Grand Theft Auto IV™. You will never play through this game. Forget about the expansions.
That’s what went through my head when I got GTA IV from Steam’s Christmas sales last year. But how could I not buy the game, when I had bought, played and enjoyed all1 the previous games. The game went unplayed for a long time not because I didn’t have time for it but because the game did not run on my laptop at all. As fate would have it an update that came much later made the game suddenly run above 0 fps did come later and I was able to start my journey in to the life of an eastern European mercenary in New York.
I had to recheck that it really says Grand Theft Auto on the box2 - before you get to shoot anyone or even steal a car, the tutorialisque first hours put you up on a date for a round of bowling with a girl instead. Fortunately, after some time the game breaks away from looking like The Sims and back to being about shooting and driving.
GTA IV takes itself much more seriously than its predecessors. In practice this means that the missions are rather similar (drive, kill, drive, kill) in the end. No picking up donkey porn falling out of a van or anything that would break the bleak reality of this revenge drama3. On the plus side, no miniature RC flying4.
The plot is not really that surprising if you have played GTA3, Mafia or any of the other games in the genre or seen Godfather, Goodfellas or Scarface or any of the numerous crime movies.
But the story just keeps going. The story keeps building up to epic proportions with Niko involved in pretty much every crime gang in the city, but it doesn’t really advance from that. None of the story arcs really end. Maybe because this story isn’t about the gangs, it’s about Niko’s personal revenge. The story also starts to fall apart a bit in the end, because at this point Niko is arguably the biggest badass in the city and still he keeps working for the little bad guys. In Vice City and a bit also in San Andreas it felt like you were building a crime empire, here you’re just freelancing to make way too much money to exact revenge at some random point in future.
So, all the hints were in the air and I’m off to the last mission at the ship5. 20 minutes later I ragequit with the last boss in sight because Niko decided to drop a grenade at his feet instead. I was also a bit bummed because I was quite certain that GTA3 also culminated in a showdown at ship - or something.
Okay, so it turns out that it wasn’t actually wasn’t the last story mission. There are still mandatory plot twists/clichés to do. Also the developers didn’t crank the artificial difficulty setting to max in the previous one. Multi-part mission? Check. Car chase through city? Check. Check. Check. Off-road bikes? Check. Helicopters? Check. The game seriously forgets that it’s a sandbox game and Niko has access to a fucking sniper rifle and/or RPGs. Because this game just has to end with a single bullet to the head from an AK-47 even though you upgraded to American M16 - like half a game ago.
Suffice to say I spent many evenings on that last mission and my only comfort was knowing that I wasn’t the only one stuck with the mission.
The feeling after finishing the game was quite anticlimatic. Like Niko, I should feel like I won, but what did I accomplish, really? Suddenly, I’m not in a hurry and I can hear birds singing and the people around me chattering. It’s over.
So, finally, 56 hours later, I have finished GTA IV. Can The Lost and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony (also known together as Episodes from Liberty City) add anything to this experience? The main story in GTA IV was revenge and its consequences, and I do hope those two expansions’ leads have a bit different motivation.