Wall Street Journal: GTA IV's No Godfather

Illustration for article titled Wall Street Journal: GTA IV's No Godfather

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.

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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]

DISCUSSION

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"it brought the character story into conflict with the gameplay"

You totally nailed the problem there.

Rockstar did try to give the protagonist more character and even offer moral choices for the player and while they were nice themselves they just made one wonder why one can´t really decide all the time whom to kill or leave alive and which mission to do or leave aside.

For example the bank robbery mission was very well done by itself but it made me wonder why i had to do it, i had enough money and overall felt like doing this mission would only have negative impacts on the characters involved and yet i was forced to do it of course to advance the storyline.

In some moments Nico would act like a likable character with emotions, in many others one would have to do psychopath acts of pure violence without him having anything against that which sorta made the character less believable after a while.

On other ends, yup, trying to make it more serious and realistic has meant that lots of things one could do in previous gta games to just have sensless fun in between (basic example car surfing) had to be taken out or toned down a lot (so now saints row 2 can ride that wave).

So yeah,shows its very difficult if possible at all to combine the core gameplay of a gta with a serious believable storyline and propper character evolution.