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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Game Play: Back in San Andreas & GTA IV PC

So the PS3 is to arrive tomorrow. GTA IV actually already arrived at the office, sans anything to play it on. If you think that shows enough of our Grand Theft Fanboyism, it should also be noted we've spent most of our available gaming time last week and this weekend on GTA: San Andreas.

Spoilers ahead, btw.

We've actually pretty quickly hit that bittersweet moment in the game where CJ has pulled Grove Street from the ashes and The Girl is now delighting taking hood after hood in the Gang Wars minigame. I'll be honest that I'll miss this gameplay in the GTA IV. While it certainly could have been more sophisticated, that there was this completely optional portion of the game which lets you control most of Los Santos (and earn money from the territory) adds a lot to the game. When we played through before, we obsessively hunted down every little section, even the obviously buggy 10x10 squares that Rockstar probably never assumed anyone would. One of the great things about this subgame is that the storyline takes it away from you. We spent hours and hours on this originally and one act of betrayal and we were exiled out into the country - all our hard work stripped away. A brilliant combination of narrative and gameplay if there ever was one.

The Girl loves it as she was never really into the missions. She loves the franchise for allowing her to unleash wanton violence on the world.

Heck, one of the reasons I have a PS2 is because I would come home to find my PC occupied with flame-thrower induced mayhem and darn if I didn't have some modding to do. Which brings up an interesting side question: Why won't Rockstar announce a PC version of GTA IV?*. We're talking about a franchise which started on the PC, has always faithfully ported games at least 6-8 months after and has enjoyed a decent modding community on the PC.

Basically I've got two theories. One is that the new engine Rockstar now enjoys, RAGE, isn't up and running on the PC yet and so they have no timetable to base a port on. I occasionally give people a work a response something along the lines of "this is either going to be really easy or just near impossible" meaning that most of it is simple (there is already a 360 build after all) but there might be one or two key questions that could hold the whole thing up. It's not terribly easy to put that into a PR release.

Second is my PC pessimism rant. Having already broken records and made money hand over fist, Rockstar might just decide that the money will be best spent moving ahead on the franchise and avoiding the delay that we saw before getting our hands on San Andreas. The PC version of San Andreas accounts for a mere fraction of the current 21.5 million total ... although to be fair so does the Xbox version - which probably is a shared position of having lost out of the initial launch.

Course the PC is in that position now. And while the mod community can certainly be notable, it's failed to push any serious after-market sales in the way that Counter-Strike did for the original Half-Life or Epic's Editor's Edition did for UT2004 (albeit on a much smaller scale, of course). Tack on that Hot Coffee hit Take Two particularly hard and you have a platform which doesn't measure up a lot of dollars out of the total pie.

But my real answer is all of the above. If RAGE can be made to run on the PC, and it doesn't cost too much, and they can make sure there's no way Hot Coffee can be repeated (like not keeping unused sex games in the code, for instance) - we'll see a PC version announced and/or released around the holidays.

Anyway, we're going to back to roll on some Ballas. We got this game like three years ago and it's still pretty addictive. Hopefully GTA IV looks decent enough on the SDTV...

* For the record, this happened when GTA: SA came out too. It was a "PS2 Exclusive" and much hand-wringing was to be had. So there's a decent chance that there's a lot of speculation over nothing.

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