Grand Theft Auto IV thoughts

gtaiv001.jpg

When taking a cab a couple of nights ago up the west side of Manhattan, I realized that after a couple of weeks of playing Grand Theft Auto IV I had begun to conflate my internal model of New York City with that of the game’s own Liberty City. Not the streets — after five years in New York, most of the city still seems to me isolated neighborhoods connected by warrens — but the feel. The hum. The Petula Clark subtext that can both carry and bolster a person or drag them by the ankle into the wet green. Liberty City, as a refined extract of New York City, began to mix with the model in my mind. Walking around the corner to find a cop on the stairs to the F train, I for a moment thought, He’s not in anyone’s line of sight. I could get away without a problem. I watched the people milling on the subway platform in Brooklyn, many in finery à la mode, and thought how much more authentically people dressed on the streets of Broker.* I noticed how from a distance the profiles of cars in the real world nicely match those in the game. (And where they don’t? My mind was happy to throw out the outliers in the dataset.)

As if on cue, my cab drove by a huge billboard for GTA IV, leading man Niko Belic’s face — before I played the game, frightening; now, world-weary — looked out over the Hudson. I realized those billboards would soon be down, replaced. But for now the model city reached out into the real one, making Liberty City somehow more genuine than New York by refusing to accept an ephemeral advertisement for the sake of recursion.

It’s the first game I’ve ever played which can be recommended as a method by which to understand the atmosphere New York. Friends have asked me after seeing movies set in New York: Is that what the city is like? Not exactly, I’d qualify. There’s this and that. But I’ve been calling friends from out of town to tell them to play GTA IV.

Is it exact? No less — and probably more — than a guide book or a novel. In fact it’s better than a map for expressing the city; no New Yorker understands every cranny, every neighborhood and industrial park, but instead crafts their own model in their head from real experiences, stories from friends, too-stylized transit maps. GTA IV is another model, a distillation of a city I love — or at least a model of which I hold around my internal model of myself — that makes me understand my city even more.

Grand Theft Auto IV is the finest, most attentive simulation of a real world location yet. It’s a song to the world’s greatest city, crafted by hundreds, a portrait of a city that is incapable of knowing it is loved.

Also you can shoot people in the face.

* Which is, of course, dumb. What people wear is what is authentic. Inversely hence, hipster appropriation of blue-collar style.

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11 Responses to Grand Theft Auto IV thoughts

  1. Agies says:

    #3

    Max Payne 2 was only publised by RockStar. It was developed by Remedy Entertainment.

  2. LostInTX says:

    #4

    Regardless, you have to admit the similarity. Bully, Manhunt, GTA, Max Payne…all Rock Star in some way, all third person in immersive environments (and all ‘gritty’ cities, except Bully). From Joel’s post, I’m guessing that MP2 & GTA IV are at least ‘environmentally’ similar.

  3. Suburbancowboy says:

    Walking through real life Manhattan every day is a little weird now since playing GTA.
    The other day, I was walking down 6th avenue. There were not many cars on the street for some reason, and then a hot rod with a flame job came around the corner, followed by a Porsche. I thought to myself, “those would be pretty cool to hop into right now.” And then about 30 seconds later, I heard sirens (not an uncommon occurrence in NYC) and I couldn’t help but think to myself, if only for a second “Oh no the cops are coming after me!”

  4. nnguyen says:

    LOSTINTX, I’ve played both, and while MP2 does have the same “gritty” environs, they only serve as the back drop of a “noir” story. GTA4, on the other hand, immerses you into the city. I’ve found myself running into alleys to get away from cops, only to realize how authentic the alleys feel and then I actually stop to notice the little details, like the trash that spills out when you accidentally knock over a trash can. At times I feel like I’m in another life, but a very free one where I can stab whoever I want, like that annoying ranting preacher and crazy man outside of the apartment in Bohan… I mean, it’s a game, I’m actually getting annoyed by random characters in a game, just like real life!

  5. pewma says:

    @ #7

    I think the blueray helps with that decision.

    and just to throw this one out…

  6. pewma says:

    darg… I guess no image posts.
    well here ya go anyway.

    http://dontclickitdude.com/gtaiv001.jpg

  7. Dr_Zaius says:

    GTA4 is the purtiest game I’ve ever seen in regards to it’s size. If you want consistently beautiful graphics, scene for scene, check out something like Bioshock. Considering I have 3 of four islands unlocked to me on GTA4 and I’m still regularly finding things I didn’t know about before.

    Knocking over trash cans, the way Niko busts out the glass of the driver’s window so he can shoot out of it, colliding head on with a tree to see Niko go flying out the windshield, screaming as he bounces a hundred feet on the pavement. Man, it’s just ridiculous how much fun this game is. Basically, if you wanted to try it in RL you can do it in this game.

    *drool* I have it for 360, as well, not sure about the PS3 side of things. I think the only difference is that XBox owners get exclusive downloads for the game (supposedly substantial) while PS3 gets none. On the bright side, PS3 gets Metal Gear Solid 4, you lucky dogs.

  8. cha0tic says:

    Bugger. This is just tempting me more to get a PS3.

  9. upso says:

    spot on

  10. cayton says:

    I’m glad you threw in that last line. I thought you might be getting all mushy on us.

  11. LostInTX says:

    I’m curious: how does Liberty City in GTA IV compare to Max Payne 2? The city environs in that game were breathtaking, and they are both Rock Star games…

    I don’t have a PS3 yet, but GTA is making it very tempting. It is Friday, and I do have a weekend to play GTA, after all.

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