Monday, May 5, 2008

My Weekend in Liberty City

Grand Theft Auto IV has finally made it into gamers’ hands: it’s big, bawdy, and utterly brilliant. For too many reasons to count last week was a frustrated mess — not the least of which was a tangle of post-work obligations that kept me from playing the game until Friday. Yes, my copy stayed captive in its shrink-wrapped prison for four long days. As a consequence, I’m not ashamed to say I spent most of this sunny Brooklyn weekend inside, shades drawn, my fingers glued to my Playstation 3 controller.

By now the genius of GTA IV has been well hashed. Case in point: it is the only game I’ve ever seen get a perfect MetaCritic score of 100. Our partner review summed it up nicely with the headline “Grand Theft Awesome.” So, instead of repeating what many many many many many great reviews have said about the blockbuster, I thought I’d lay down a few of my favorite elements from the game. Check it out:
You Spin Me Right Round — Despite the brilliance of the nearly perfectly curated radio stations in Vice City, the radio experience in GTA IV is sublime. My particular favorites are the appearances by Iggy Pop, Karl Lagerfeld, and Juliette Lewis as radio DJs. (Lewis’ Williamsburg shtick is spot-on.) There’s also — finally — a jazz station, JNR, with the likes of John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, and Art Blakey. Even if it doesn’t make for the best “high-speed-drug-dealer-car-chase-drive-by-shooting” music, the station creates great atmosphere when you’re driving point-to-point in the city.
A Realistic Manhatt—er—Algonquin — Much has been made of the richness of this incarnation of Liberty City. It’s true that the city feels alive, terrifyingly open, and plain vast. But for anybody who has lived in Brooklyn and works in Manhattan, there’s a surreal quality to the meme.
Plot Mash — Though, as in previous editions of the GTA franchise, the storyline is a mash of derivations — a dash of The Wire here, a little Sopranos there — the story line is a thrill to play through. More than ever, the story serves as a guide to the open world that is Liberty City. Like a twisted tourist map, the the story campaign unpacks the city’s depth for the player. Of course, for what its worth, all the clownish sexism, racism, and homophobia of previous titles’ plots are intact here.
Let A Multiplayer Play — And finally, multiplayer. I only played three multiplayer rounds this weekend. Not because the experience lags the campaign mode but because a few short sessions were enough to convince me there are at least two whole games on the disc, the single and multiplayer editions. I’ve saving the later for latter.

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