Comic Updated September 10, 2008

All right, last entry complaining about GTA 4, I promise. This is gameplay nitpicking, which is probably the pettiest complaint I have, because the gameplay's very near to the best shooting and driving experience you're going to get without playing a dedicated FPS or racer.

Wont stop me, though. Here goes!

My big issue with GTA4's open-world gameplay -- that is, your walkin'-or-drivin'-around, off-mission, off-activity, all by your lonesome gameplay -- does not have enough options to allow you to play the character of Niko as the designers have established him.

I'll try to explain without slipping into the confused mess that my explanations generally become.

Niko, as presented through the storyline, is a world-weary, war-weary career criminal trying to pick up the pieces of his existence while constantly beset by ghosts of his past. He does not enjoy killing, but is nihilistically convinced that the culmination of his past sins have rendered him, in effect, soulless, and thus unlikely to get any more damned than he currently is. Despite all this, he's a thoughtful character, and frequently expresses a desire to live a normal -- and, one presumes, more-or-less law-abiding -- life.

So, when he sets foot outside his door every day, what's he carrying as he struggles with his inner demons to make the right decisions in his wasted life? Nothing but a mobile phone. Oh, and enough ordinance to turn half the city into a mushy paste.

And that's really the problem -- not that he HAS the guns; of COURSE he needs the guns, this is GTA we're talking about. But he doesn't have anything BUT the guns. I realize I'm probably not being very clear on what, exactly, I'm complaining about, so lemme put it this way: Liberty City is filled with a million or so people, and the ONLY possible gameplay interaction Niko can have with the vast majority of them is, well... to kill 'em. There are several ways to kill 'em. You can run 'em over, beat 'em to death with a baseball bat, shoot 'em, blow 'em up, set 'em on fire, and a variety of other, more-clever methods owing to GTA's exceptional physics engine.

What you can't do is tell 'em "Hello," or acknowledge their conversation in any way (Even San Andreas' CJ had the ability to respond positively or negatively to comments from passers-by). You can't call a random guy off the street and challenge him to a race, or help a stranded motorist fix their car. You can't sell people stolen watches, or even pickpocket 'em. If you're walking on a random street and you stop on the sidewalk and want to interact with the game environment in some way -- any way -- 99 times out of one hundred, your only recourse is violence.

Rockstar did not set up Niko Bellic to be a sawed-off psychopath. Unfortunately, if you're looking for full interactivity in your game -- which is generally the point of a game -- you have no real choice but to play as one. And for a guy as narrative-concerned as myself, that's a major failing, and definitely something to work to address in the next iteration. Don't just give the player weapons, give 'em tools.

I mean, you can still brain a guy with a screwdriver, right?

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