Thursday, March 29. 3pm. We’re huddled over our computer, along with tens of thousands of gamers worldwide, furiously debating the GTA IV trailer on internet message boards. As conspiracy theories are raised - and razed - in rapid keystrokes, while the trailer’s micro-details are held up for inspection, no one seems able to summarize the prevailing mood. Until one gamer glibly taps… “Underwhelmed and overwhelmed.” And the internet churns in chaotic agreement.
Underwhelming? Being harsh, the familiarity of location and lack of action is disappointing. But when you inspect the footage closer, you become overwhelmed by the detail - every frame has new vehicles, pedestrians and landmarks to recognize. Rockstar is shrewd - they know it’s there to be picked at and pawed over, allowing us to slowly shape our own ideas and desires. And like all great teaser trailers, it’s designed to raise tantalizing questions rather than provide answers.
Since then, we have more facts: the game is set in Liberty City, in the present day, and the lead character - or, at least, we think that’s what he is - is a man of Eastern Europe origin called Niko Bellic. It’s his story we will be following, and it’s a familiar one for many immigrants crossing the Atlantic. It’s the search for the American Dream.
As Niko says in the trailer, “Life is complicated… perhaps here things will be different.” He comes from a troubled past and is seeking prosperity, happiness and a peaceful life. The reason Niko believes he can find that in Liberty City is because of his cousin Roman, who - according to his correspondence - is living the high life thanks to the success of his taxi company. Roman’s emails talk of owning multiple sports cars, hot tubs and dating numerous women, and if Roman - a bit of a fool - can make it, surely a resourceful self-starter like Niko can as well.