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Malik (5/12/08)

II was playing GTA4 and thinking that I felt like the game was getting old a little quicker than past GTA games. By the game getting old, I mean the single player. I just, however, could not think of what was mission...then it hit me.

There is one type of mission that seems (I haven't beaten the game yet) to have been removed from the game that was in both VC and SA. That mission type would be the ones in which the computer drives/flies/pilots a boat and you do the shooting. You saw it in VC when you were in a helicopter or a boat, and it was constant in SA from near the start to the final mission when you would shoot from the shotgun position in a car.

My question is why this has been removed. Afterall, the world knows Niko as a military man...not as a wheel man. Yes, you do prove your chops with driving as you do missions, but you are always known as an ex-military man who can find his way quite easily around the scope of a gun. So, why is it you're never given the gunner position?

One would think it might be to make easier usage of the game engine. If they don't have something, they won't have to program something. However, this logic fails when you play multiplayer and start to shoot from a non-driving position in a car, boat, or helicopter. You can ever climb into the back of a SWAT van and have limited reverse-only shooting. So, with how much Niko is known as a gunner, why does he never get told, in a solo mission, to fire while someone else drives? I mean your partners constantly show that they suck shooting while not driving, so why can't you shoot while they drive?

I think adding these old school mission styles would have really upped the ante on this game. It would have really helped to break up and repetition in the later missions...when the game constantly becomes a chase followed by a shootout...usually capped with a final chase. Yes, there are some unique missions and abilities (drunk driving, and there's a cool kidnapping later on in the game with the victim trying to jerk the wheel under your watch).

Anyway, I'm now nearing the end of the game. I can tell it since the missions are becoming fewer and the plot is starting to really unfold. I'd love to see one of these shooting from the car missions, but I think it'll elude me until either the DLC or the next GTA game.


Malik (5/13/08)

With my complaining about GTA4, I should point out that not all that is found in the single player missions is necessarily boring. However, the one big change is found completely within a long standing mission format; the run and gun with an AI controlled friend.

These types of missions have been around since GTA3. However, in GTA3 the closest you saw was having partners who either did no gunning (8-Ball on the Colombian ship) or were able to die without failing the mission (when you'd pick up a few Mafia gunners early on in the game). There wasn't much, until around SA (maybe in VC...but my memory of that game is less than 100%), that had you with a friend who must survive. I guess VC did have the bank job, but that didn't rely on run and gun as much as on run and drive.

GTA4 was the first to give a lot of run and gun missions that had partners who needed to live. The big change came when your partners, unlike in past GTA games, had enough AI to not just stand in the open and get shot while you tried to protect them. In GTA4, these partners will take cover, they will fight strategically, and they will kill a lot of enemies for you. You can, sometimes, even up the friendly count by calling the cops in and letting them do most of your dirty work for you.

I was reminded of this last night when I finished one character's plot line with a partner run and gun mission. I know in VC, SA, or 3 (if GTA3 had these types of missions) I would have failed countless times due to my partner dying. At least the improved AI even had my partner reminding me to take cover and telling me where the enemies were coming from.

On a different front, it looks like the innovation promised for Guitar Hero is starting to be discussed. It looks like, without any surprise, that GH will be getting drums and vocals. Yeah...that's not imitating anyone in any way. I wouldn't be surprised if it's the same exact setup as with Rock Band (four drum pads, a single pedal, and the same karaoke style vocals) since Neversoft has not done much for creativity in gaming since the first Tony Hawk entry came along.

The other supposed change is that you can now create your own songs (minus vocals...nice.../sarcasm) and share them online. While this sounds like an awesome idea, I can easily see the problem. While drums (assuming they are like Rock Band) will be simple enough, since the drum fills on RB shows how cool you can sound freestyling, the guitar and bass will suck. Afterall, a real guitar has six strings, 20+ frets (depending on your exact guitar preference), and a whole mess of possible chords. Try to map that to five regular buttons and you have either a very canned sounding thing, something that will only exist for making fun charts to lame music, or a system so overly complex that only the most diehard of fans would use it...and then you'd still have no vocals making it a poor song choice when you have four players.

Realistically, this is just another case of Neversoft trying way too hard in something that they have already failed at. The only part that they seem to be getting right is using only master tracks. Including some Eagles is definitely a bonus (common Harmonix...a little Eagles right now would be sweet). The rest is no surprise, including Van Halen (who were in a past GH game).

Quite frankly, if Neversoft cannot do anything unique and special (not unique but not special like creating songs will definitely be), then it's time to stop milking this cash cow. Harmonix is the winner, as they have always been. This isn't me speaking with blind devotion, but rather my view as someone who just cannot touch Neversoft products anymore (be it Tony Hawk or their bastardization of GH).


Malik (5/14/08)

Like I said, I skipped out Kool Thing. The expert guitar note chart on Youtube looked pretty fun, but it's just not my style of music, and if the song doesn't make me happy to listen to it, then the DLC will not find it's way to my 360. However, looking online I can say that if you're looking for a drum song to kick your sorry ass, then you should look no further. The drums have some insane speed to them.

The other songs are fun. Train in Vain (Stand By Me) is a great party song since it's a song nearly anyone should recognize. The downside is that it's easy. Not as easy as El Scorcho (and definitely a challenge compared to Roxanne), but it may be a good option for the flawless expert guitar achievement. However, with it being such a fun song to listen to, it's one that I feel is well worth the investment. I think this may become one of my new warm up songs.

Hanging on the Telephone (Blondie) isn't bad. I don't know the song itself too well (I've probably only heard it a half dozen times in my life), but it's catchy. The only downside is that it's a very short song (around two minutes). As for the expert guitar...well, I think the tier system lies a little. It's a fair bit harder than the tiers seem to imply. There is some ease in the main repeating of yellow + orange chords, but then you have some quick HO/PO action going on. I expected an easy five stars, and was treated to a clumsy three star performance. I just couldn't get my fingers to work in synch with the music...of course that may have just been because of how I had not played since Sunday, and that was a quick session.

Overall, the music is a good selection and I'm glad, more than anything, that Harmonix keeps picking a nice assortment of Clash songs. I just don't see why they don't do that with The Ramones. Afterall, not all Romones songs are like Blitzkrieg Bop, Rockaway Beach, or Teenage Lobotomy. If you don't believe me, find somewhere to listen to I Believe in Miracles, Pet Cemetery, or some of their other more unique sounding songs (the greatest hits two CD set is a great investment for a low price). I mean we get good variety with The Police, Weezer, and The Clash. Let's do the same service to The Ramones.

I am guessing that next week will see something more modern and/or heavy. Maybe even that rumored (from the March OXM list) metal pack. Then, I would bet upon some album action with The Cars to close out the last Tuesday (27th) of this month. At least that's my guess right now. I especially see the 27th being The Cars since he already had a blast of the 1980's this week and Harmonix tends to not double up genres or eras too often in consecutive weeks with DLC.


Malik (5/15/08)

Now that I'm nearing the end of GTA4 (I know this thanks to stupid spoiler threads on the GameFAQs forums...sigh...), I have one big change in my way of thinking towards GTA4. That would be that all of these chances to change the game by making long term decisions are bull shit.

Call this a reality check. It's slightly spoiler-ish, but it's more just a great big reality check. As you play the game, you can chose to kill or spare certain people. You get it early on (on the first set of mission givers), you get it later, and you keep getting these choices. I thought it would open up a bunch of different mission sets. For example, if you were to kill someone for an important person, but you let them live (and told your contact that you killed the victim), then maybe the important person would learn about your lies and betray you while the supposed victim would become important.

That doesn't happen. Instead, you may run into a person on the street (as a bonus, and not achievement related, mission) for most people you spare. They may give you a tiny mini-mission or they may try to kill you (happens a couple of times). Then you finish their mission or the job you were originally given (to kill this person). However, the plot doesn't change.

Deeper spoilers...

You can even do this life or death decision with the person you've been trying to find in the game (that whole "I'm looking for someone" line Niko says so often). What does it do? The same thing, with a little different dialogue, for both potential outcomes. There is no big changes that play out in the game based on your actions, with one exception...

Teh spoilers follow!

You do chose how the final three missions play out depending on if you make a deal for the Mafia or if you kill their contact in a drug deal. However, with either choice, the final missions are nearly identical. You don't really get much change except for one (somewhat) key person in your life will die and another will live. However, it's not like you have an incentive to kill anyone or spare them. You have no reason to replay the entire game to find how the plot differs. In fact, you can make a save prior to this one and only changeable outcome mission and be left with only about three missions to perform to see the other outcome.

With all the excitement that surrounded the first time you're told you can kill or spare a target, I expected big things. Instead, I got the same thing I found on Mass Effect with making a decision...nothing important at all. GTA4 decisions are like killing/sparing the Rachni Queen on ME; you get some dialogue changes for one instant and then you're done. At least GTA4 is a more enjoyable game than ME ever was.

Spoilers are done!

The one good thing I can say from my time with GTA4 is that the game gets more enjoyable in terms of mission complexity as you play. You may not change the game with decisions, but you can use some options on how to perform any given mission. You can go sneaky or guns-a-blazin' on some missions. You can use threats instead of violence in some. You can even let the cops do your work with a quick cell call.

The other disappointment I'm finding is from unlocking the achievement dealing with being able to call for bombs. I expected this to be a devastating attack from a suicide bomber. Instead, you can pick up a bomb to place on a vehicle and then blast it with a quick call on the phone. While this may seem cool, it has no practical uses outside of the missions where it's an automatic feature of the mission.

Anyway, I aim to finish GTA4 before Monday. Maybe I'll continue to play to do some side missions, or maybe I'll play to do some multiplayer. However, I see my Rock Band and my real guitar becoming more involved in my life again before Monday rolls around.


Malik (5/16/08)

Like I predicted, The Cars will not be this week's DLC for Rock Band.  I saw this coming since last week was 1980's heavy and to do another round of 80's style music is not Harmonix's MO.  Instead, next week will be a massive set of European Rock Band tracks.

Beetlebum as made famous by Blur (cover)

Hier Kommt Alex by Die Toten Hosen (master)

Countdown to Insanity by H-BlockX (master)

Perfekte Welle by Juli (master)

Manu Chao by Les Wampas (master)

Hysteria by Muse (master)

Rock N Roll Star by Oasis (master)

New Wave by Pleymo (master)

Monsoon by Tokio Hotel (master)

This was expected, but I didn't think they would be unavailable as any for of packs.  So, we're looking at $2 per song.  It's sad that at least like regions (UK, France, or German) couldn't be a pack.  It's also sad to see the first cover song in many months.  At least this will be a huge set of DLC possibilities.

GTA4 now officially joins my list of games that I have laid to rest. I may play a tiny bit more (maybe replay the only choice that effects the plot of the game), but I think my playing of GTA4 is now at it's end for this season.

The wrap things up in talking about this game, for now, I have a few things I feel like getting off my chest. First will be the non-spoilers (well, they are so minor of spoilers that it shouldn't matter to anyone...nothing major).

First off, you only have to fly a helicopter for a mission three times in the game. So, I can't help but think why, beyond the first time, that you are under so much of a need for perfection. In one mission, you have to chase someone while in a helicopter. Then you have to do some good something that controls so strangely that you are almost doomed to failure. It's not as bitchy as Supply Lines on GTA:SA (the worst GTA mission I've ever played...the one where you work with a radio control plane, under Zero's instruction, to destroy a bunch of vans/trucks while using limited fuel), but it's still not a piece of cake. The only worse mission choices, for a lack of ability or instruction, is Supply Lines and Learn to Fly (the pilot school on GTA:SA).

Then you have another round of helicopter flying in the final mission. Yes, this is a mini-spoiler...but I'll say that you do a little of everything in the final mission so it's nothing important (you fly, run, jump, shoot, drive, and anything in between) all. The problem is this time you're in a chase and have to avoid enemy fire...and the enemy is a damned good shot while you may have only flown in a helicopter twice before in the game.

As for more mini-spoilers, the final mission, like in past GTA 3D games, is a long one. However, if you fail (and you probably will once or twice...or more), don't fear restarting the mission with your cell phone. Why? Because you will not start at the beginning. Best of all, if you fail and restart around a major shootout, you can even hop in a car, go to the gun shop, and pretend you always had full ammo and armor...even as you drive miles away.

As for one last thing to add in a mini-spoiler fashion (and this also should not ruin the game for you unless you're hypersensitive) is that the plot doesn't really feel like it gets wrapped up nicely. In fact, the plot for the second half of the game almost feels tacked on when you look at Niko's original goals and issues. It's like the game kept the plot going through force and not through liquid storytelling. Most of all, once the credits are done rolling, you don't get anything beyond a phone call or two from your friends. At least there's always the free roam and future prospects of DLC to keep you going...assuming you want more.

On a last note, one achievement for GTA4 is to beat the game in 30 hours or less. I find these types of achievements disgusting. True, I don't give one flying f#@$ about achievements (other wise I'd have 1000 GP on Oblivion...easy to get those final points by turning the difficulty slider to zero and then blasting through the remainder of the fighter guild stuff that was so much more enjoyable with mods on the PC version), but this type of achievement is the type that shouldn't be. You should not be encouraged to ever rush through a game. I hated this tactic on Suikoden 2 (which made you rush to get a certain character in your party), and any other game with forced speed runs. All it does is make you not fully live through the game as it seems to be intended.

Also, on the theme of that stupid achievement, I do think this is actually an easy achievement to get if you're a GP whore. Afterall, I did a lot of exploration, time killing, dating and hanging with friends, some side missions for Brucie and Steve, and met all of the unique strangers and only ran 3 hours over the 30 hour limit. This game could easily be beaten (main quest) in 15 hours if you really want this achievement.

Anyway, my final thought on GTA4; while the game is damned good, and easily beats down any past GTA (and GTA clones), it didn't seem to live up to what was promised and hyped. There were just a few too many things missing (like a reason for the plot in the last half of the game). Still, this is a solid 9 or 9.5 out of ten in my books.


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