Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Stuff that Grand Theft Auto IV messed up

So Grand Theft Auto IV made $500,000,000 in its first week of release, and $60 of that was from me. People are falling all over themselves in praise of the game, and no superlative has gone unmentioned... and I can't disagree. I've been a gamer since before "gamer" meant "computer gamer", and GTA IV is definitely on my list of "Top 10 Favorite Games Ever". I'm thinking it'll end up around #5, but I really need to go take a fresh look at my Top 10 list. A future post, perhaps. Regardless, the point is that getting onto my Top 10 list is a big deal, because I'm not some 13 year old kid who just started playing games a couple years ago.

So it would be really easy for me to write a post about all the things I love about GTA IV. From the ridiculously great job they did developing the Niko Bellic character, to the way they made Liberty City different than the previous GTA games yet still familiar, to the super skinny model on the "Anna Rex" billboard, to chases through subway tunnels, to... well, you get the idea. I could go on and on.


So instead I'm going to list some of the things Rockstar messed up... or at least some missed opportunities.

1. Graphics: Rockstar was obviously not going for photorealism in this game, because there's a certain style associated with GTA games that's not exactly cartoonish and not exactly photorealistic but something in between. I love that style, but I still think the graphics were merely good and not great. Anyone who has played Oblivion or Heavenly Sword knows what I am talking about. I was expecting to be blown away by the graphics on GTA IV, particularly considering it was only available on the next-gen XBOX 360 and PS3 consoles, but instead I thought they were just okay.

I should probably mention that I don't think graphics are really that important when it comes to making a great game. There are plenty of game on my "Favorites" list that are still wonderful in spite of being as much as 20 years old. I prefer a game that focused more on gameplay than graphics.

2. Niko Customization: It's 2008, man, people expect more ability to customize their main character than some crappy suits. Obviously Niko's appearance plays a part in the main storyline, so I can't imagine GTA IV allowing a "Tiger Woods PGA Tour"-style face customization tool... Niko can't have long, curly blond hair. He just can't. But even the ability to choose between several prefab faces would give the user a little control. Or some choices of hairstyles, or more than ONE style of sunglasses, for pete's sake! This gets back to the graphics problem a bit, but one of my problems with the small amount of customization that was allowed (buying new clothes) is that all the clothes looked terrible on Niko. Everything was form fitting to Niko's pot belly (and why does an ex-soldier hired gun need to have a pot belly anyway?). It's simple - I just want the ability to make Niko look like I want him to look... which is significantly cooler than anything that was allowed in the game.

3. Music: There's a TON of radio stations to choose from in GTA IV, and the radio stations play a part in providing the emotional feel for the game - the faux interviews and satirical commercials are hilarious, there are often updates on the radio that are relevant to the storyline (though no missions rely on listening to the radio), and when Niko steals a car the choice of radio station in the stolen car adds to the game. The radio stations are extremely well done, and Rockstar is rightly proud of them.

But GTA IV is a looooooong game. It took me about 80 hours of gameplay to complete the main storyline and I'm still in the 80s in term of percent complete. And I'm going to start my second trip through the main storyline soon. About 3/4 through my last game, I finally got so tired of the radio that I turned the music volume all the way down.

Why not have a "Listener Request" radio station and allow me to download my own music onto my XBox 360 and play that music when I tune to that station? It seems like a simple technical feat and then I could rock out to Everclear while tooling around Liberty City.

4. Bridge Driving AI: Hopefully this is something that will be fixed in the first game update, but the tendency for cars on bridges to swerve all over the place, randomly, and then get stuck in traffic jams at the end of the bridge is really annoying. I assume this is just a bug, because it doesn't add anything to the gameplay. Navigating through traffic is part of the game (in fact, it's a really fun part of the game), but what happens on the bridges is something different. It's not fun. it just gets in the way.

5. Mini Cooper: You can drive everything from a forklift to a fire engine to a Ferrari to a limo in GTA IV, so it might seem strange to complain about a missing car, but they really need a Mini Cooper clone in the game - a high performance SMALL car is exactly what you want in Liberty City, where driving in between lanes on and sidewalks is business as usual. I tend to drive motorcycles a lot for exactly this reason, but a really small car with really good performance would be a great addition to the game.

Plus, I just love Mini Coopers.

Other cars (or clones) that would be nice additions: VW Beetle, Dune Buggy, SmartCar, Dodge Charger.

6. Mini-Map: Where are you looking when you're driving? At the top of the screen. Where is the mini-map? At the bottom of the screen. Why? I'm happy to say that I play the game on a huge, widescreen HDTV, but this means that it's a significant distance to look from where I'm going down to the mini-map and then back up. Yes, if the mini-map were at the top it would sometimes get in the way (and if they had put it there I might be complaining right now about what an idiotic decision it was to put the mini-map right where you're trying to look when driving), but I really think it would be better at the top.

Hell, give users the choice. Maybe some people will want it on top and some on the bottom.

7. Body Armor on Retry: Goodness gracious, they really screwed the pooch on this one. It's great that they give that handy "Retry?" option after I fail a mission. But obviously the missions that I most often fail are the ones where someone kills me with a bunch of bullets... but when I choose to retry, it takes away my body armor!

I understand the reasoning behind this. I die, I go to the hospital, they nurse my wounds, and I emerge with "full" health... minus the body armor. Makes sense. But it's no FUN. I rarely answer "Yes" to the retry option because I always have to go find a gun shop and buy some more body armor before continuing. If I had body armor when I started a mission and I fail and I choose to retry, give me my damn body armor back. Charge me $500 for it, no problem. But don't make me waste 10 minutes buying new armor before retrying the mission.

8. Pigeons: This is LIBERTY CITY. I can run over pedestrians with only the lightest of police interest. I can blow up S.W.A.T. vans and they won't remember who I am a few minutes later. I can run red lights or run other cars off the road without any cop caring. This is a dangerous city.

But if a shoot a pigeon the cops will come after me. What the heck?

I like shooting pigeons instead of finding hidden packages. It's a nice addition to the game. Except it's annoying when cops chase me for shooting a pigeon... that's not fun.

That's my list so far. I'll add more as I think of them.


Alejo said...

I'm impressed you're putting GTAIV in your top ten. My mind isn't made up yet, but I am hugely enjoying the game. I think this is only about the third game where I've actually paid attention to cutscenes.

As to your list:

1. Agreed. But I kind of get the impression that there s simply so much content that the disc is packed full. Or maybe there's just so much going on processor-wise that higher-quality graphics would cause framerate issues. Of course I don't really know, but I have a feeling they've maxed out everything.
2. I agree, sort of. I would like more clothing options but my experience is that the more facial customization there is in a game the more the expressions become stiff and generic. (See Mass Effect.)
As to the pot belly, have you noticed that you really can only see it when you're trying on clothes? Niko looks much worse when he's modeling the suit than he does when he's running around.
3. You're right on with this one. I've heard everything too many times. But as far as custom soundtrack, can't you do that? I know you can't get commercials this way, but can't you bring up the Xbox guide and play your own music? (I haven't tried, as I generally don't play with music at all, in-game or otherwise.)
4. Yep, highly annoying -- especially when one of the idiot drivers is a cop who suddenly swerves nto you and then begins chasing you.
5. Three letters: DLC. Look for more vehicles, more clothes, more characters ... you know Rockstar is going to put out plenty of extra content to extend this game's lifespan.
6. Options are good. I'd leave the minimap where it is but there's no reason you shouldn't be able to customize. I'd also liek to have a speedometer.
7. No kidding.
8. What can I say but ARGH. You and I are at similar points in the game, where one spends a lot of time driving slowly around listening for the cooing of flying rats. You finally find one, fire one shot, and spend the next five minutes trying to ditch the cops. Repeat 199 more times. This may be the absolute most annoying thng in the game.

Anonymous said...

My list would be as follows:

1. Why can't I leave my phone at home?
2. Why can't I throw my phone into traffic?