Being a bit of a videogame fan, i do love to play the latest and greatest. when they come. While we were lucky to get our hands on halo 3 early (thanks andrew) and getting exclusive access to Rockband, now comes another huge franchise. Grand Theft Auto IV, is the game of 2008. Its on level with the halos and the Wiis. Lots and lots has been said about it. Oh its got a cool music system with Amazon and games becoming are cinematic, oh its super violent and glorifies drunk driving, and lets stand up for the little guy.... blah blah. Yes this is true, but all of this (except for the music) was true about 10 years ago when the original came out. This is hardly an evolution and isnt really why the franchise has been so successful.
GTAIV is Rockstar's Opus. It its truly their most magnificent title to date, for its complexity, breadth of characters, vastness of game world, and attention to detail. I could wax poetic about detail, its innovative music sales model, or its open-ended gameplay, but really its better left to three areas that truly make this game great.
Rockstar has created contests out of the most mundane achievements. While stealing cars, shooting things, swimming, getting arrested are by-products of the game, they aren't necessarily a driver of in-game behavior. Until now. Rockstar has brillantly created a competitive system, for you and your friends, to see who can achieve ordinarily mundane achievements such as walking 400 miles, getting arrested 120 times, and doing 8000 stunts. No simple task, but it makes the ordinary extraordinary. Not to mention you can gauge your achievements on the social networking site for the brand at the Rockstar Social Club. Again this has great depth, with all types of contests and profiles. Each is sharable and adds a realistic type of depth to ordinary actions in-game.
Rockstar creates vivid worlds populated with realistic characters, products and brands better than anyone. Its ability to capture the nuances of culture and society, leave it a step ahead of the competition. Video Games are often the victims of their own creations, an alternative world based on a society we live in. Ultimately and almost always it falls short. Rockstar is quite cynical in its take on American society, but captures the essence to a minute detail. Probably easier being an outsider, but from reality TV to politics to mannerisms and slang, they have captured inherent truths in American culture. Rockster brands extremely well. Consumption and Consumerism are two American traits which might as well be apple pie. Rockstar has created literally hundreds of brands in the game, each with an identity that often lives on multiple media platforms. Those are accessible in the game too, on the radio, TV, Internet or even word of mouth. Rockstar intrepidly understands the role and power of brands in consumers lives, and use the power of brands to push its cultural ideology. You would be hard pressed to find another game that captures culture on a massive scale, and involves multiple brands. Quite often its confined to a niche such as skateboarding or music.
Videogames are in every sense very fabricated. Its coded bits and bytes, and doesn't necessarily take us away from our couch. Yet Rockstar has worked incessantly hard to create a living, breathing place. A world that seems to carry on if we dont leave the front door or not. Through its embedded media, stories are generated, characters interact and react to each other, and the world carries on. Here we see a crime rate report in the city. Do something especially heinous, and it could show up on the news. The crime rate report is based on players interactions, and where confrontations occur. Similar to a 3rd person shooter from MS, but with a layer of humanity on it. This only adds to the realism to establish a realistic world.
Rockstar have created one of the most layered and intricate games ever. Its no wonder it took years in the making. Experience for yourself a masterpiece in design, storytelling and culture all wrapped up in an outsider-looking-in commentary on American Culture.