24 hours with Grand Theft Auto IV

GTA IV box art It was around this time yesterday that I fired up GTA IV on my Xbox 360 for the first time. 24 hours later and I’m not sure that the high scores it has been receiving from the media are warranted. To call the game bad would be wrong, but it certainly isn’t a five-out-of-five title for me.

It must be mentioned, however, that I am playing the game in campaign, or ‘single-player’ mode and am yet to experience the online fun I am promised awaits me on Xbox Live. But I wanted to get my initial impression of the game out in the interim and will perhaps do a more comprehensive review later on, should my opinion change.

The game begins with a video that is a little too long, introducing us to the main protagonist Niko – who has just arrived in Liberty City aboard a boat from an unnamed Eastern European country. The story is immediately tedious to me but the game does reward you 5 gamer points for pretty much just watching the intro, which I felt was apt for stealing precious minutes of my life I could have spent playing Half Life 2 – which remains the king of games.

After getting your character and its bad accent (couldn’t they find any real Bosnian voice artists?) off the boat you are hurled into a series of yawn-inducing missions that can thankfully be put on hold. You meet people in the game and can take them out on dates… and buy clothes for your character to wear… I’m not interested in playing Barbie-dress-up or The Sims, I thought that you mindlessly killed people in creative ways in this game. And to be fair, the two fights I experienced in my first half-hour with the title were amusing, but not worth all the extreme poofness of creating a wardrobe for my character, and taking it out on dates with piles of pixels before and after the killing. Your in-game girlfriends also don’t mind you deliberately driving over people on your way to the bowling alley, which disturbs me.

I’m told that the game gets better later on and that multiplayer is awesome, but the thing is that I have a life. I can go out and buy cheap jeans at Woolworths if that’s my thing. What I want from a game is instant gratification – turn it on, shoot the living bejesus out of anything that moves and then hit the power button and go spend time with my wife and kids or on doing something constructive. Not phoning computer-controlled characters on my play-pretend mobile to arrange dates with them that I then have to dress “Niko” up for.

GTA IV is definitely for people with more time on their hands. I’ll stick it out for a little longer and come back for some humble pie if things do improve. Perhaps I’m just impatient… or lucky enough to have grown up in an era where video games rose and fell by their game-play, not the sheer amount of pointless extras that the developers have managed to pack in.

To give credit where it is due; the artwork and models in GTA IV are amazing and ‘Liberty City’ where the storyline is set is an awesome piece of work, despite its daft name. The amount of vehicles and weapons on offer are also rad and a lot of effort has gone into developing mini-games and other entertaining activities that can be experienced in the virtual world, if you really must spend time doing so.

When I get back to my console and give this title another spin I’ll be putting the storyline, if you can call it that, on hold so that I can aimlessly run around the city and beat the crap out of its inhabitants; a pass-time I’m sure I will grow tired of soon and probably not an activity worth buying the entire game for.

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