Updated Mon, Dec 17, 2012 by jeffprime
Heart broken: Gunky
Harken back to the days of yesteryear when savage, mindless violence, brutally abusive language and prostitutes-as-heal-packs were still shocking to most people. Grand Theft Auto III raised the bar on what developers could get away with putting into their games. Surely it wasn't the only game with all of these elements--not even in the halcyon days of yore when people were still decent and children respected their elders--but it was one of the first to be so blatantly in-your-face about its controversial content. And it ate up a lot of my gaming hours in 2001-2002.
GTA: Vice City ramped things up even further, adding a veneer of retro 80s cool to the mindless brutality, plus a smattering of different outfits and drivable motorcycles. And the soundtrack... the glorious soundtrack. Vice City had some raging 80s metal and big-time pop music. Songs you recognized instantly and that fit the story and setting so perfectly.
GTA: San Andreas combined the elements that had worked so well in the previous two games with RPG-like elements and even bigger voice-actor names. The soundtrack was even better than Vice City's. More than either of the previous games, with San Andreas you truly felt like you could play the game you wanted to play. You could dress CJ up in ridiculous outfits, eat a lot of burgers and pizza to make him super-fat, starve him and make him run everywhere to make him skinny. You could become a property mogul, stuffing your garages with extensively-modded custom cars and monster trucks and motorbikes and bicycles. Go on crazy shooting sprees. Fight fires. Start fires. Arrest people. Go on drive-by dates with your crazy girlfriend. Whatever. For me, San Andreas was nearly a perfect game, and a clear evolutionary point in the series. Surely, then, the next game in the series would follow that same trend of building upon the base of the previous games and adding more.
Not the case. The RPG-like character elements had been stripped away. Car customization: gone. Limited ammo capacity-- no more hours-long epic standoffs against the army after accidentally nudging a cop car in an intersection somewhere and having things seriously escalate beyond reason. Sure, things still escalate beyond reason, but the ammo cap on RPG rounds meant they didn’t stay escalated for nearly as long without using cheats. Even the mini-games (Bowling? Darts? Seriously?) got boring.
Nearly every car in GTA IV seemed to have an ultra-squishy suspension geared towards drift-style drivers--you had to master that technique early on if you didn’t want to go smashing into walls, cars and pedestrians every time you tried to take a corner at speeds faster than a walk. A lot of cars spun out of control if you even glance at the handbrake, never mind using it to hit tight corners.
Some parts of the story made no sense. How could Niko, a Russian immigrant who has difficulty understanding some regular American English, possibly understand anything Little Jacob ever said with his ultra-thick Jamaican patois (but not Badman, who is speaking the same exact language)? Why would Mikhail Faustin bother to question Niko's loyalty to him only a mission or two after shooting Niko's cousin in the guts, and why would Niko even have any loyalty to question at that point, and be so insulted by the fact that it's being questioned?
And what happened to the incredible voice talent? They got Iggy Pop, Juliette Lewis, and Jason Sudekis as radio personalities, and that appears to have broken the bank. Everyone else is a relative unknown doing fake Russian accents.
GTA IV's updated graphics surely look prettier than the earlier titles--the cars look nicer, everything looks more realistic. You can still buy some boring outfits for your Russian goon. You can still hook up with chicks and freak them out with your wanton careening around the streets of Liberty City at breakneck speeds. The innuendo-laden business names are still everywhere, and the socio-political satire is still sharp and cynical. But in almost every other respect, this is a game that feels like it has gone backwards. So far backwards, in fact, that it makes me wonder if GTA V, looming somewhere just over the horizon, might not return to a top-down 2D scroller format. Or maybe a text parser adventure game.
Check out Part 2 in our series for more games that broke our hearts.
Falling for a game in development is risky business--you never know whether you're going to find lasting love or end up with your heart stomped. The first cut is the deepest, baby. Which game ripped your heart in two? Share a comment and let us know, then watch for part two of our feature next week for more tales of love and loss.