Friday, May 2, 2008
GTA IV: First Impressions
I think Im getting older. I noticed this the other day when I was driving around NYC (the real one). Im just not jamming on the gas like I used to when I see a yellow light ahead. Im braking. My destination is still gonna be there 5 minutes from now. The guy who just switched lanes right in front of me, well, he might have had a bad day. Maybe hes in a hurry. Let it slide. Last night I was playing poker, and I hit a Jack on the turn to make Broadway for the nut straight (AKQJ10). I couple of guys raised in front of me, and I just called (there was no flush draw). I think even a year ago, I just would have pushed my whole stack into the pot instantly. Now, Im content to slowplay. Im keeping the pot smaller. I might make more or less of a profit by jamming my stack, but I know by slowplaying Im going to at least get decent value for my hand, and I dont feel the need to try to constantly double up. Basically, Im getting older, possibly wiser, definitely slower. Im fine with it, because for years I could just never go fast enough, in everything. Patience, Ive learned, actually is a virtue.
So how does this all relate to GTA IV? Well, Im playing the game slowly. The achievement for beating the game in under 30 hours, which some of my friends like Blank Void could quite possibly earn without trying because they race through games so quickly, I wont earn even if I play through the game 5 times. When I hop in a taxi in GTA IV, I usually dont fast travel (A Button) unless the taxi gets stuck, although I often hit the X Button to speed up a bit. I also like to hit the Back Button, and switch to Cinematic Mode, or just look out the window, kick back and enjoy the ride, taking in the wonder that is Liberty City. Sometimes, I'll sit on a street corner and just watch people while I smoke. Seeing as though I dont smoke on the streets of the real NYC anymore due to extremely harsh laws created during the Giuliani administration, this is as close as I can get.
Its tough to describe what GTA IV is like for me, having been born and raised in Manhattan, and having lived and worked in Brooklyn for the past 5 years. When I go to sleep, my dreams are filled with visions of NYC and the people who live here, just as your dreams are filled with images of the towns and cities you live in and the people who live there. When I close my eyes at night, I see endless serpentine subways, docks with workers unloading crates, the projects, busy intersections filled with psychotic cabbies and reckless garbage trucks, neon lights, insane homeless people, transvestites, ambulances and cops cars with their lights perpetually flashing, all types of restaurants, nightclubs, infinite rooftops, supermodels, elevators, trash flying in the air, Hasids, hookers, hookers doing Hasids, labrynth-like sub-basements, the construction workers, the 5 story walk-ups, joggers, abandoned cars, fire escapes, underground poker rooms, burnt out buildings, brand new skyscrapers, and all the people I know - every night these images fill my head in a never ending loop. And then I open my eyes, and its all there - its all in GTA IV.
I can honestly say that a videogame has never before brought tears to my eyes. But upon seeing how fully realized GTA IV is, and witnessing the uncanny resemblence to my home town, I could not stop myself from choking up a bit. Its like seeing an incredible work of art for the first time. Its just so overwhelming, so unexpected, so incredible and mind blowing to see, that your mind does not know how to react so your body takes over. Its beautiful but in an extremely visceral way that is not "pretty." The best description I can give is that its like looking at yourself in the mirror. Everything is there, as you would expect it to be, yet somehow, you look different from how you see yourself in the eye of your own mind. The experience is affirming, unsettling, and extremely powerful. In GTA IV, I am experiencing NYC through the lens of my own dreams.
Niko, as I play him, is not in a hurry either. Hes content to stop at the yellow light, to play for the small pot. He wants to make the correct decisions, and not doing anything else he might regret. Hes not trying to screw anyone over. Actually, all Niko is trying to do is keep himself, his friends and his family from getting screwed over. He will proceed with caution. He will smell the roses when they present themselves. He will go out drinking with Roman and go to the strip club with Lil Jacob. And when its time to do business, time to get the job done, Niko will oblige his friends.
This is the most fully realized game world I have ever experienced, its the dream world I visit every night come to life, its the reality I inhabit everyday in digital form. Its difficult to describe the irony of sitting in traffic on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway driving to Red Hook to go see a friend, and then coming home, getting on GTA IV, driving through traffic on the Algonquin-Dukes Expressway to East Hook and meeting up with Lil Jacob to drop off some Kush. So I am taking my time to really enjoy it, to fully experience it, and so is Niko. We will have plenty of time for multiplayer in the weeks and months to come, and if its as good as I have heard, we wont be leaving Liberty City anytime soon.