Just when you think you have Rockstar Games and their legendary Grand Theft Auto series figured out, they pitch you one heck of a curve. Speaking as a guy who spent so much time running amok in Vice City and San Andreas that I practically had to file tax returns there, I have been consistently surprised by the depth of play in GTA IV. Yes, it's true that the character modeling and some of the action moves are a little choppy, but most of the game looks great. Far more interesting, however, is the fact that this is not a video game per se - it borders on an interactive movie. The crime and violence in fuzzy-lit, pastel colored Vice City is practically cartoonish compared to the gritty reality of life in Liberty City in GTA IV. You're not just a thug with a bat trying to decide which car to lift, you're an immigrant with plenty of emotional baggage, forced into a series of moral quandries the outcomes of which carry implications throughout the entire game. Things you do even turn up later on the in-game radio stations!
Every generation of game console, some game is proclaimed the next coming, be it of graphics, or gameplay, or some other measurable category. GTA IV is different. You can wallow in the muck of street violence and prostitution as always, but there's a deeper moral play going on that feels unlike anything else I've encountered not only in GTA, but in video games in general. Rockstar Games may have finally located that most ephemeral of experiences - one equal parts game and cinema, without belonging entirely to either. It's going to be interesting to see how many critics and politicians seize on only the overt, adult content, without grasping how far more creative and artistic this "game" is than your average deadening FPS or racing game. Rockstar Games is to be commended for what truly deserves to be called "genius."