A couple of days ago, I did something that I’ve done at a least a dozen times before: I bought something for one platform that I already owned on another platform. This time it was Grand Theft Auto IV, which I already had on the 360. It was my husband who bought it, and he played it through. I didn’t manage more than about three hours on the 360 because I just didn’t get on with the controls. Before you could say “typical bloody woman driver”, I’d slammed the car repeatedly into the nearest wall.
I figured this was a shame because, in spite of the game’s flaws (which become apparent much later on), there was a great game to be played. At the time it came out, the opening scene had to be seen to be believed. It just goes to show how fast the technology is moving that it looks old and clunky now. I remember when the title credits came up sitting there, my mouth hanging open in awe.
I used to glance over as my husband was playing it, and he’d deliver a running critique on the game. There was too much reliance on “stretching” – insisting that you go from one end of the map to the other, with no real reason for doing so, other than to drag out the running time so that players felt they were getting their money’s worth. Later on in the game, there were bugs, and the cities weren’t as lovingly rendered, as though they’d rushed to complete them. The savepoints were too far apart, leading to tedious replays of difficult levels.
All that aside, I was fascinated by the idea of playing the game. It was such a thorough, compellingly-realised world that I couldn’t wait to explore.
Sure, it’s very much a “boy’s game”, and of course I baulked at some of the scenes. It’s an Eastern European Goodfellas: The Game, essentially – the characters are pretty unlikeable and the title alone suggests they’re not exactly model citizens. You’re not invited to like them or approve of them: they’re terrible people doing terrible things in a terrible world. The purpose of playing the game – just like any zombie shooter – is simply to pitch yourself against the danger and see if you’d survive.
I wanted to try it, but there were those damned controls.
Playing Mass Effect was a very different experience on the PC to the 360. The game was essentially the same, but because I found the mouse easier to use than the xbox controller, I spent less time dropping my buggy off the cliff and ranting in frustration. I can’t think of a game I prefer to play on the 360: Fallout 3 and Oblivion both just feel better on the PC. My husband feels more at leisure playing on the console. He doesn’t enjoy sitting in front of a PC after a day at work – reclining on a sofa feels more like relaxation time. For me, I don’t like to be too far from the screen and find sitting on the floor (on a cushion) uncomfortable. I like to sit in my office-chair in the lounge, tapping away on a keyboard – it’s second nature to me. I’m not even conscious of typing when I do it. A console is too artificial – to restrictive. I can never remember what the buttons do. I can’t cheat. I can’t alt-tab out and refer to a walkthrough. I just plain like PCs more.
Steam, fortunately, came to the rescue, offering a bundle deal of GTA 4 and all its expansions for just £6. I bought it before I could talk myself out of it. On a rural connection, it will take about a week to download.
It will be interesting to me to see how I get on with it. Without the clunky controls, can I get lost in the story? Will my character be allowed to make any choices? Or will I just be dragged along on rails, a mere spectator to the action? How will I feel about spending so much time with someone I basically regard as a sexist thug? Or will Nico Bellic turn out to have hidden depths – a misunderstood and sensitive soul with his own brand of ethics? Does it matter if he doesn’t? Goodfellas was a very enjoyable film, even with a cast with no redeeming qualities. I have a feeling that, in a sandbox game, the lack of character choice might be an issue. Or the illusion of choice might be such that I don’t even notice.
So, I’ll find out – hopefully at some point this weekend. Meanwhile, Him Indoors has been playing the Torchlight demo on the 360. We already have it on PC, but it’s very slightly different …