How did adding reality to Liberty City suck all the life out of it?
Before we enter the Liberty City of Grand Theft Auto IV let us rewind all the way back to its true predecessor, Grand Theft Auto III. In a time where most gamers did not even know what sandbox gameplay was, GTA III defined a whole new way we play games.
I remember my first time ever playing the game, after only one or two of the story missions, I got lost in LIberty City. Hours and hours were spent just taking it all in, cruising around the city, finding something new at every corner (as well as a few hidden packages).
GTA III brought us the environment, now it was time to build a compelling tale, enter Vice City. The environment shifts from the traditional metropolis to the a setting ripped right out 1980s Miami. Vice City also showed a strong cast of acting ability including Burt Reynolds, Tom Sizemore, Dennis Hopper and many others.
Having a main character that would actually speak this time around (and it being the voice of Ray Liotta does not hurt), brought a whole new level of character interaction. Now rather than being a silent "yes man" not even having a name, your character has life and personality that most games only could dream of having.
The environment is made, the story is great, all that remains is a fine polish, that is where San Andreas comes in. Expand the environment to the absolute limit, create enough life for three completely different cities to interact within one area and add side-quests, mini games, character and car customizations to get a fully immersed and complete experience. To this day I still consider tracking down a copy of this game to revisit the life of CJ in San Andreas.
Now comes the big kahuna, the game to be remembered this generation more than any other. I certainly will not say that GTA IV terrible bust, the game most definitely worth playing at least once. However, the series took a long step in the wrong direction.
Where has all the star power gone? Respecting the angle Rockstar took by not using highly-popular actors to voice the main story characters, but that lack of talent brings the loss of the characters' personalities. Most of the characters are no more interesting nor compelling than overhearing a conversation on the bus. Of course there are a few exceptions within the story -- Little Jacob and Brucie immediately come to mind -- only for the fact these characters are very stereotypical caricatures from many walks of life.
Then come the side quests, the new ones seeming more like chores. The addition of being able to hang out and do activities with many of the characters in the story on paper sounded promising, but was poorly executed. I do not know what the problem is with Niko's friends, but they are all lonely, needy and annoying. You ignore someone for a few days? Expect to take them out at least 2-3 times before you get back on their good side. Having to do this with almost a half dozen characters is quite repetitive and boring.
You are completely able to blow all your friends off, but if you want the special ability that each friend provides you'll need to dedicate quite a few hours to getting everyone to "BFF" status. The same standard side quests from the previous games are still here, taxi driving, chasing down criminals in the police car, etcetera; just veiled differently than previous iterations. A few new mini games like bowling, darts and pool add more dimension to Liberty City; which may be too realistic for its own good.
Liberty City has incredible amounts of detail, just go to the internet cafe, check your e-mail and peruse the hundreds of websites available. You can even watch TV at your place, ranging from reality shows to stand up comedy from both Ricky Gervais and Katt Williams. The radio stations are full of brand new talk shows, commercials and tunes. Taking a page out of the popular phone app Shazam, you are even able have a message sent to you with the current song playing. With all this detail in the city, the personality went right out the door.
I recall being able to pop in any of the old GTA games and spend hours just tooling around the city making up my own fun. This new Liberty City does not have that same re-playability factor -- unless you count the hilarious swing set glitch -- only building after building after building with a few very tiny and ignorable islands. Looking at the city as a whole and you see as many things crammed into a little space as possible, there is no room for the city to breathe.
Liberty City is certainly not on life support, but its heartbeat is fading.