After a grueling exam period which is now all over I was finally able to finish Grand Theft Auto 4 today. A little while ago Reverend Anthony wrote a fantastic article called deconstructing the ending to GTA 4
which discussed the choice you make at the end of the game that determines the ending you get and the emotional impact each ending has upon you the player. In this article Rev argues that the more moral path results in a more dramatic and superior conclusion but having seen both I disagree and prefer the less moral ending.....
Huge Spoilers incoming.....
When you're given the choice to either side with Roman, go ahead with the deal and take the money or side with Kate, kill Dimitri and keep true to the promise you made with yourself not to trust/work with him again, it's a much more complex decision than simply the revenge and money options the game lays out in front of you. Not only are you choosing between Roman and Kate but you are also choosing between Dimitri and Pegorino. Who do you hate more? Who do you trust to keep their end of the bargain? Who is a bigger threat? For me, the first time I played I chose to kill Dimitri for a number of reasons:
1.) He can't be trusted to keep up his end of the bargain.
2.) There's no guarantee he won't come after you or Roman again in the future. After all he's been trying to kill you throughout the game, why would he stop here?
3.) He's still in cahoots with Bulgarin who wants your head.
4.) I don't like the idea of selling out my principles.
Let's also not forget that the money from the deal would be put towards Roman and Mallorie's honeymoon and also remember that Kate will leave you/Niko if you decide to go along with the deal. Throughout the game Roman was the Ying to Niko's Yang. He was your friend who you could always count on. On the other hand you have Kate who represents Niko's new life free from crime and revenge that has haunted him in the past. She is Niko's chance at settling down and leading a normal life, his fairytale ending. Ultimately your decision here will reflect how much you like that character but when your decision is based on the question "would you sacrifice yourself for another?" the two become a bit more difficult to choose between. Do you repay Roman and lose your shot at happiness and normality or do you fight for this new life and hope Roman will understand? Everyone has their own motives and so Rockstar had a tough job creating equally satisfying endings for whatever you decide to do and in my opinion they have done an admirable job. Although the final mission is a frustrating cluster fuck!
The first time I tried to get the more moral ending I was on the boat and traveling to get under the helicopter and my boat suddenly explodes.... hit by a rocket that I didn't see. The second time I was again traveling on the boat but it was raining and as Little Jacob was lowering the helicopter for me to jump on, he bounced off a wave and the chopper went flying into the air and crashed on the ground. The third time my chopper was blown up in the air. The fourth time I was a bit quicker and Dimitri blew me up as I was getting into the boat..... what a cunt.
Opting for revenge at the end of the game by killing Dimitri may not seem particularly interesting from a storytelling perspective because as Reverend Anthony says in his article Niko ends up pretty much exactly where he was at the beginning of the game "in terms of his own capacity to commit violence" and that "the player has chosen a path in which Niko cannot possibly change as a character." I feel that the Rev has missed the point here a little bit. Although what he says is technically true in that Niko is still willing and wanting to kill people at the end of as he is in the beginning. However, after you meet Darko, Niko repeatedly says he wants out of the life of crime and hence killing Dimitri was meant to be his last act of violence which is backed up by his conversation with Kate on their way to Roman's wedding where they talk about settling down and leading a normal life. This in itself proves that Niko has changed as a character as he is willing and wanting to stop the killing after everything is finished with Dimitri who is a constant threat to himself and Roman. Does it really matter when
Niko decides to cease his murderous rampage so long as he actively tries to?
Another argument Rev puts forward for the revenge ending being less fulfilling is the character interactions involving Kate and Pegorino. If you took the time to date Kate then there's not really an argument as you see Niko open up to her about his past but because dating her is completely optional there's no need or really any benefit to doing so and so a lot of players will skip this entirely which makes her death almost meaningless right? Well not quite. Regardless of what you think of Kate or how much you dated her you know how much Niko likes her and the conversation Niko has with her on the way to the wedding is really all you need to hear. As I mentioned before Kate is Niko's fairytale ending and you may not think much of Kate but I'm sure you think quite highly of Niko himself and you want him to ride off into the sunset with the woman of his dreams. So when she is gunned down right in front of you all of Niko's hopes and dreams for a normal life die with her and once again he's brought back into the life he wants to escape as it's his/your fault she's dead.
As for Pegorino you may think that it's a bit of a stretch to make him the final boss but I disagree. If you remember the last few missions you do for him you see his whole world collapse around him. Anthony turned out to be a rat, Ray is dead and after you take out Dimitri, Phil bails out as well. Pegorino is left with nothing and according to the U.C Paper guy the Feds are closing in on him so in short he's desperate and needs the cash, fast, which you screw him over with by killing Dimitri. So it isn't that much of a stretch that Pegorino would go a bit crazy and try and take you out but miss and kill Kate by accident. The fact that he only appears towards the latter part of the game shows that by following a life of crime, no matter what you do, you will always have enemies who will try and hurt you and those closest to you and you don't even need to know them for very long and there is no escape from them, which of course fits nicely with the theme of the game.
Personally after getting the money in the "anti-revenge" path I thought it was bloody foolish of Niko to let Dimitri go as he was obviously
going to back stab and come after either Niko or Roman at some point in the near future. So when Dimitri sends the assassin to Roman's wedding I didn't really feel as much sympathy for Niko when compared to the "revenge" path as throughout the whole game Dimitri taunts and threatens Niko over the phone so of course he's not going to just let you go especially after he left you to die by not handing over the H while you were in the compound in the previous mission. When you're chasing the henchmen back to Dimitri Niko himself also condemns his own naivety and questions why he didn't kill Dimitri when he had the chance. Not to mention when you're on your way to the compound with Phil to pick up the money Niko tries to explain to Phil why he's doing this and not going after Dimitri and ends up sounding confused and unable to fully convince either himself or Phil who responds by saying "it's funny what money will make people do" (or something similar to that). Niko is obviously doing this for Roman but he clearly wants to finish things with Dimitri. The fact Niko doesn't sound or feel like he's doing the right thing makes this path feel quite unnatural, at least to me anyway. Although it does make sense to make Dimtri the final boss of the game, to do it this way makes it feel almost forced. I didn't feel as sorry for Roman when he died as I did for Kate because I was thinking "what did you expect? Serves you right for letting Dimitri go" whereas with Kate I hated Pegorino more because you weren't sure if he would be such a bitter old man who would go that far.
Reverend Anthony mentioned that "Niko makes a full character arc, but is literally pulled back into his violent ways because of Roman's death" but you can argue that this happens when Kate dies as well. Just because you chose to kill Dimitri doesn't mean that afterward Niko had not renounced his killing ways the same way he does when he chooses the money over revenge. In both endings Niko is a vastly different character than he was at the beginning of the game. In fact I'd go so far as to say he's more of a changed man in the revenge path. Killing Dimitri was meant to be the closing of the book of Niko's past and murderous ways and when Kate is killed you see a more human side of Niko as he checks her pulse and is unwilling to leave her body and run away before the police arrive. As Roman calls for an ambulance you can see and hear the devastation of Kate's death in Niko's voice and he screams "she's dead." Whereas when Roman is murdered all you see is a very blank, almost psychotic expression on Niko's face as he repeatedly shoots and kicks the assassin's already dead body. This shows that Niko has in fact not
changed despite his decision not to kill Dimitri because the first thing he does after seeing Roman getting shot is to shoot the corpse of the assassin. He doesn't even approach Romans body and when told to leave he just walks off, unlike when Kate is killed he almost had to be dragged away by Little Jacob. You could argue that he was in a state of shock but when you compare his actions to when Kate is murdered it paints a very different picture of Niko. Ultimately the two murder scenes show the same Niko. In the anti-revenge path you are shown Niko's murderous side when Roman is killed whereas in the revenge path you are shown this side of Niko by killing Dimitri but in both paths you see Niko seek redemption only to realize that redemption doesn't come to those who simply want it and sometimes it's unattainable.
Finally I would like to address Niko's final line as he says "I don't know...what did I do?" when Roman says "you did it" after killing Pegorino. In his article Reverend Anthony argues that "A player who chose revenge as soon as it was offered would need this little unsubtle line of dialogue to explain the theme to them, since they obviously didn't make their decisions in such a way that suggested they'd understand this theme implicitly." Now I don't agree with this statement at all. The decision to kill Dimitri is not necessarily an easy one and nor is it a simple one. Hopefully I've done a good job in demonstrating the complexity of making that decision but that doesn't mean players who kill Dimitri don't understand the theme of the game. What if the player had spared every single character they could throughout the game and only decided to kill Dimitri at the end? Does this make them more merciless than someone who killed everyone and took the money? I let Darko live but killed Dimitri. Is that proof that I don't get the theme of the game? Do I need to sacrifice better storytelling and hence a better ending because I'm obviously not intelligent enough to go along with the main theme rather than make my own decision on what to do?
If you believe Rockstar had to spell out the theme at the end of the revenge path then they have done a poor job designing how the end plays out as you're potentially penalized for thinking in a way that goes against theirs/the games. The game effectively forces you to lean one way more than the other in order to get the "better" ending. Bioshock did this by giving you a slightly better ending with more closure when you save all the little sisters. To me this is bullshit. It means the choices you make in the game are nothing more than a facade because to get the "better" ending you have to go down one particular path and so there is no real choice at all.
Personally I still prefer the revenge paths ending. I don't believe the point of Niko's final words was to spell out the theme but rather add more dramatic effect. In front of Niko is the dead Pegorino. He's lost it all, his money, his followers, his empire and his life. What did Niko do? Who did he kill? He killed a desperate, bitter old man who failed to achieve the American Dream. Who is Niko? He's the same killer he has always been regardless of how much he wanted to change thanks to the decisions he made when he first arrived in Liberty City. As Niko says his final line and the camera pans out to view the Statue of Happiness, his words echo and haunt the player as they gaze upon the symbol of freedom and the American Dream. "Crime leads to the suffering of innocents"/"crime doesn't pay"/"the American Dream is a lie"/"violence begets violence," the themes of the game become much more powerful and prevalent and leaves a much more lasting impression on the minds of the players who see a broken Niko realize what he's done. He had everything he wanted and the chance to walk away from a life of crime only for it all to slip away and now he's lost and disillusioned after he suffers the consequences of his actions.
Overall the ending to GTA4 is a fantastic achievement. My only gripe with it is that both endings fail to offer a decent sense of closure. That being said every GTA game that I can remember falters in this regard but perhaps with DLC on the horizon maybe this time it's deliberate so that players can carry on from where the story left off much more easily. That being said I hope they address a few things in future DLC such as Bulgarin and whatever happened to him since he's still alive and surely still after Niko and whatever happened to Elizabeta? Did she get busted by the Feds in the end? One thing that puzzles me is that when Kate is murdered how come Packie never offers his assistance to avenge his sister? I know he had to stay with his ma but surely he would have taken time out to seek revenge himself but then again I guess he couldn't put his neck on the line for his mothers sake.