Sunday, November 23, 2008

Gangster's "Paradise"

This is a coda to my earlier thoughts on Grand Theft Auto IV.


After doing a little reading online, I learned that there are just two endings to the game, and they depend on the final choice you make: whether to deal with Dmitri or kill him.  Fortunately, I had kept a separate save right before I offed him, so I loaded that up and beat the game again.

The first thing I learned was that I had been "right" in making the earlier decision which had caused me so much anguish.  My thinking at the time had been: Dmitri had already shown himself to be the worst kind of rat, and had betrayed me before, and betrayed people even closer to him than me.  I just couldn't permit him to continue to live; as long as he did, he would be a threat, a loose nuke.  Sure enough, he showed his hand almost immediately, reneging his end of the deal and hanging me (and Phil Bell) out to dry.

I finished the mission and collected a HUGE cash reward.  The plot then moves forward, but in a different key.  Kate is mad because of the deal, and so doesn't come to the wedding.  Roman's friends are more prominent - including Brucie, who I (fortunately) hadn't seen or spoken to in weeks.  After the wedding is over, there is once again bloodshed.  The more I think about it, the less satisfied I become with Pegorino's assassination attempt - he may be pathetic, but he still has SOME goons, and it doesn't seem right that he would have pulled the trigger himself.  The second assassination is more believable; Dmitri (that snake!  I KNEW he was no good!) sends a semi-anonymous assassin to murder you.  There is a struggle, shots, and then Roman lies dead.

There are several tragedies here.  First, from the way the scuffle with the assassin is shown, it's pretty clear that Niko is directly responsible for Roman's death - he's the one who pulls the arm and aims the gun at Roman.  Not a deliberate action, of course, but still - the blood is on Niko's hand in more ways than one.  Second, in the larger scheme, it's tragic and ironic that the wedding will kill the person whose advice you follow.  In other words, whoever you show the most love and respect to by obeying their wishes will be the one who pays the final price.

The final mission proves to be very similar to the version after Kate's death: same call from Little Jacob, same car chase, same gunfight into the abandoned casino.  The final portion varies a little, while retaining the same elements - in the first, Pegorino escapes in a speedboat while you chase in a motorcycle, before ending up in a helicopter; in the second, Dmitri flees in a helicopter while you chase him in a speedboat before ending up in another helicopter.  Regardless, after crashing on Happiness Isle, you must fight through some goons and finally kill your nemesis.  Both versions can be very frustrating, because dying in the final stage will make you replay everything after the car chase.  This has been a peeve of mine since GTA III, and I hope they fix it in the future - the franchise desperately needs a better checkpoint system.

The outlines are the same, but the emotional impact is different.  It might just be me, but I thought Niko seemed more wrathful and just after Roman's death, as opposed to sad and despairing after Kate's death.  Part of that may be who he gets to kill at the very end... Dmitri is an evil man who deserves whatever comes to him, while Pegorino is a pathetic washed-up wannabe crime boss.

The final credit sequence seems to be identical between the two.  It is gorgeous.  It's fully appropriate that this long and moving section - perhaps twenty minutes long?  it's pretty big - is a tribune to Liberty City.  You don't see any people at all, just the stunning world that you've been inhabiting for the previous several weeks.  As usual for these games, I'm as attracted to the wide-open and wholly-realized world as I am to anything that happens inside it.

I wish I could remember the exact words Niko mutters after the credit sequence, because I'm not sure whether or not it's the same regardless of which ending you got.  This time around, I'm pretty sure that he says something like, "So, this is it.  The American Dream.  This is what it feels like to win."  Wow!  What an incredibly cutting and despairing note to end the game on.  Of course, we're expected to take the word "win" in both senses.  Niko's victory is hollow - he has fulfilled his goal of revenge, but is left without the person he cares most about.  At the same time, the developers are also questioning our victory as the player.  We've been conditioned to expect nothing but happy endings in our games; if we invest the time, get good enough, and accomplish whatever goals they set out for us, then we are rewarded with a few moments of perfect good-feeling.  Given the awful things we've done within this game, that wouldn't be appropriate.  And really, how does one "win" a game like Grand Theft Auto after all?  The very franchise is defined by its wide-open nature, the fact that it never has to end.  We pick a spot and define it to be victory, but the world doesn't listen to us, and continues moving on.


And so ends my first adventure in the wonderful world of the Playstation 3!  It's been a pretty incredible journey, and I have to say well worth the investment.  Not totally sure where I go from here - I have a copy of the new Metal Gear lying around in its shrinkwrap, but I'm under enormous pressure to give Little Big Planet a whirl, and I still want to check out the Playstation Store games like Everyday Shooter and flOw.  Ah, fun times!

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