>GTA4 wrap-up (spoilers)

>Finished the story mode in GTA4 over the weekend. Should’ve written down my stats; off the top of my head, at the time I finished the story, I was a little over 66% complete, and had put in around 37 hours. I suspect I’ll keep playing for a bit longer; I don’t think I’ll ever bother with getting 100%, but certainly there’s lots of Achievements left, and ultimately I’m not quite ready to say goodbye to Niko and Liberty City just yet. Right now I’m doing the Assassin missions and Brucie’s races, while keeping an eye out for pigeons and stunt jumps.

SPOILERS AHEAD

I chose to kill Playboy X and keep Dwayne alive; I chose to kill Francis and keep the older junkie brother alive (can’t remember his name); I chose to keep Darko alive, which surprised me a great deal (it should be said, though, that my controller has glitched out a lot in GTA4, and Niko ends up walking around in circles a lot when I’m not actually doing anything with the controller, and I think Niko glitched out and walked away while I was making up my mind).

But at the very end of the game, I chose to kill Dmitri, rather than do a deal with him. That felt satisfying. Then, of course, Pegorino had to fuck everything up, and the very final mission in the game was the first and only time where GTA4 fell apart for me.

The mission starts out with a long and somewhat aimless chase sequence – but it’s not terribly difficult or unusual, or even particularly fast. Then there’s a medium-length shoot-out, which can be made much quicker and easier with some strategically thrown grenades. But then there’s a motorcycle chase on a beach, which IS unusual being that you’re given the shittiest motorcycle in the game, and you’re driving on incredibly wonky terrain, and THEN you’re flying a helicopter that you’ve never flown before, with guns that you’ve never fired which makes controlling it that much more difficult, and the guy you’re chasing starts firing rockets at you, which you didn’t know he had, and – at least when I played it – you’re SUPPOSED to get hit with one, which triggers the final scene. I fucked up the mission from the motorcycle sequence on about 5 or 6 times, and when you replay a failed mission you’re stuck with the same stats as you had when the mission ended, so you’re dealing with less ammo and less health; basically, it fucking sucked and I hated it because all my 37 hours of playtime left me thoroughly unprepared for the last 3 minutes of gameplay. /end rant

I’m curious to see how much longer I can stay engaged in the endgame, although certainly the multiplayer is reason enough to keep the disc in the tray. I played San Andreas for months after I finished it, and I think GTA4 is a vast improvement over San Andreas.

I love the ambiguity of the ending. Unlike the previous games, there’s no triumphant scene, no winner-takes-all montage; Niko is a man in pain, still, and his life is as unsettled as it ever was. I could definitely see his story extending to at least one more sequel, or for as many as Rockstar would want to make for this generation of consoles; he is arguably the most compelling player character in the history of videogames and his story would appear to be far from over. He is a criminal with a conscience; a compassionate but cold-blooded killer; he is a human being, riddled with doubts and yet focused on the task at hand. I think it’s telling that GTA4 is the first time the player has been offered the opportunity to actually make choices; Niko’s really the first character they’ve created where you, the player, can actually feel the emotional weight of those choices, as those choices must weigh against Niko.

In any event, it’s a masterpiece, even if that last mission sucked. It’s a staggering achievement on a multitude of levels, and Rockstar has raised the bar yet again. I have absolutely no idea how they will top it, but if their previous track record is any guide, they most certainly will.

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