I had a mission: kill some criminal who lives in a tower block (I can’t remember his name, let’s call him Jim). The lower levels of this block were, predictably, guarded by Jim’s henchmen, so I had to work upwards, gunning down the henchies before eliminating the man himself (like The Raid). I progressed through the early parts of the mission easily enough, but at one point a henchman caught me off-guard. I took some shots and lost a chunk of my health. The first thing I thought was, Oh god, don’t fail this mission. Not because I wanted to kill these guys, or wanted to advance the story, or move closer to completing the game. No, I was desperate to succeed because the mission was so dull and awkward that I hated the idea of having to repeat it.
Success in a mission like this demands careful movement, prioritising your targets, and—for me at least—waiting for enemies to show from cover before dropping them. None of which plays into the GTA’s strengths. I creep up the stairs, carefully checking corners, but when someone rushes out to attack me, the game’s targeting system ignores them and hones in on someone harmless on the other side of the building.
When I get up the stairs, enemies pop their arms out of cover and blind fire at me. The auto-aim locks onto their chests, which are still in cover. Firing where the game wants me to results in nothing but rubble. To free-aim, I have to half push down on the left trigger, then full press on the right one to fire. Try this, particularly during a tense moment in the game. I always end up squeezing both, and shoot a pillar, while still taking damage from blind fire.
The next GTA game is due out next month. Fans already have long lists of things they’d like to see included in the game. I have but one: fix the god damn combat mechanics.
I can always tell when I’ve played GTA IV for too long. Normally, I play the game as if it were more linear: drive to a checkpoint, complete a mission, drive to the next. After a while, however, I begin to indulge the game’s openness and sandbox possibilities.
I start to test out scenarios. If I set fire to a police officer before rushing into my South Bohan safehouse, will the police come in to get me? (answer: yes). These are experiments, testing out the rules and confines of the programming foundations that Liberty City stands on. When I do this, it’s fun, but only a little. There’s always a voice in my head telling me I’m wasting my time. But I do them anyway. I annoy myself.
After taking damage in GTA IV, you should replenish your health and replace your bulletproof vest to prepare for the battling that’s likely to come next. This is done by eating, and visiting a gun vendor, respectively. Doing this takes minutes, a minor inconvenience. But if you play this game a lot, you can come to be irritated by the process. I got a vest and was leaving a fast food place with burger in hand, regaining my health, when I spotted a parked motorbike. If you crash a car in GTA, you normally don’t take any damage. However, crash a bike at speed and you’ll fly off and get hurt, and then have to replenish your health again. I knew if I stole this bike, I’d end up crashing it at high speed, injuring myself, and have to traipse back to a food place all over again. Considering that I play GTA in 30 or 40 bursts, that would be another few precious minutes of gameplay lost. I talked to myself, saying that it would be foolish and pointless to take the bike.
Cue me flying through Times Square on it and smashing into the back of a taxi.
When I’m doing this I frustrate myself. I don’t even have much fun, not as much fun as I’d have doing something else in the game anyway.
But still I ride.
Damn you, GTA IV, and damn me too.