Since I started playing GTAIV (Grand Theft Auto IV) I’ve loved the story. Most of it anyway, as it does lose its way a little after the “first act”. I don’t want to rehash the plot, but I do want to discuss two scenes that affected me most, and made the GTAIV story for me.
Also, there will be spoilers. You have been warned.
Let’s Begin At The End
I’ll begin with the final mission as I think this defines the GTAIV story so well.
In the final mission, you find out and track down the person who killed someone you love (either your cousin , Roman, or girlfriend, Kate). Many of the other plot threads are tied up here – though not all, some of those aren’t tied up unless you play the other episodes “The Lost And The Damned” and “The Ballad Of Gay Tony”.
The final mission is suitably climactic, and after a huge gunfight, a vehicle chase, then a helicopter chase Niko faces the final antagonist. The antagonist ends up dead, and Niko has “won”.
While so many people that made his life so difficult up to this point are dead or otherwise removed, he’s also lost a person who made his life worth living. It’s a classic bittersweet ending.
If it were just the ending described, then I’d still feel moved, but it’s where Niko is in his life at the finish that makes the ending even stronger for me.
At the end of GTA:SA (Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas) we were left with CJ having taken back the neighbourhood (really more like the entire city), having a controlling interest in a Casino, owning a (mostly defunct, but still useful) airport, owning a profitable chop-shop, and knowing any number of powerful people.
On the other hand, Niko may have ended up with a few expensive apartments (depending on choices made), but he doesn’t own the city. He’s nowhere near the top of any hierarchy – criminal or otherwise. Most of the powerful people he’s met are either dead, or don’t have any further interest in him.
And he’s lost someone he loves.
To me, this is a near perfect ending to the story, and somehow more satisfying that having Niko ruling the city in some way. Niko has tied up a few loose ends in his life, but they don’t always bring satisfaction. On the other hand, he’s made some new friends, most of whom aren’t particularly powerful, but are loyal. He’s not in the worst place ever, but nor is he in the best. He’s learned some things, resolved some things, but is still close to the bottom. It suits the rest of the story perfectly.
One other thing…
The other scene I mentioned revolves around Niko finding the person he’s been searching for. First, a little background.
Niko appears to have been driven by rage for most of the game. The object of this rage is a traitor who sold out Niko’s unit during “the war”. He knows of two survivors, one of whom must be the traitor. He believes one of them, Florian Cravic, is in Liberty city – one reason Niko’s here. Florian is now called Burnie Crane, a flamboyant gay man, and isn’t the traitor. This leaves his other suspect, Darko Brevi?.
Eventually someone who is using Niko for his own ends has Darko transported to Liberty City from Bucharest as a “reward”. Finally Niko is able to face the traitor, the target of his long held rage. Darko is a Heroin addict and sold out Niko’s company to the enemy for $1,000 to pay for his habit. He’s clearly still an addict, and a complete mess, telling Niko that being killed would be doing him a favour. He also points out a few uncomfortable truths to Niko – while Darko sold out Niko’s friends, Niko’s friends killed some of Darko’s.
Niko has the choice to kill Darko, or leave him alive and walk away. Niko has found the traitor, and yet that traitor was, and is, a pathetic wretch. Niko has also been given a new insight on what happened during the war, that turned some black and white issues into a murky grey.
In my first play through I was caught up in the choice; in the person Darko had been, and had become and the whole reason for Niko’s vendetta.
Whatever choice Niko makes, he and Roman discuss it briefly as they drive away. Neither choice feels “right”, but nor does either feel “wrong” either. It’s wonderfully ambiguous.
After Niko drops Roman off he says he wants to be alone for a while. I felt, within the story, that it was ‘right’ to give Niko that time alone.
It’s a powerful point in the story and seems to leave Niko hanging. There are other worries for him to resolve, but much of his drive, his reason for doing what he does, has dissolved. One might almost feel that Niko slips back into old habits of taking on jobs for various people simply because he’s not sure what else to do. It’s a growth point for him, but one that will take time for him to get past.
Neither of the scenes really resolves anything. While they certainly end a portion of the story, there is no neat ending, no obvious “this is the way it must be”. I think that’s one reason I want to highlight them. Many video games make a big thing about choices, but far too many come down to black/white, good/bad choices. In contrast, the best you can say here is that Niko (or the player) made a choice, but you could argue for hours about whether it was the “right” one or not.
I think I find this more satisfying because it seems more realistic and makes the story of GTAIV feel more like a real story, rather than some fiction bolted onto a game.