I'm now about 13 hours into my life as an illegal Serbian immigrant in Liberty City. I'm nowhere near done with the game, and I haven't yet done everything I can do from a gameplay standpoint, but I still feel compelled to come here and gush about this piece of software. I highly doubt that in the next 30-40 hours I'll be playing this thing and it will somehow become "worse". So here, in my sincere and heartfelt opinion, is why Grand Theft Auto IV is quickly becoming my favorite experience in the 19 years I've been playing videogames.
These NPCs aren't just NPCs. This city isn't just polygons and textures. Liberty City in GTA IV is a vibrant and burgeoning society of thousands of people. It's not the kind of reality that we once dreamed of with Lawnmower Man, of course not. Not even close. But it is as close as any game has come to offering a virtual world.
I can't play Crackdown anymore, despite the more exciting powers your given. I can't sit through the dialogue in Mass Effect and be convinced by it because it's not accompanied with the same type of veritas. I can't get into Oblivion because the world seems dull and lifeless compared to Liberty City. And don't get my started on the once great but now outdated Godfather.
GTA IV, while still rife with bugs and little things that need improvement (not to mention that the basic structure of what the game's about hasn't changed since GTA III)... GTA IV is the kind of game that comes along and turns the industry on its head because of the possibilities it offers as feasible. The RAGE engine in combination with NaturalMotion's Euphoria produce a world and people so eerily lifelike (and yet cartoonish at the same time if that makes sense) that I find myself feeling for pedestrians I knock off of their bikes.
I was running from the Cops the other day and I had to jack some poor guys' SUV for my use. 2 of the 3 people inside ran for the hills, but 1 of them was sincerely pissed that I had tried to steal his friend's ride. He proceeded to try and pull me back out of the vehicle, and when I drove off away from him he was hanging onto the door and cursing at me until a bump caused him to let go.
During this event a pedestrian (some old lady with a cane) saw what was happening and called 911. I was long gone by the time they arrived, but I heard the sirens of the approaching 5-0.
When I left my apartment last night to go cruising and complete some missions I heard a lot of shouting on the street... preaching really. I turned around to find an older black gentleman standing on the corner with his bible open, telling anyone who would listen about how we're all going to hell. I waited for him to finished before approaching. He looked me square in the face and told me I was going to hell. I jabbed him in his self-righteous face, causing the bible to be dropped and the man to stumble. I don't mean he fell with a canned animation, but rather thanks to Euphoria he actually fell in a completely unique and realistic manner, clutching his face. He slipped while getting up off the pavement and proceeded to run like mad away from me.
The radio ever so cleverly keeps up with the pacing of the story with news broadcasters highlighting my escapades (man killed in violent gunfight, the suspect is a white male) as I advance the main campaign. The parked cars on the streets are often times locked, forcing me to kick or elbow the window out, sometimes setting off an alarm and alerting the police or the pedestrians who in turn call the police. When I get onto a motorcycle, if there's one available, I put on a helmet... which can be knocked or broken off my skull on impact. I can go to clothing stores and get sunglasses, and these too can be broken in a heated fight with some rival gang.
To top it all, Rockstar has finally created a protaganist worthy of our sympathy and within 15 minutes of playing you can't help but want to hug Niki Bellic and tell the poor bastard everything will be okay... even though it likely won't.
I could go on and on, and you'll probably see a few more posts on the adventures I have in this game. But here's what I'm trying to say:
This isn't just a game. It's visitation to 200+ developers' brainchild. This is quite possible the Citizen Kane of the videogame industry. In the long run, it won't be remembered for drugs, or killings, sex, or languange. It will be remembered because it was another giant leap in bringing videogames closer to reality. It's not often that a game can make me actually care about the characters involved. And I imagine it will only be harder for future games as I doubt they'll be able to match up to this experience.
Warts and all... GTA IV is not to be missed by anyone who's interested in videogames as art.