Grand Theft Auto is many things: a popular video game and a controversial subject, among others. It's also a brilliant satire wrapped in an ingenious crime story inside an interactive masterpiece. It really is.
You want this one, or is it my turn?
Once you ease into the new controls for shooting and driving - they tend to feel a little wobbly at first if you're a series old-timer - Niko walks, jogs, sprints, springs, swims, shimmies along ledges, and scrambles over walls like a well-oiled and appropriately rag-doll-slack killing machine.
Working out the timing and sequencing of his punches and kicks comes quickly, as does manipulating his considerable arsenal of knives, bats, Glocks, sniper rifles, Uzis, shotguns, rocket-launchers, Molotov cocktails, and much more.
Vamping off the stick-to-cover-and-shoot scheme found in a game like Gears of War, GTA IV lets Niko press against and slide laterally around objects, peeking out to free-aim fire, lock onto body segments (legs, torso, head) or in heavily suppressed situations, fire blind, which all told makes gunplay dramatically more organic and tactically satisfying than it ever was in prior versions.
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As I was exiting the rathole of a safehouse run by Niko Bellic's brother Roman, someone outside muttered, "We don't want you in this country." This was all I needed to raise Niko's fists in anger and get myself booked minutes into the game.
Jostle the natives, and they'll bark out protests, swear like sailors, strut and angle their way into your face, and sling ethnic slurs like motormouth xenophobes.
If Liberty City is mostly Manhattan through a fishbowl, it's certainly an edgier, shorter-fused version. Cheers to Rockstar for deepening the social subtext - your immigrant background and occupational history factors hugely in escalating plot points as the story accelerates toward its epic two-way conclusion.
A doughnut a day keeps the boys in blue at bay
Let's say everything you know about Grand Theft Auto is wrong. Humour me for a moment. Remember the scene in 'Kill Bill Vol. 2', the one where David Carradine tells Uma Thurman that Clark Kent is the costume Superman - an alien - wears to blend in with humans? That that's how Superman views us? "Clark Kent," says Carradine, with obvious relish, "Is Superman's critique on the whole human race."
Sort of the way GTA IV, the quintessential version of Rockstar's sandbox crime opus, is less the lurid celebration of homicidal tendencies the mainstream media sophomorically reduces it too, than a deeply satirical commentary on and critique of contemporary (American) society by legal aliens (British expats) Dan and Sam Houser. To that end, you can almost hear the Houser brothers reacting to all their sanctimonious finger-wagging critics by saying something like
"If you refuse to gaze into the satire, the satire still gazes (smugly) into you."
NEXT PAGE: large and in charge and the satire runs wild
- I'm Niko from the block
- You want this one, or is it my turn?
- Large and in charge and the satire runs wild
- Shattered glass and plastic
- Eeny meeny miny moe
- Grand Theft Auto IV screenshots page 1
- Grand Theft Auto screenshots page 2