Monday, May 19, 2008

My Time in Liberty City

So far, the only purpose this blog has served has been to notify everyone of the current tickling artwork updates. I'm a fan of many things besides tickling, and from now on I'll be posting about some of the other interests that occupy my time.

It's obvious from several of the pieces in my gallery that I'm a videogamer. I have been since I was seven years old and got my first home system for Christmas, the Atari 2600. I've followed the evolution of gaming ever since, always leaning towards games that focused on exploration and adventure. Most recently I've stepped into the shoes of Nico Bellic, the tough yet oddly sexy immigrant protagonist of Grand Theft Auto IV.


The Grand Theft Auto franchise may be one of the most controversial ones in all of gaming, because of its over-the-top violence and game structure that often has you working your way up the ladder in an organized crime ring. What critics of the series fail to realize is that the real star of the games has never been the hard luck anti-heroes that you play, but the cities themselves.

When Grant Theft Auto III was first released in 2001, it revolutionized the industry with a new format that would come to be called a "sandbox" style of play. It didn't take long once you began exploring Liberty City to realize that none of its details were unattainably in the background. If you could see a building in the distance, you could get to it. The city had neighborhoods and back alleys that were in no way random, but formed distinctive neighborhoods that you needed to learn well in order to progress through the game.

With the advent of the new powerful processors of the Playstation 3 and the XBox360, Rockstar Games has created a new Liberty City, this time much more than loosely based on the real life Big Apple. The scale and level of detail that the artists at Rockstar have achieved is breathtaking.


I've spent a decent amount of time in New York City, and can attest to the authenticity of the feeling of each of the neighborhoods created in the game. Not only do you explore the island of Manhattan and its landmarks, but there are sections of Brooklyn, The Bronx, Queens and New Jersey along with all the famous bridges and tunnels that lead to them.

The game begins in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn, and the details here are stunningly accurate. One moment in particular stood out for me: in an early mission, you are sent to ride the subway for the first time. The station near the beach is a spot-on recreation of the wide-ramped Coney Island stop and, since I've been to the real one, I experienced an odd sense of deja-vu the moment I entered it.


The story is typical GTA fare: an immigrant with an agenda of revenge travels to Liberty City to live with his cab driving cousin, who has grossly exaggerated his status with tales of mansions and money. Despite Nico needing to commit crime after crime to survive, he manages to remain a sympathetic and likable character, as more of his past is gradually revealed.

The trademark twisted humor of the GTA universe is intact here, this time accessible not only through the car radio stations, but also through an insanely deep in-game internet and laugh-out-loud television programming that you can watch in your safehouses. The humor occasionally veers into the juvenile, such as with the depiction of a horribly stereotypical gay character who appears late in the game.

A new addition to the series are the relationships you must cultivate, both with women you date and friends you meet along the way. Nico spends just as much time taking his friends out for drinks, bowling, pool and even a comedy club as he does gunning and running. It's a great way to flesh out every character in the game, as all your interactions with them prompt hours of conversations.


I'm near the end of Nico's journey, but I still find myself occasionally stopping a car and getting out to gawk at some beautiful scenery or skyscraper I hadn't noticed before; a tourist in an utterly captivating virtual world.

No comments: