The lights are on
Veteran Member - Level 12
I hate blog openings. There's no real easy way to start a
blog. You want to catch the reader's interest (usually with a personal anecdote
of some kind) without talking too long about how your dog relates to Skyrim.
So, today I think I'll pass on the opening and skip to the
content part. I recently finished playing Grand Theft Auto IV: Episodes From
Liberty City. It's a two-pack of DLC content, both of which are pretty awesome.
I loved being able to spend more time in Liberty City.
This blog isn't about the relative merits of Episodes From
Liberty City. I already reviewed Lost and Ballad separately. If you're
curious about my opinion on those games, check those out. They're interesting reviews, I promise. I may do a separate blog about them later.
No, this blog is about something I noticed while playing The
Ballad of Gay Tony. You'll need some background on Grand Theft Auto to
understand why this bothered me so much.
The main campaign in GTA IV is fairly realistic. Niko has
limited health. He fights with pistols and small machine guns. Body armor
doesn't regenerate. The idea is to make you feel like a real person, not an
For the most part, this approach to gaming works. The idea
behind the realism in the gameplay is that it feeds into a gritty story that
tries to teach a profoundly serious lesson about the nature of America. Grand
Theft Auto IV is carefully constructed to force you to consider America's flaws
and hypocrisies. Everything reveals a deeper meaning.
That's the tone of the main game. The second DLC pack
(Ballad) is different because it's a lot less serious. There's no deep
underlying theme (except maybe to not borrow money from Russian gangsters). There's
no profound message in The Ballad of Gay Tony. It's just two guys trying to
survive in Liberty City and sell some stolen diamonds.
Case in point, that's you hijacking a train car.
The lack of gravitas frees up the gameplay to be lighter. If
there's no need for realism, then there's no reason to keep around the
realistic elements from IV's main campaign. So Rockstar put in a few things
that are absurd.
I'm talking specifically about the missions and weapons in
The Ballad of Gay Tony. They're awesome. In the main campaign of IV, you don't
get to the good weapons until you're forty hours in. In Ballad, you get the
silenced P90 (favorite GTA weapon ever) within the first few missions. The rest
of the DLC is a trail of destruction left by heavy machine guns, C4, and
The new weapons break the sense of realism like a twig.
There's nothing realistic about riding atop a train and shooting explosive
shotgun rounds at helicopters. However-and this is the crux of what's bothering
me-blasting helicopters is fun as hell.
I like the story in Grand Theft Auto IV. I like that it's
gritty and realistic. I like that it forces you to use crappy weapons like a
pistol because that makes the story seem more plausible. Rockstar did nothing
wrong when they designed the main campaign of IV.
At least that's what I tell myself. The truth is that when I
play The Ballad of Gay Tony and blow up a yacht with an assault chopper, I have
more fun in those two minutes than in the first ten hours of GTA IV's main
campaign. Throwing realism to the wind and blowing stuff up is undeniably
What does that say about the main game in Grand Theft Auto
IV? Does its gritty nature cause it to be less fun? Is the profound story an
anchor around the neck of fun?
Think about it. What games have a deeper meaning and are fun? Take Jonathan Blow's
critically acclaimed Braid. That's a game neck-deep in complexity, but it's not
what you would call fun. Sure, solving the puzzles is enjoyable, but they are
not compelling enough to merit gameplay on their own. You play Braid for the
message. You don't play it for the gameplay.
At the opposite end of the spectrum you have the Mario
series. Super Mario games have little to no story ("Go rescue the princess!"),
but they are a lot of fun. Jumping on platforms and scaling crazy levels is a
blast. There's a reason that Nintendo has made these games for thirty years.
Part of the fun in story-shallow games like Mario is freedom
from thinking. Sometimes it's fun to play something mindless. Don't bother with
a deeper story, kick back and shoot some dudes or stomp on some turtles. There
doesn't have to be a reason, just entertainment.
This may be too general an assertion, but it seems that
meaningfulness and entertainment are two qualities diametrically opposed to
each other. You can either have a deeper meaning (GTA IV's main campaign) or
mindlessly entertain the player (The Ballad of Gay Tony). I don't see a way to
Maybe I'm wrong. What do you think? Can games be meaningful
and entertaining at the same time? If so, what games successfully do this?