For better or worse, I did go out and buy a play-station on the weekend. I managed to find an older one that’ll play both PS2 and PS3 games, although it doesn’t seem like it was a very necessary move at this stage because there’s a huge difference in the level of sophistication and therefore enjoyment between the two. I’d just wanted to get a straight racing game, Grid that I’d read good reviews of, but it’d gone out of stock long ago. Instead I bought Grand Theft Auto IV. Again, I was actually after GTA 3 because I’d read that Shaun Ryder, formerly of the Happy Mondays, had done a voice in it but it’d sold out years ago.
In Korean shops, being given something for free when you buying something is a good indication that you should’ve haggled. They gave me an XL-sized New York Yankees baseball jersey—very lol-worthy, but I was actually wearing it for fun last night while playing the game. This shopping complex is the closest to the US military base in the middle of Seoul and I bet those d00ds bargain hard as well as wear XL sizes.
And yes this game is highly addictive. Not surprising for someone with an easily unbalanced personality like me. But boy, is it interesting too. The level of detail is mind boggling. Most noticable at first is the audio. There’s 19 ‘radio stations’ each with roughly an hour or an hour and a half of music/talk on them. Each time you get in a car, the radio is set to a random station (which you can switch or turn off completely) that range from electro to hardcore to reggae. Iggy Pop DJs on one of the stations. There’s a lot of high-profile songs which must’ve cost quite a pretty penny to secure the rights to. The ambient techno station has tracks by Jean Michel Jarre, Phillip Glass and Aphex Twin! Bizarre. It’s like they raided my iTunes library.
There are plenty of detailed articles on the plot, like wikipedia, but basically, you play an Eastern European chap with a shady past who apparently has no qualms with stealing cars, running over pedestrians or shooting people. He can indulge in pretty much everything you would get in trouble for. But it basically sticks to the norms that Hollywood goes by; ultra-violence is ok, htero-sex with adults is ok, ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ drug use is ok.
From what I’ve seen so far, the game does work in a linear fashion. For the plot to progress there are tasks you need to complete. You can choose to take on side jobs, which help the character accumulate money, but it’s like treading water. Apparently, at certain places there are choices to be made, like with the first person you are sent to kill, Ivan (the not so terrible) you are given the choice to kill him (I did—pushed him off the fourth storey of a construction site) or have mercy on him and quietly let him go, a la the situation with the hunter and Snow White, from the story Snow White. I didn’t see that I had a choice.
Most of it looks quite good. The look of the envirnoment changes through the day and follows a steady time-scale moving from day into night and onward. It occasionally rains. As you’d hope, the vehicles move around in a realistic way and some of the ‘cutscenes’ show people moving around in an impressively realistic way. I’ve seen this before: cgi seems to do a really good job of animating the way the human body’s mechanics work but falls down heavily when it comes to the face and facial expression. GTA4 is no exception here.
Cutscene is the term used in reference to the short “watch only” pieces that move the story forward. These appear regularly when you complete a mission or come across a random character. They give the game a movie-like feel.
The clothing the main character wears can be changed. Extra clothing can be bought and mixed. Because it’s on a console, I can’t get screen-shots which is unfortunate. One of the early, easy missions is to go throw a rock through a shop-keeper’s window in order to extract protection money from them. It looks like a ceramics shop run by Korean immigrants and there’s signs in there written in Hangeul but eventhough I’ve living here for five years I still don’t know what they say.
So far, I’m stuck doing shit-kicking jobs like that, which doesn’t really inspire me to become a gangsta in real life. Although I have become a lot more wary of cars mounting the pavement and mowing me down for no reason. In the game, I’m currently stuck and unable to successfully murder (they use watered down, cool expressions like ‘take down’ or ‘waste’) a certain troublesome biker. Who would’ve thought riding a motorcycle at top speed in heacy traffic while trying to aim and fire a shotgun would be so difficult?