Grand Theft Auto IV
Content at a glance:
Drug Use: Cocaine and marijuana are seen being used by several side characters.
Extreme Language: Every profanity in the book is used constantly by nearly every character in the game.
Lawless Themes: Players can only progress through the game by committing all manner of illegal and destructive acts.
Partial Nudity: "Entertainers" at the strip club dance provocatively in absolute minimum attire.
Strong Sexual Content: Players can proposition girlfriends and prostitutes. The camera lingers outside apartment windows and rocking cars as suggestive moans are heard. Additionally, lewd sexual references pepper the dialogue.
Strong Violence: Players can kill whoever they choose with knives, baseball bats, guns, explosives, or by simply running them over in a car. Brief spurts of blood spill from gunshot wounds.
Niko Bellic is looking to escape his criminal past. A war criminal, he has immigrated from Eastern Europe in search of the American Dream. Coming to Liberty City (a fictionalized New York City) after hearing tales of his cousin Roman’s luxury and riches in the Western land. Soon after getting off the boat, however, Niko discovers that his cousin’s “mansion” is actually a run-down apartment, and finds Roman on the run from angry loan sharks.
Beginning by trying help keep his cousin from the business end of a switchblade, Niko’s life slowly spirals into the criminal underworld.
Rather than simply retreading the stories of classic crime archetypes, as previous games in the series have done, GTA4 branches out on its own to tell a more unique and much more serious story. Criminal bosses are no longer portrayed as kings in the underworld, now being shown as drug-addled men with broken families, living in constant fear of their next partner ratting them out to the police. Niko starts working for these men, being ordered into more and more sociopathic acts, even as he laments for his lost soul. For the first time in the series, the story deals with the repercussions of a criminal life.
Previous games in the series have been about large, open cities as what can be described as playgrounds, allowing players virtual worlds in which to let out their aggressive tendencies on pedestrians and street traffic. Until this point, every GTA has been about making that playground larger along with adding more toys by which to cause violence. GTA4 takes a step in a completely different direction, shrinking the size of the city, removing many of the more ridiculous pieces of firepower, and instead making this incarnation of Liberty City the most realistic and lifelike incarnation of the real world in video games yet. At this level of realism, the city no longer feels like a playground, its pedestrians no longer targets, and its cars no longer free for the taking. Players can certainly still treat the inhabitants of the city as toys, but it no longer feels like this is the purpose they were designed for.
Instead, Liberty City is now a backdrop for the telling of Niko Bellic’s story. GTA4 is an experiment in the burgeoning field of video game storytelling, and it presents a compelling case for the ability of games to have the same impact as books and films. Small moments make Niko’s life in the virtual big apple all the more believable. Seeing the sunset over the Hudson river. Being stuck in traffic in a rain-soaked Times Square, bright lights reflecting off the wet streets as a cool jazz number plays from the car radio. It becomes less about simply watching a story unfold, and more about living the life of the protagonist as the tale comes together. When the backing theme of the story is Niko’s search for the American Dream and the game’s setting is one as iconic as New York City, living the life makes every step more compelling.
However, the story is one about violence, drug dealing, burglary, and, of course, grand theft auto. “I’m good at it and it pays,” Niko offers as his only explanation for why he takes the violent jobs he does. Later, the body counts get higher and, at one point, he even deigns to involve himself in a kidnapping, all in the name of trying to build a new life. The story does make clear that this attempted path to freedom and success is a foolhardy one, but it remains completely focused on immoral and illegal acts, even while it points out in roughly as many words that this life will destroy a man’s soul.
This is not to say that the game doesn’t have its fair share of indulgence for indulgence’s sake, apart from the meaningful instances in the story proper. Every line of dialogue in the game is a constant barrage of profanity, whether the words come from the characters themselves or DJs and commercials on the game’s myriad radio stations. Friends will often call to invite Niko on (optional) trips to the strip club, where private dances can be bought. The controller even vibrates as the nearly naked dancers brush up against Niko’s lap, with obvious implications.
Near the end of the game, Niko once again begins to question what he’s searching for and how he’s going about finding it. He decides to leave the criminal world… But then tragedy strikes. When someone close to him is gunned down, he hunts down those responsible in an act of revenge.
When the last bullet is fired and Niko hears the assurances of his victory, he simply laughs sarcastically. For all his effort, he finds himself with no more than a derelict soul, damned to a life of violence.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this Spotlight review are those of the reviewer (both ratings and recommendations), and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Eden Communications or the Christian Answers Network.
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