Before you ask, no I'm not planning on buying GTA IV today.
I've bought two of the three earlier games in the series only to be completely entertained for an hour, then miserably bored thereafter. But rather than criticise or falsely condemn the game for things its not (i.e. just about everything you'll hear on the news this week) I think this may be one of those times when the phrase it's not you, it's me is appropo. When it comes to the GTA series, I just don't get it. People love its adult content, they love it's grittyness and the lack of what I call the Fisher-Price sheen that adorns too many otherwise worthwhile games, and they love the sandbox aspects of it. I'm in favor of all these things too, but for some reason the game always leaves me wanting to play something else.
GTA IV will no doubt sell a million copies today and I expect that by the end of the year -- especially if there's a price drop on the Xbox 360 or PS3 -- the industry will have its first billion-dollar game. 16 million copies worldwide? Doable. Thanks in no small part to the tax rebate checks Americans will be getting this week (I bet Bush's Christian Conservative constituency didn't see that one coming). But if American Idol has taught us anything, it's that popularity and ratings don't mean quality. This isn't to say GTA IV is as substance-free as manufactured television, but I don't at all buy the reasoning that something must be good because it's popular. Millions will flock to the stores to purchase GTA IV because they either loved the previous games or because the game has an average review score of 99.6 on Gamerankings.com, the highest average I have ever seen. They'll point to the open-ended world, the hundreds of hours of gameplay, the multiplayer mode, the bonus content coming soon on XBL, and myriad other features of why this do-anything you want game must be theirs.
And I alone sit on the sidelines wondering if, yet again, somebody peed in the sandbox.
The talk of revamped controls gives me hope, and significantly addresses one of my biggest complaints about the previous games, but it's still a no-sale. I need to hear from someone who had also been bored to tears by the previous games. I need to find another holdout like me stand up and preach to me the gospel of Rockstar Games. Only then will I be convinced. Only then will I join the flock of millions and tithe my $60 and hop the crazy bus to Liberty City.
In the meanwhile, I just hope there's someone around to play a different game with.