The Beat’s temporary slowdown on blogging is not, as might be expected, because of the arrival of Grand Theft Auto IV, which will probably be the biggest grosser of the year, movie, book or game. However it must be said that the complete cultural victory by the geek/nerd/video game set is now assured. Admit it, did you ever in a kajillion years think you would see a glowing front-page review of a FREAKING VIDEO GAME in the New York Times?
Published by Rockstar Games, Grand Theft Auto IV is a violent, intelligent, profane, endearing, obnoxious, sly, richly textured and thoroughly compelling work of cultural satire disguised as fun. It calls to mind a rollicking R-rated version of Mad magazine featuring Dave Chappelle and Quentin Tarantino, and sets a new standard for what is possible in interactive arts. It is by far the best game of the series, which made its debut in 1997 and has since sold more than 70 million copies. Grand Theft Auto IV will retail for $60.
Niko Bellic is the player-controlled protagonist this time, and he is one of the most fully realized characters video games have yet produced. A veteran of the Balkan wars and a former human trafficker in the Adriatic, he arrives in Liberty City’s rendition of Brighton Beach at the start of the game to move in with his affable if naïve cousin Roman. Niko expects to find fortune and, just maybe, track down someone who betrayed him long ago. Over the course of the story line he discovers that revenge is not always what one expects.
It’s like those old timers who believed that attending a show by Eva Tanguay at the Odeon was the apotheosis of cultural delight and refused to go over to the new Victrola are now standing in line for the new model.