Tag Archives: Grand Theft Auto

GTA IV: The Lost and Damned

I got pretty bold a couple of weeks ago when I predicted a bright future for DLC in 2009, as it was swiftly followed by a disappointing insubstantial downloadable outing for Fable II and the divisive Operation Anchorage for Fallout 3, which I happened to like but probably didn’t live up to most people’s expectations.

I can count on Rockstar to bail me out, though, because The Lost and Damned is fantastic.

GTA IV: The Lost and Damned

For a start, I must comment on pricing. 1,600 points (£13.60) for a good 10-12 hours of GTA IV, with production values at least as high as the main game – sterling voice work, impeccable cut-scene direction, new licensed music, new things to do, etc – and some improvements of its own, not least of all the much-requested mid-mission checkpoints. It’s so far made me remember why I loved this game so much, and frankly puts the usual quick and dirty 2-3 hours that we’ve come to expect from DLC to shame.

Credit is also due for giving it a unique feel of its own, rather than being beholden to what was set out in GTA IV. It turns Liberty City, which remains a brilliant place to explore, into a platform for future expansions like this, and gives you just enough crossover to give you a kick when Niko makes a cameo or you hear about something from his misadventures on the radio. The biker culture that it revels in is also far from the immigrant experience of Niko and feels strong enough to support a full game. I’d even go as far as to say that people who disliked Niko and his friends and couldn’t deal with his frequent Anakin Skywalker moments will like this better.

Plus I didn’t hear one utterance about “American tee-tees”, which is always a bonus.

I’m making this quite a short post because I’ve written at length about how good GTA IV is (impressions, post-mortem) and this is ultimately more of the same, but I’m in love with the game all over again. Fuck the haters because they’re quite simply wrong: GTA IV rocks and so does this DLC.

The Year of the DLC?

So my last informal ‘Year of the…’ post didn’t turn out so accurate, and this one could either herald a brave new frontier for gaming as retail goes down the toilet or turn out to be a damp squib that people aren’t really interested in, but I’m pretty confident that 2009 will, either way, be a big year for downloadable content.

Fable II has just had its first DLC package, Knothole Island, and I happily bought it because I was itching to play more of the game. The same thing is likely to happen later this month when Fallout 3 receives its first downloadable quest line, Operation Anchorage, and again with the other two to come in February and March, Left 4 Dead has more campaigns on the way, and of course GTA IV’s much-ballyhooed expansion, The Lost and Damned, is planned for next month.

It’s a big line-up for a traditionally slow period, cunningly placed to keep players from trading in last year’s games, and although map packs have been a fixture of this generation since the 360 launch, with the silly money being thrown around for exclusive DLC at the moment, could this be when the idea of DLC fulfils its promise? Continue reading The Year of the DLC?

Best of 2008 #4: Grand Theft Auto IV

Grand Theft Auto IV

For some reason the online forum hive mind has turned against GTA IV since not long after its release. It’s true that it’s smaller than San Andreas; that the missions generally follow an established formula; that Niko’s transformation from never wanting to kill again to… uh… killing again is about as convincing as Anakin Skywalker’s fall to the Dark Side; but I stand by every word of the praise that I heaped upon it back in the first few days of release.

It may be far from perfect, but the fact remains that I had more fun tearing around this next-gen Liberty City than I did almost any other game this year. It’s the first GTA that held my attention long enough to finish the main story – all 40 hours of it by the time the end credits rolled for me – and I had a great time almost the whole way through.

I’m obviously not expecting any revolutionary changes to the gameplay in the upcoming DLC, but there are kinks that can be worked on, such as the pressing need for mid-mission checkpoints to avoid those moments when failing a mission necessitates another drive all the way across town, and the personal relationships that could be cultivated in the game could get annoying after the first few hours, but it doesn’t change the fact that Liberty City was a joy to explore. It proved that GTA doesn’t need the increasingly outlandish missions and plot twists that typified San Andreas’s government conspiracies and cult compounds. It might have been funny, but was flying a VTOL jet over Area 51 69 really in keeping with the rest of the series?

So don’t listen to the haters: GTA IV is and always has been one of the best games of 2008. Time will prove me right on that one.

GTA IV Post-Mortem

So I finished GTA IV’s story last night after just over 43 hours of play (still only 75.5% complete overall!) and just wanted to put together some thoughts. Be warned that I won’t mark spoilers and although there aren’t any plot specifics in here, I’ll freely talk about mission mechanics. If you don’t want anything spoiled, stop reading and let it suffice to say that I loved the game and my immediate reaction would be to put it among my favourite games ever. That’s not to say it’s perfect, but that doesn’t make it worth any less than full marks to me. Continue reading GTA IV Post-Mortem

The Token GTA IV Post

Niko BellicAs much as I’d like to sit in my ivory tower and blame GTA IV for effectively shutting down the release schedule until June, I’m afraid I can’t. Unlike when I talk about Metal Gear, Smash Bros, and the like, where I’m objectively right (it’s true), anyone who says that GTA IV is anything less than a brilliant game is just being a cynical twat. Besides, if anything can stop this generation’s Nintendomination, it’s this. It won’t win, but at least the HD consoles can now say that they tried.

My first thought when I got to run around and actually play GTA IV was actually quite underwhelming. It was dark (turning up the brightness in the options definitely helps), the controls feel slightly old-fashioned in these days of twin-stick control, the cars felt heavy, and in which century do we hold a button to run? You do know what analogue control does, right?

But while some of those are minor niggles, they really are minor. Taken as an overall game, GTA IV is a phenomenal technical achievement and an improvement on the other games in almost every way. Significantly, the elephant in the room of the previous generation’s GTAs, the gunplay, is finally workable and even enjoyable. It’s not quite Gears or Uncharted because the cover system isn’t quite as intuitive, but given the significant improvements between GTA III and San Andreas (seriously, try GTA III’s shooting now and see just how bad it is), I’m hoping that by the time we reach this generation’s equivalent of Vice City, GTA’s biggest flaw could be a thing of the past.

Technically, it’s simply an astounding accomplishment. Having only just reached the second main island after over 13 hours of play, I’ve only scratched the surface of what they’ve miraculously fitted onto a DVD with room to spare. I know only a couple of neighbourhoods, and I’ve only been in one shop. I’ve already visited three different bars and there are bar games that are as in-depth as some dedicated games. I’ve been to the cabaret show three times and seen six acts, but I know for a fact that there are others, including a stand-up show from Ricky Gervais. There are 19 radio stations, and I’m still hearing new stuff on my favourites. Not to mention that the game reckons I’m only 31% of the way through. It’s unbelievable.

As with the aiming, the characterisation in the GTA games got better as the series went on and, again, it takes a massive leap forward with Niko. He’s an actual character, unlike GTA III’s Claude. He’s more sympathetic than Tommy Vercetti, who was a good character but about as likeable as Tony Montana (deliberately, I assume). And while CJ was streets ahead of his predecessors, I just didn’t enjoy the whole Boyz n the Hood thing. I suppose the fact that I liked a lot of the characters – all of whom are mass murderers to various extents – was testament to what a good job they did with that material.

Anyway, we’re talking about Niko. I’m not going to spoil anything, so I’ll just say that he’s likeable, funny, sympathetic, and by far the best GTA protagonist so far. Likewise, although some of the supporting cast fall into the usual mobster archetypes, they’re all exceptionally written. Little Jacob, the Rastafarian dealer, is just flat out hilarious. Think this scene from Airplane if you haven’t played it yet.

One other thing that deserves plaudits is the animation provided by the Euphoria engine. Wow. Gone is the canned animation of previous games as your character tried to make an epic leap over a knee-high wall, in favour of procedural animations, so Niko might steady himself after a short fall and roll to take the impact of a higher one. It’s seamless as he goes from vaulting a wall or fence to dropping into one of those animations, but it’s car crashes that provide the most impressive showpiece. When you hit someone who realistically crumples from the force, their head bouncing off the bonnet as they’re sent backwards, it’s the closest thing that I could describe as ‘sickening’ (in the nicest possible way) in a game as violent as this. Whereas in older GTAs I’d happily mow through the faceless pedestrians, here the fact that they don’t all look quite as identical and get taken out with such force makes sticking to the road during high speed pursuits something to do where possible.

I think it’s been made clear quite how good GTA IV is: it’s the only game I can remember that got perfect scores from all three major gaming sites and Edge. It’s one of the few next-gen ‘event’ games that won’t fob you off with a seven-hour campaign. Production values are through the roof, and rumours that it’s usurped Shenmue as the most expensive video game ever produced ($100m, up from $70m) are wholly believable. It’s a stunning game, and the first time in ages that turning on the 360 has become my first action on getting home, ahead of turning on the computer or going to the toilet.

Even if you’ve had misgivings about the series in the past, don’t miss out on this one. If something beats it to my game of the year, I’ll be very surprised.