Hello! I'm Tom. I designed a game called Gunpoint, about rewiring things and punching people, and now I'm working on a new one called Heat Signature, about sneaking aboard randomly generated spaceships. Here's some more info on all the games I've worked on, here's the podcast I do, here are the videos I make on YouTube, here are some of the articles I wrote for PC Gamer, and here are two short stories I wrote for the Machine of Death collections.
The critical adoration of GTA IV has been really interesting to me, because I’m sometimes one of the critical adorers. There’s always this period when half a dozen journos have played the game, the rest of the gaming populace has not, and a war breaks out where the few desperately try to convince the many that it really is as good as we’d all hoped it might be, and the many insist that it is not.
The many, with no actual information to fight with, must use the journalists’ own words against them: “You said there were pop-in and framerate issues, therefore it cannot warrant a ten for graphics!” “You mentioned flaws! How can you give it a perfect score?”
Some of the many are fighting on an entirely different side, a sort of religion for whom the game is a necessarily perfect deity, and all criticism is dangerous lies. When reviewer Rob Taylor mentioned he completed the main storyline in 24 hours, you could almost see the tears well up in a million fanboy eyes as the e-mails stammered: “But I thought it would be at least forty!”
That interview aside, the few remain mostly silent after their opening salvo of reviews. The real assault comes when the game is out, and they become solely responsible for every technical, personal and emergent flaw nine million people experience in this digital playground.
The reason this is particularly interesting this time is that I’m a proper outsider – I never read a preview of GTA IV, only saw one trailer, and had no idea about its key features (Euphoria physics, the mobile phone interface, the new Wanted system) until a few days before release. I wanted to know if coming to it fresh like that, and playing it semi-casually, leaves you with a different opinion than years of trembling previews, ravenous info-consumption, and one intensive week-long binge.
I was trying to guess, before release, which of the many tiny problems the reviews mumblingly dismiss would be the one that caused banshee shrieks of rage from the playing public. It seems that – apart from a lot of retaliatory ‘0/10’ user reviews from score-terrorists incensed either by imagined bribery tainting the official reviews, or an equally imaginary quality chasm between the two consoles – the slippery handling is the source of most angry noises. This is interesting because it’s almost certainly the result of a difference between how reviewers played the game and how consumers usually do.
Playing all day every day for a week is intense, and a publisher with any doubts about their game at all wouldn’t want critics to do it: recurring flaws are inescapable and frustrations magnify. But it does mean that any problems limited to the early sections are on your mind for only a day, and soon pushed out by whatever delights the real meat of the game holds.
The handling thing, by all informed accounts, is a problem with the early sections. I can vouch for that – I’m not halfway through, but already I never have to settle for anything that steers like a cow. And I also get the impression that the main storyline does something really special later on. But the early sections are incredibly long, and even if you play for three hours a day, they’re what you’re going for almost all of launch week. And I’m pretty sure that’s all there is to this disparity of perspectives.
You could take that as a condemnation of the way expansive games are reviewed, but personally I think it’s a strength. If the handling was bothering me to the point that I was considering giving up, I’d want reviewers to dismiss it as a droplet of gripe in an ocean of awesome. I want the after-it-all perspective, not a horoscope prediction of how I’ll feel the week I pick it up. One of the most useful things a review can ever say is “Bear with it,” because that’s something very few gamers do.
It’s not a big deal to me, perhaps because I’ve always found a perverse pleasure in steering GTA’s most unwieldy vehicles. Would I score it as highly as the pre-release reviewers did? Not yet. I’m twenty-one hours and 25% in, though I would guess at least halfway through the main plot. I’m stuck on two really irritating missions, but I’m going to bear with it because people I trust have told me to.
I doubt I’ll end up with exactly the same opinion as them, though. It would have to hit a crescendo of BioShockesque proportions to completely wipe my current complaints from my mind. What are those complaints? That would be a very dry, whiny and technical discussion, so I’ll devote a whole post to it.
More GTA IV
Lukasa: I have to say, I'm intensely looking forward to this game, but it poses a problem for me. Namely, I cannot afford to sustain two gaming habits. I choose PC or I choose a console. I've chosen PC, and my punishment for this is the fact that I need to wait at least 8 months for me to see if it's as good as it is trumpted to be.
Oh well. Twilight of the Arnor will have to fill the void. =D
Iain "DDude" Dawson: Thanks. Now I cannot wait. I need a console and GTA, and I am poor, with approaching exams. Hmmmm.
Grill: Personally, it feels closer to Saints Row than it did to GTA - and curiously, that sense of psychopathic glee I got from GTA and GTAII seems to have been replaced by po-faced nonsense.