Home
Editorials
Firearms
Interactive Fiction
Role-playing Games
Books
Music
TV/Movies
Quintin Stone
notablog
Archive

<< Previous      Search Archive      Next >>
Grand Theft Auto 4 Addendum
I realized there were a couple of things I forgot to mention in my review, for completeness's sake.

Like I said, I played the PC version, so the quality of the port is worth discussing. GTA4 was originally a console game and later ported to the PC. Overall they did a decent job, with a few quirky instances of its console roots showing through. At first I thought the bizarre shadow-rendering was part of that but from what I hear, the shadows looked strange on the 360 too. The other graphical oddity I've seen is quick camera spins can create a stray texture that obscures the ground at about chest level and then it slowly dissolves away to once again reveal the road and ground, etc. I have no idea if that happened on the 360 or not.

PC controls are okay. They let you remap most keys, but the problems arise when it comes to interacting with nonstandard things. Like the cell phone, which was designed to be accessible with a gamepad. On the PC you have to hit a lot of keys to use it and a lot of keys to get rid of it (if you're not in a vehicle, having your phone out is a royal pain because you can't run or use a weapon). When trying to enter a phone number manually, you can't use the keyboard keys to simply type it in. You have to use arrows keys to highlight each number on the phone keypad individually (ugh). This is similar to entering your initials into the QUB3D arcade game, you can't type them, you have to use the arrow keys to scroll through the alphabet. The game's menus are generally okay, with something just off about them.

There's no ability to take a screenshot!

Like so many games ported from a console, the save system is poor. The only place you can perform a manual save is in one of your safehouses and doing so advances the game clock by 8 hours, because you sleep as part of the save. There are a number of save slots available, which is good. There's an auto-save performed at the end of each mission and many of the sandbox activities, which is also good. Of course, if you load one of those auto-saves, you will not find yourself in the same place where you saved. Instead, you'll be located in the nearest safehouse and the clock will be advanced by 8 hours, as if you slept to do a manual save. And of course, everything in the city will be reset. In a word: LAZY!

Screw up a mission and you're given the option to restart. Sometimes this is the same as loading from your last save though, except without all the ammo you expended during the attempt. There's no mid-point milestone saves, so if a mission is particularly involved and long, you might screw up at the end and have to repeat the beginning part over and over again until you get it all right. The very last mission of the game had this problem. I had to do the same gun battle about a dozen times because the finicky part after it was giving me trouble.

The mouse-controlled driving camera works well except that it annoyingly keeps trying to return back to the chosen camera location after about 2 seconds. And the available camera defaults are all too low for my tastes. So I swing the camera back up and I have to keep compensating for the fact that the stupid game wants to return my camera placement back down. Yeah, that shit might be helpful on a console; not on a mouse-driven PC. And then there the occasions that pointlessly lock the camera into a fixed position: some (not all) carjackings and driving up to pick-up a friend. I can understand the stunt jumps trying to be move cinematic. The other ones make no sense.

Like San Andreas, GTA4 has shops and clothes and accessories. But the selection is bafflingly small. You start near a "Russian" shop which has a small array of frumpy and utilitarian apparel. Once you get to Manhatten, you can access three more store, though 2 of them are the same chain for some reason. One is a hipster shop, with clothes meant to be chic and modern. The other is a formal-wear shop with expensive suits and dress shoes. That's it. You can buy sunglasses and regular glasses, though you have to squint to tell the difference because the sunglasses are so lightly tinted. You can buy a furry hat or a ballcap... or go hatless. Once you've made your purchases and you're trying on your wardrobe back in a safehouse, you encounter the other problem with outfits in GTA4: the interface for changing clothes is atrocious. Use the arrow keys to cycle through clothing for chest, face, head, legs, and feet. It's terribly slow because of the fade-out and fade-in involved with every single change. There's no way to filter what kind of outfits you want to try on. It doesn't tell you the name of the current piece. You can't pick pieces by name, only cycle through them all. It just leaves me wondering why they went through the hassle of putting this stuff in the game and then did a half-ass job of it.

(Updated Tuesday, March 16, 2010 3:04 PM)
Permalink   Filed under: Games, Review

Grand Theft Auto 4
There were a number of sites declaring Grand Theft Auto IV to be a 10/10 game. It's good, I'll agree. I would not rate it quite that high though. (And keep in mind, I played it on the PC.)

So how does GTA4 differ from previous iterations of the series?

We'll start with driving. There's no mouse control of the cars, which sucks. It takes some getting used to, controlling only with the keyboard. The reason you can't drive with the mouse is they added the ability to aim fire while driving. I know that in Vice City you could only shoot directly left or right and I can't remember now how San Andreas did it. The shooting is definitely much more convenient, with almost 360 degrees of aiming. Of course, your choice of weapons is limited (no assault rifles or rocket launchers from the driver's seat).

Cars in GTA4 have far too little traction, and the real beaters and crappy cars can drive as if their tires are made from congealed cooking fat. High-end cars are much better at gripping the road. The emergency brake, necessary to get some good sideways slides and fast turns, will temporarily disable both your ability to steer (to some degree) and to accelerate. While in a sideways slide, your spinning drive wheels won't give any traction at all until you slow down. Kind of annoying, I wish it felt more authentic.

Combat and weapons work pretty well. Right mouse button puts you into aim mode, left button shoots. Melee weapons and hand-to-hand combat use a lock-on system, where your right mouse button locks onto a particular target and then when you move, it's in relation to your target, and when you swing, stab, or punch, it's at that target only. The mouse controls here were a bit twitchy. The game (a console port) did not quite recognize very very minute mouse movements, so if you try to aim too precisely, your mouse won't move at all. GTA4 also has a cover system, whereby you hit a key to take cover behind a wall or barrier, then you can pop out and fire or shoot blindly. It's pretty useful, especially the blind-fire. I just wish it was more reliable. Sometimes you'll be rapidly sliding the mouse to move your crosshairs and it just won't react. This only happened with using cover. So other than the flakiness with the cover system, combat in GTA4 (at least on the PC) is pretty solid.

Ever since GTA3 came out, Rockstar has been trying to incorporate more of a story into the GTA games. And they've all, more or less, revolved around organized crime. This seems to be the easiest way to weave a narrative around a sandbox game where you can run people over without a second look from the cops. The character's personality is far more defined here than in GTA3, where your silent protagonist was a blank slate for whatever the player wanted to bring. In GTA4, the problems arise when the actions of your main character (Niko) are completely at odds with what he says.

GTA4 is two games at war. One, a sandbox game where the player can wreck havoc on an unsuspecting metropolis, go on grand crime sprees, and indulge in epic shootouts with police. The other game is a wannabe-Scorsese mafia drama told through cut scenes, with nearly as many betrayals as it has characters. It's a bit self-indulgent and long-winded and takes itself far more seriously than it should. And when the two games interact, problems arise. The cut scenes and dialog are all laid out in advance, with little flexibility or openness to player choice. Thus the game easily presents situations where Niko in a cut scene expresses reluctance to perform violence, just after finishing up a mass murder spree. Or if you don't make the choice to hang out with certain characters outside of the story missions, you'll be left wondering scratching your head at some of the character dynamics in cut scenes.

What most impresses people is the realizing of the city. The game's setting of Liberty City is a scaled down rendition of New York City with a bit of Jersey City. The illusion is very impressive. You can get around by car, taxi, subway, and there are bridges and tunnels connecting the islands. The architecture of the buildings reflect their location (skyscrapers in their version of Manhattan, industrial buildings along the harbors). The smallest prying reveals the illusion right away, of course. While many of the buildings will have stairs or ladders that let you access the roof, the insides can't be reached because the majority of the doors are fake. There are a few stores that can be entered (clothing only), some bars, a few restaurants, a couple of strip clubs. Everything else is a mirage. Now I'm not saying that Rockstar should have created a fully interactive model of New York City! That would be a ridiculous task, at least for a game like this. It's just that people need to realize what you can and can't do before jumping into the game with false impressions. Liberty City can give you a great sense of immersion, but as soon as you try to do anything, you're reminded of the fact that it's just window dressing.

As you encounter more and more characters in the progressing storyline, many of them will go into your phone as contacts. Some of them you'll be able to call up and go do social activies with, like bowling, darts, drinking, that kind of thing. These are your friends. The game tracks how much they like you and for some of them if their appreciation gets high enough, they'll offer to do special favors for you. One girl had the ability to give me health over the phone if I called her. Another was able to get police to stop chasing me (as long as my offenses weren't too egregious). The irritating side to friends is that you have to keep doing crap with them or you'll lose their approval. Then the favors stop. Sometimes they'll call you in the middle of some goings-on and nag about how you never hang out anymore. Turn them down and their approval drops. A nice idea, but poorly implemented.

Grand Theft Auto games are famous for having sandbox environments, with near total freedom to go and do as you please. GTA4 is no different, with an even bigger city than ever before. And without the need to drive through along boring country roads to get from one area to another, as they did with San Andreas. Some aspects of the sandbox will only get unlocked as you progress through the story missions, however. There are locations around the city where you can find weapons; except these only start appearing after certain missions make them available. So you cannot ignore the missions and expect to get the full experience of the sandbox (especially since the other islands are closed to you initially).

With all the moves forward with GTA4, what were the steps back? In their drive to make a more serious story-based experience, Rockstar tossed out a number of game aspects that I really enjoyed. There's no buying or controlling property now. You get a few safehouses as you progress through the missions; they're just places to safe your game and change your clothes. (You can also watch TV there, if you're so inclined.) A safehouse has a parking area out front where you can stash cars so that they'll persist if you leave or load a game. This area's pretty small though: you can only park 2 large cars in it. It's not as nice or reliable as the garages you'd get in Vice City though. And the safehouses are far apart, so if you find your have no room to park, it's a hell of a drive to get to the next one.

So there's no owning property the brings you income or gives you access to cars. The money thing doesn't bother me. I do hate having to hunt around for nice cars though. (As I said before, the crappier cars can't drive worth shit.) Your properties won't have weapons readily available at them either. It used to be that you'd find "packages" around the city and as you grabbed them, you'd unlock various stuff at your safehouses. Not in GTA4. Instead, you hunt pigeons (flying rats) and you have to exterminate all 200 of them before you get anything. And even then, it's 1 thing: a military helicopter placed the top of a single building (I have not yet unlocked this).

They dropped the chop shop part of San Andreas. No more customizing a car you're really fond of (with the tiny parking spots, you probably wouldn't have anywhere to put it anyway.) GTA4 has nicer 60s American muscle cars than San Andreas did; a shame the most common ones -- the Dukes (a '69 Charger) and the Stallion ('68 Cutlass) -- are two of the worst handling cars in the game. The Sabre GT is a blast to drive though and looks great, much like the Sabre Turbo in Vice City (my favorite of that game). There are a few specialized vehicles in the game that have parts that look like they should function (forklift, car-carrier with ramp) except that there's no apparent way to work them.

They did away with some staples of the series: while you can still hunt criminals from a cop car with the help of the police computer, there are no taxi missions, no ambulance missions, no firetruck missions. This is the biggest deficiency of the game. The sandbox nature of GTA is really crippled when you take away the most popular alternatives to the main missions. So what do you do in the game without them? Drive and cause mayhem. There's side mission to collect cars for a shadowy Stevie character. Go bowling? Play darts? They're fairly shallow mini-games with (IMO) poorly implemented controls. And I still haven't gotten the handling of putting spin on my ball when I bowl.

I'm kind of frustrated that Rockstar seems to have a habit of taking one step back for every two steps forward when it comes to the GTA games. Somewhere there has a vision of what the games should be and it just doesn't seem to match mine. They want to turn it into a serious vehicle for crime dramas, no matter how at odds that may be with the gameplay mechanics. Even so, it's a really good game, especially for a console port. And it didn't hurt that I only paid $7 during the Steam holiday sale for it.

Permalink   Filed under: Games, Review

Hawaii
We made it to Hawaii!

But in my haste, I forgot cola!

Permalink   Filed under: Personal

Flash
I'm going to make an attempt to learn Flash. I have an idea for a game and there's no reason it can't be a web-based game. It's relatively simple by modern standards and I figure it'll be more accessible from a browser.
Permalink   Filed under: Games, Internet, Personal
<< Previous      Search Archive      Next >>

notablog RSS 2.0 feed
These pages Copyright © 2004-2008 — Contact me at stone@rps.net