Ah, GTA4… I quickly got bored of the original Playstation one, but somehow this latest entry has really brought back the fun. THere is a certain threshold that the right amount of variety crosses to give you the feeling of an infinitely rich world, and they were finally able to pull it off. Don't get me wrong, there are still obvious repetition in peds and vehicles, and the facial animation isn't nearly as well done as people seem to think, but all is forgiven the moment you enter this beautiful game. They've set a standard in time-of-day lighting, panoramas, and sheer environmental variety. Every part of town has it's own flavor reflecting the virtual "realities" of the local economy, history, and people. It's as close to a living breathing city as we have in video games.
The gameplay interests in a different way. Sometimes, the missions can be unforgivingly hard since the camera is utterly obtuse, and the controls are a mash-up of schemas that just couldn't get along. I suppose they had no choice, but there is certainly little elegance in getting your protagonist Nico Bellic to do a wide range of mundane to violent actions. Somehow, the sandbox play eases up the difficulty scaling by letting you go on murderous tangents whenever you feel frustration rising. It's very self-regulating. I may be en route to a critical mission when an off-the-cuff remark from a sassy pedestrian will send me into a rampage, and an hour later I've accomplished nothing but a trail of bodies. What better way to take out my frustrations at repeated mission failings.
That lack of progress is a bit tiring, and the game's punishment system is too binary (being arrested is worse than dying because you get all weapons stripped?), and the saving is a penalty itself (you can't save mid-mission, you can't quit missions, and you only have one place in a huge town to save). But for once I can overlook fundamental gameplay flaws because the game isn't just polished, it *is* polish. From the endless webpages you can browse to a huge amount of television and radio content, there is no shortage of quality satire of every aspect of our real lives. There's too much to absorb that it's almost paralyzing.
There is even an in-game joke referencing idiot attorney extraordinaire Jack Thompson, who oh-so-cleverly phoned into NPR to voice his misguided attack on the game's content. Unfortunately, the gamer correspondent on the show made for pitiful defense. Gamers need to stop masturbating over the game's features and start talking about the issues intelligently.
It's ignorant to claim games can't incite violence. There is no way that that amount of violent exposure doesn't cause some level of aggressiveness or desensitization. Gamers need to accept that. Then they need to turn around and point out the double-edge sword that treats games as brainwashing kill trainers, but pretends violence in TV, film, comics, books, music, or any other medium is innocuous. Yes, GTA4 will end up in the hands of certain impressionable children, but you can't sue Take-Two for that, you have to blame the retailers. And frankly, they really can't, because game retailers have done a great job controlling sales to minors. Check out the FTC report yourself.
But since stupid lawyers want to reduce games to nothing but murder sims, I see nothing wrong with putting lawyers into games as nothing but sims to murder. After so many violent games, it's not like we have the free-will to think otherwise.