Tuesday, April 29, 2008
“Grand Theft Auto IV” hits stores today and industry analysts predict it could be the most lucrative launch in entertainment history - nine million copies strong.
Microsoft and Bungee Studios' epic “Halo 3” did a record-breaking $300 million in first week sales late last year. Most analysts think “GTA IV” will hit somewhere just short of $400 million in week one.
The game is rated M for Mature and includes blood, violence, partial nudity, offensive language, strong sexual content and drug use.
It’s about a European named Niko Bellic who comes to Liberty City (a near-perfect stand-in for New York) to live with his cousin, Roman. Roman has gotten his cousin to move here with the promise of riches - only Roman lives in a dilapated apartment and has a crummy job at a car service.
The two chase the American Dream but quickly fall into debt - and into the underworld. Niko finds himself driving to do “odd jobs” for a crime boss.
Rockstar Games, which publishes “GTA,” has been careful to not release too much information about the game or to even trumpet its arrival, the way Microsoft did with merchandise tie-ins and a massive ad campaign for “Halo.”
“Rockstar wants to control the message all the time,” says Sam Kennedy, editorial director for the gaming site 1UP.com. “They want this to be seen and perceived exactly the way they want. That’s why - outside of the official trailers they released - people haven’t seen a lot of gameplay footage in advance of ‘GTA IV’ shipping. They want to build that hype.”
The game (4 stars out of 4) has been delayed two years and took nearly 1,000 people to produce. Rating it purely as a video game, it’s one of the best in the past five years. The playing field is an entire city, nearly produced to scale. You can interact with virtually everything you see.
I played the PS3 version for a few hours and then the Xbox 360 version for a few more. I enjoyed the PS3 because of the support for the motion controller, but the Xbox colors were a little better, particularly when playing on an HDTV capable of 1080p resolution.
The game is violent. You play from the perspective of a criminal. You steal cars. You run over people. You shoot people. You drive drunk. You can also buy a hamburger or a beer. You can fly a helicopter. You can play pool. You can date. There’s even a stand-up comedy routine stuck in there.
And there is plenty of simulated sex - in cars and in strip clubs. I had seen some videos of that portion of the gameplay over the weekend that prompted me to think that this game should be rated Adults Only. I haven’t changed that opinion after playing.
I think Rockstar has every right to publish this game and consenting adults, those 21 and over, have every right to play and enjoy. The game is made for adults.
There’s lots to enjoy. Store owners just have to be sure to check IDs. I’m not so sure this game should be displayed on the shelves alongside "Mario Kart," though. It probably should be the kind of thing you have to ask for.
But it is awfully good.
As you drive from mission to mission, hopefully using your GPS, you interact with city dwellers who talk and interact with you like you might expect in real life. Players must be mindful of how much damage your car sustains as you move along. That affects how it drives.
I marveled at how detailed the streetscapes were. The people on the streets have plenty to say, too. (In my experience, I didn’t hear the same reaction twice.)
I enjoyed the interaction a little more than the combat. Shooting was easy. Fighting was not so easy. But there are plenty of bonus games to keep your attention, plus some multiplayer modes.
This is the best game of the year, and it’ll sell like it, too.
“The addressable market at launch is about 24 million consoles,” says Michael Pachter, video game analyst at Wedbush Morgan. “So how many will sell in the first week or month or few months? Nine million. That’s the number. That’s about a 35 percent attach rate. By year’s end, it’ll be somewhere between 11 and 13 million because more consoles will be sold before the holidays.”
The Associated Press contributed.
Langston Wertz Jr.: 704-358-5133; firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted by Langston Wertz Jr. at 12:31 PM