A Most Disappointing Cinematic Experience – Grand Theft Auto IV

Forgive me, if you will, but I would like to change genres for a second to share with you my most disappointing recent cinematic experience.  And no, I’m not talking about any of this summer’s super hyped movies (which have been pretty good from what I’ve seen thus far).  Instead, I’m talking about one of the most highly rated, best selling video games of all time, Grand Theft Auto IV.

First of all, I have to admit to being spoiled by the GTA series overall.  San Andreas was better than Vice City which was better than GTA III.  San Andreas may be the one of the best video games period.

Still, unlike movies that constantly disappoint with sequels, one expects video games to get better with every iteration.  At least not go backwards.  Here are just some of the places where GTA IV represents a downgrade from San Andreas: (1) no RPG elements for your character, meaning that you can no longer improve his shooting, driving, or physical condition; (2) the setting, while intricately detailed overall, is boring and repetitive from the street level and exists without the variety of San Andreas; (3) not as many side activities such as gambling; (4) the characters and storyline are far less compelling; (5) no more businesses or real estate which means you make all of this money basically to buy weapons; (6) while you can restart missions right away, there are no longer any checkpoints meaning you have to do a lot of boring, long drives just to get to the mission over and over; (7) the new wanted level system where you have to outrun the cops is a pain in the butt; and, (8) the vehicles are harder to control.

That last one is especially important since a significant portion of this version of GTA is on the road.  This is most glaring with motorcycles.  In GTA San Andreas, motorcycles are the best vehicles, easiest to shoot off of, and great in any situation.  In GTA IV, all drive by shooting is nearly pointless and the motorcycles are death traps that you can no longer control at high speeds.  Realistic, sure.  Less fun, absolutely.

My biggest beef with GTA IV, however deals with the ending.  While the game has been out for several years, I feel compelled to issue a:

<<<Spoiler Alert>>>

GTA IV gives you two choices at the end.  Either your girlfriend leaves you and your best friend dies, or your girlfriend dies.  Either way your character ends the game miserable and alone.  Certainly the game is making a point about the callousness of violence and the emptiness of revenge, and some would applaud its cinematic aspirations.  I do not.

First of all, it’s a video game.  Forgive me if I want to save the Princess from Donkey Kong or Bowser or Gannondorf or whomever has kidnapped her.  I just spent the last 30 damn hours playing this thing and all I ask is for a satisfying ending.  If I want real world themes and anti-climax I would have spent the last 30 hours reading “War and Peace” or “Return of the Native.”

It’s bad enough your girlfriend spends all of her time moralizing and telling you how you shouldn’t be a criminal anymore.  And that’s all well and good – for the real world.  The GTA universe is a horrifying world where actions like mowing over pedestrians on the sidewalk (to say nothing of picking up prostitutes, killing them, and taking your money back) have no consequences.  Machine gun toting maniacs are everywhere, the government corrupt beyond the wildest dreams of only the most off kilter conspiracy theorists, and people can just mow you down on the sidewalk and nothing happens to them.  In this universe, if you aren’t a criminal there is something seriously wrong with you. Anyway all I ask is that my character saves the day and ends up with the girl at the end.

And that brings me to my final point – where does GTA get off moralizing the consequences of violence and the emptiness of vengeance?  It’s not a friggin’ Ibsen play.  I just spent the last 30 hours of my life enacting car chasing and mowing down criminals with machine guns and bazookas.  In fact, the designers of the game created it that way – why are they now trying to make me feel bad about it?  And in what universe, besides maybe the inherently twisted one they’ve created, do they get off moralizing?  Did I mention that in the game you can pick up prostitutes, shoot them, and take your money back with no consequences?  And the creators of THAT universe are getting preachy?

And I’m done.  The next post will be movie related, I promise.

(c) 2012 D.G. McCabe