, so racing through the streets in a rain storm is not something you should be enjoying – it’s something for laying down and avoiding.

Another noticeable improvement is how the police react to you, and how they chase you down. In previous iterations of the game, if you even bumped into a cop while walking or driving they would pull  out their pistol and begin gunning you down. In GTAIV, you need to make a concerted effort to piss them off or do some significantly criminal to get them on your case. Also new is the “cop radius”, a circle on your radar that shows you the area you need to be concerned about being in if you do something criminal. The more “wanted” stars you obtain, the larger the circle. Get outside that circle without being spotted by a cop, and you can go free. Also shown on the map when you are wanted are icons which represent law enforcement vehicles (cruisers, trucks, helicopters and boats), to allow you to plan your route in the best possible way to escape. A nice addition.

I plan on trying out some of the multiplayer functions soon, so when I have a chance to try that out I will talk about it.

Rob out.

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From → video games

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