In much the same way that parents almost instinctively determine their favourite children, subconsciously everyone knows their favourite GTA. Sometimes this favouritism can be determined by the story. The fictionalised city that’s being parodied. It could be generational, a game firmly related to a period of nostalgic lucidity. Perhaps its a decision determined by the process of comparative analysis of all the games in the series, to distinguish there similarities and differences. Or maybe you’re just a contrarian that has a fervent disdain for the ubiquity of the series, preferring the derivative alternative of Saints Row instead. Whatever your preference, whichever subjective opinion you boast, there is no right answer. Though there is a wrong answer: GTA IV.
I don’t know if it’s some lingering consequence of the pandemic. The state of our global economy. The war in Ukraine. The advent of “Cry Baby” dolls or some pernicious amalgamation of all the world’s sins, but we seem to be in the midst of a rather disturbing, widespread amnesia when it comes to the perceived stature of GTA IV. A game of such distinguished mediocrity should not be regarded with any enduring reverence. GTA IV is a dull, monochromatic and so nihilistic, that it would have been more appropriate if the protagonist was a member of a techno band “Autobahn”, with aspirations of removing Jeff Bridges “Johnson”. It’s a city so steadfast in it’s brooding aesthetic, that is now retroactively being praised as an authentic representation of New York that its trying to satirise. Mistaken its blandness for nuance. With a gritty realism that is incongruous to the satirical tone.
It’s an environment bereft of any kinetic energy too. A city devoid of any distinguishing personality. Populated by a menagerie of tedious clichés and burdened by errands as dull as the game’s bland pigment and ravaged by recreational procrastination. You’d find more joy in a Gotham City cemetery than in Liberty City. Not that I’m coveting the garish absurdity of Saints Row, with it’s derivative lunacy cranked up to almost surrealist proportions. Although that might have been preferable to this alternative. Though Niko Bellic is far from the games biggest problem, his dour and insipid personality is a much more suitable support character than he is protagonist. One too sterile to be distinctive, yet too esoteric to be relatable. Again not the game’s worst aspect, just a vacuous conduit from which to inhabit. To Rockstars credit, it was a bold choice to have an illegal immigrant as the lead, much to the chagrin of every budding Brexiter, and a decision I fully endorse. But its a concept superior to its practical application. A rational critique of a game that was ambitious enough to try something different, yet fail so admirably.
Personally I think this sudden renaissance for GTA IV can be attributed to a couple of things. One: a decision regulated by nostalgia, that correlates to a generation that has an affection for this being their initial introduction to the series. And perhaps more pertinent is the contempt for GTA V. A disdain propagated by its procrastinating endurance. And it’s understandable exasperation, considering the interminable fissure between GTA V and burgeoning release of a sixth. A decade between instalments is long enough to become weary. But just because you don’t like the recent Star Wars movie’s, doesn’t precipitate the elevation of the prequels meandering quality.
GTA IV should be remembered as a experimental failure. An earnest curiosity to be learned from, not revered. A well intention misstep that reverted back to the series less brooding roots for GTA V. A decision that rectifies VI’s most glaring issues. But familiarity often breeds contempt, and as much of an improvement V was, releasing the same game over 3 separate generations is liable to rouse people’s resentment. Causing people to look back favourably on content that doesn’t quite deserve it.