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When you get a postcard, do you look at the photo of the Grand Canyon or the Eifel tower or whatever and go “oh my god! It’s so lifelike! It’s like I’m actually there!!!!” No, of course you don’t. Similarly, I should have realized – before I shelled out my 60+ dollars yesterday – that playing GTA IV wouldn’t make me feel like I was actually in New York City (why I wanted that, when I know exactly what it feels like all the time, is beyond me). Unfortunately for me, I came to the conclusion that GTA IV would be an exact, block-by-block replica of the city in which I currently reside. I actually thought I’d be able to go over the Williamsburg bridge and continue going in the same general direction in Brooklyn until I found a street that roughly resembled my street and a house that looked sorta like my house. I even sorta held out hope that I’d be able to walk up the steps to my door and see a mailbox that sorta looked like it had my name on it. And maybe I’d walk in, see myself sitting on the couch, and offer myself the blue pill (or is it the red?) or whatever.

Yeah call me stupid, call me a victim of hype. Unfortunately, I believe what I read, and everything I read told me that the new Liberty City was just so amazingly just like New York that’d it’d be all Uncanny Valley. Admittedly, Liberty City does remind me a little too closely of another city I’ve visited before. I think it’s called… Vice City? Or maybe Los Santos. I get them mixed up.

I’ve only played the game a few hours, but those few hours were devoted almost entirely to comparing Liberty City’s equivalent of Brooklyn (called “Broker”) to the real one, at least the one I know. First off, I’m gonna be honest and say I’m no Brooklyn expert. I’ve only lived in the area for about a year and a half, and so my knowledge is limited to certain parts of the borough. That said, being a non-native Brooklynite I think gives me a perspective on how it’s different from other cities I’ve been in – what makes it uniquely Brooklyn you might say. So let’s run down the list of how Rockstar failed to make a realistic sim of my favorite borough.

No. 1: No Jews.
Ok, I’m sure there are NPC Jews somewhere in the game, and I shouldn’t really be able to just look at a random NPC (or a real flesh-and-blood person, for that matter) and tell his religo-ethnicity. But I’m not talking about the Jew that goes to synagogue once a year; the one that had a bar mitsvah and forgot Hebrew for the rest of his life. I’m talking about the serious, shave-your-head-and-wear-a-wig, all-the-men-wear-archaic-hats, my-family-has-lived-in-this-country-for-four-generations-and-English-is-still-my-second-language Jews. You know, the ones you can spot walking down the street. I remember shorty after moving in to my apartment I once got lost somewhere near my new neighborhood. I ended up walking for about 20-30 blocks through a neighborhood (Williamsburg) in which I didn’t see a single suspender-less man or white-shoed woman. Orthodox and Hasidic Jews for miles. There is no neighborhood like that. Which brings me to my second point.

No. 2: Too much English
Ever been to Greenpoint? Everything’s in Polish. Where I live, in Bushwick, many of the signs are in English and Spanish, and if they’re in just one it’s usually the latter. Not so in Broker. Not a big deal, but it’s also not a big deal to put in your game. It’s not like the player can go into any of those stores anyway, so why does he care if he can read the their signs? This is an oversight that should have been easy to catch and fix.

No. 3: Too many white people
41% of Brooklyn residents are white, and that’s a lot, but they are not spread equally throughout the borough like they are in Broker. I get the impression that the NPC’s spawn according to a percent that corresponds to the whole borough and not particular neighborhoods. In real-life Brooklyn you can expect to see mainly white people in Williamsburg. Go a half mile south and you see barely any. In Broker it’s 41% (actually I wouldn’t be surprised if it was closer to 60%) everywhere in the borough. In real life ethnicity is determined based on geography. But of course…

No. 4: The geography is all screwed up.
In real life, Brooklyn is about 3x the size of Manhattan. Though I haven’t reached GTA’s Manhattan, from the map I can tell that Broker is about half the size of the Golden Island to the west. I understand that many things of cultural significance happened in Manhattan 20 years+ ago, but is anything – other than shopping – going on there now that warrants this gross size disproportion? Anyway this screwiness has caused a dearth of bridges, so that the beloved Domino Sugar Factory is right next to the Queensboro bridge, which actually goes into Greenpoint and not Queens at all.

Now am I being nitpicky? Obviously – you say – GTA IV can’t be geographically exact, since games can hold only so much data and blah blah, and that’s fine. The problem is that if they were going to hype it as being a perfect rendition of the city than it should be so. Instead – as I said before – it reminds me more of other GTA games I’ve played in the past. The similarities to New York – so far – seem to mostly reside in skyscrapers, which I don’t care about at all. If it’s just like New York because of the skyline, than it’s just as realistic as a postcard. And you can buy one of those for way less than 60 bucks.

3 Comments

  1. jay said on May 6, 2008:

    no SI = no sale

  2. Christian said on May 6, 2008:

    I am going to go along the same lines as Jay, and say that I would have loved something similar to Long Island, simply because I knew way too many pricks from there when I went to college, and rampaging would be oh so much fun.

    But yes, there is a lot of hyperbole spinning around about GTA’s portrayal of the city. I think they get caught up in small details, like potholes in the road, to realize that by and large this game still doesn’t feel like the “living, breathing city” they claim it is. Too many whites and people that use the word “fuck” when you get too close to them.

    Remember, as many people that may have worked on this game, Rockstar North is still a bunch of Scotsman. Their knowledge of this side of the pond is only so great, and if they got U.S. help to design Liberty City, they could have picked more knowledgeable folks.

    As much as I dislike the game, I thought Mafia had a pretty good representation of 1930’s NY and New Jersey.

  3. GJ said on May 6, 2008:

    Wasn’t it Left Behind, the creepy RTS, that actually digitized Manhattan, complete with adware that would display stuff in-game?

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