Saturday, April 19, 2008

videogames: prior to GTA IV

Here are the "explore world" games I've traveled through while waiting for Grand Theft Auto IV.
Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories
The first backport from the PSP to the PS2. It has slightly better gameplay than its parent GTA III but is far from the gargantuan mind-bending achievement of GTA: San Andreas. It's one of the weaker story lines, and the music selection isn't very good. However, the DJ dialog and commercials are the best of all GTA games! Someone transcribed a bunch on wikiquote.org; Reni, the transsexual DJ on Flashback FM, is brilliant, his/her lines include:
"Music is life and we snort it until we O.D., again und again"
"At least in the 80s they could play their instruments and there were two ambiguously gay men beating a synthesizer who were up for a go"
"I'm having a flashback... from when I was a man! I still look good in a tie. Now it's ties and titties! These tunes are enough to make me fertile again! I can impregnate myself! That's a talent, no?"
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories
One of the best features of the GTA games is the weather and lighting that puts you in the environment, culminating in San Andreas where every region feels exactly right: foggy San Fierro, smoggy Los Santos, hot bright Las Venturas. But the 80s pastel colors in GTA:VCS are so over the top that it's phony. And the storyline with the loser army AWOL whining at his coked-out brother has little emotional punch. On the upside, the map shows you attempted jumps and rampages, and the business takeovers are an interesting gameplay develoment. Launching an Infernus off a ramp straight into a palm tree for a triple insane stunt bonus never gets old. And Reni Wassulmaier appears as a bisexual studio head!
An interesting variation, you're a 15 year old juvenile delinquent trying to patch things up at school by beating up all the cliques, recovering your health by kissing girls. It's a fantasy of school hijinks with a fine storyline and good characters, but it's let down by glitches: the load time every time you go in or out of a building is awful, and you can get stuck in places.
Scarface: The World is Yours
This isn't by Rockstar, it's from Radical Games who made the pleasant Simpsons Hit and Run. I've never seen the movie Scarface (I don't like violent movies, too realistic!) but the game is not bad. It has several improvements on GTA:
  • You have some funny scripted encounters with pedestrians
  • It's a challenge to intimidate people.
  • The "balls" mode where you go into a blood-hazed frenzy is nice.
  • The mechanism of loading up just a few weapons from the trunk of your car is much more realistic than GTA's "machete, revolver, shotgun, machine gun, and rocket launcher" all at once.
  • Best of all, making a profitable drug run is appropriately complex and rewarding: meet a supplier, fly to the islands, intimidate for a good deal, pilot a boat back, then a wild balls-to-the-wall ride all over the islands trying to distribute it to your fronts as other gangs and the police get increasingly crazy.
But it's somehow a shallow world. Two examples: there's absolutely no fun in driving around to explore with the radio on; you have a huge mansion that you can equip with lots of no-class drug lord knickknacks, but there are no surprises or interesting interactivity in it, unlike the videogames in GTA:SA and Bully.
All these games I played through to 100%, completist that I am.

I dipped a toe in the waters of two other non-Rockstar games by renting them, but passed on both of them:
Destroy All Humans 2
Oh dear. It could be great, an alien flying around 60s San Francisco and London with crazy weapons, psychokinetic powers, and the ability to take over other bodies. But the dialog is deathly dull, and even more so than Scarface, the world feels like a cardboard set. Even though you have a flying saucer you can't jump into a single area where you don't belong. And watching the cut scenes with the laconic alien ... speaking ... his ... lines becomes painful only 4 hours into the game.
The Godfather
Another movie I've never seen (don't people know that violent movies rot your brain?!), another game studio (big bad Electronic Arts) attempting to make a GTA competitor. This has its moments. You feel you're on a movie set of New York and the voice acting is pretty good. I might yet buy it, my hesitation is reviews said that the missions become very repetitive.
Rockstar's San Andreas is a giant compared to any of these games. These recent Rockstar games are all obviously filler while they labored over GTA IV, yet even Rockstar's lesser efforts are enjoyable efforts. It's nice to see other game studios coming close. Meanwhile, I've only 10 days to buy a TV, a surround system, a PS3, and umpteen cables, to play GTA IV. It's already scoring perfect game ratings. Rockstar have made the Birth of a Nation of videogames with Grand Theft Auto:III, the Gone with the Wind of videogames with GTA:VC and the Citizen Kane of videogames with GTA:SA. I believe the hype!

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