Yesterday I had a chance to play GTA IV for a short while. It’s a wonderful looking game
and the graphics and world are much improved from the already impressive ones in GTA III. I only scratched the surface but at first blush the gameplay is identical to
previous entries in the series, it’s true that despite what the “murder simulator” critics say, you don’t actually have to do anything bad, but the controls are set up in such a way that it’s almost too easy to accidentally drag someone out of his car and beat him up if you click the wrong button. I kept beating up passers by unintentionally while looking for a “talk” button. And like in previous games your protagonist, while superficially realistic is in fact highly resilient compared to all the other NPCs and can literally get away with murder and mayhem with little to no consequences (You simply start again at the hospital or jail door). The possibility of dying (Sometimes suddenly and ingloriously as when a sniper takes you out in a FPS) has always been to my mind the great equalizer that compensates for all the violence you are capable of doing in videogames. The fact that your avatar is pretty much unkillable is the thing that I think makes GTA feel more morally bankrupt than other violent games, not so much it’s appearance of total freedom.
Lacking time to do any major plot missions I just indulged in chaos and went amok in the airport (I wanted to steal a plane but it looks like that’s more complicated than just walking alongside and dragging the pilot out) The airport transport trucks made a nice consolation prize though, as they were hard to stop despite the best efforts of the Liberty City police, Swat teams and helicopters.
Finally, one reflection: I finally hit the nail on the head as to what was so strange about the city despite the virtuoso rendering of inhabitants and environments: There are no children.
Of course there are no children. Can you imagine? The current controversy about the games would be a storm in a teacup if you could hijack a car from a mother and drive off with her kids in the back seat (You can do this now but the terrified passenger is always an adult), or kidnap a bus full of schoolchildren, or drive across the local park running over toddlers or go on a shooting spree in a kindergarten.
I guess realism has it’s limits