First we have a thematic discussion on Metal Gear Solid IV in the New York Times, and now we have a thorough treatment of Grand Theft Auto IV in the Wall Street Journal by Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Dìaz. Really exciting stuff, if you ask me.
Dìaz examines the art value of GTA IV, prompted by exultant commentary from the games press that calls the game on par with or exceeding film triumphs like Scarface and The Godfather - and, in an editorial well-supported by factual comparisons, he finds it comes up short:
What else is the new GTA not? Well, despite all the critical adulation over GTA IV's characters and purported subtlety, this isn't a game that is nuanced or subtle. Like the pulps that are part of its narrative DNA, GTA IV operates in broad strokes, crude characterization and over-the-top stereotypes — this is a game where a shotgun to the head is the height of discretion. The GTA series made its name by being "hard-core" (or, if you prefer, tasteless) but the latest game certainly ain't half as hard-core as even Steven Seagal's "Out for Justice." (Check out the final corkscrew-to-the-head death match.) Hell, GTA IV ain't even half as hard-core as some of its predecessors.
Dìaz says he is actually a longtime fan of the series, and that it was GTA III that truly broke ground with its gameplay, and he seems to suggest that other installments since then have largely been more of the same. I'm a fan of GTA IV as much as anyone else, but I find Dìaz's criticisms hard to disagree with, particularly this one:
Compared with Tommy and CJ, GTA IV's protagonist Niko Bellic is somewhat of a milquetoast. He's more of a reluctant hero in the classic tradition. I mean he ain't exactly a boy scout, having been a human trafficker in the immediate past, and his descent into hits for hire is pretty swift but overall he's a moral improvement over earlier GTA leads. Perhaps this is why the critics call him more nuanced, but in my estimation Niko isn't nuanced; he's just boring. You don't play GTA because you want to roll with a Niko. You play GTA because, for a couple of hours, you want to be a Tommy Vercetti. So before you start measuring a game to "The Brothers Karamazov" maybe you should measure it up to its earlier iterations. You might actually see something.
Maybe the attempt to add film-style nuance to GTA IV didn't especially serve the format, especially as it brought the character story into conflict with the gameplay.
'Grand,' but No 'Godfather' [WSJ via Level Up]