GamesRadar Xbox Editor Charlie Barratt contributed to this interview.
By now, you may have already seen our interview with UK journalist Rob Taylor, who's finished Grand Theft Auto IV and shared some of his impressions of the game. You might have even seen similar interviews with other people at other websites. But right down the hall from GamesRadar's US office is Rob Smith, Editor in Chief of PlayStation: The Official Magazine - possibly the only person outside of Sony to have finished both GTA IV and Metal Gear Solid 4, two of this year's biggest releases.
Above: Rob Smith is hardcore
Obviously, we couldn't let him keep all that to himself, so we sat down with Smith to discuss his thoughts on finishing the PS3 version of GTA IV, the depth of Liberty City and - fleetingly - how Niko Bellic's crime spree stacks up against Old Snake's upcoming stealth epic.
GamesRadar: You’re one of the first journalists in the US to have played Grand Theft Auto IV to completion. What can you tell us about your general impressions?
Rob Smith: So, going in... they call this work, but sort of holing up and having to play GTA IV for, you know, as many days as possible, was not a bad job to have. There’s been a lot discussed about how the storyline was going, how this was not going to be a plot to become the king of New York, the character was very different from previous GTAs, and so I think there’s a lot of interest in just how that would ultimately shape out. So that was pretty fascinating, to go through and see, ultimately, just what they did, without being sort of qualitative about that... it was... it was just interesting to see their approach.
And then, blend that with just the experience of traveling through the city. I mean, we'd had the opportunity to play a couple of brief missions and things at different times in the build-up. But once you open up sort of the entire city and see all the different sort of variations there, just moving through that world is pretty amazing in itself. It’s not just the size, it’s the style as well, and sort of how the different areas look, and it was interesting to do this in New York, where when I went out to go buy sodas... it looked like the game! The police cars have the same markings as the police cars have there. I actually thought I got surround-sound going on in the hotel room, when… I thought I'd triggered a warning level by bumping something accidentally when I heard the sirens going. And it was actually outside, but it could well have been in the game. So I think that just the experience of traveling around the city is just going to be a real standout.
GR: Does it feel substantially different to play than the other GTAs, or is it still at its core the same sort of experience?
RS: It’s absolutely, at its core, it’s GTA. You can’t get over the fact that this is GTA, and certainly at the start of the game... anybody that’s played GTA will know what to expect, know how to control it, know where to get going. The difference is just how you then interact with the city and then with the characters, and how you sort of choose to move. I mean, you know, you’re not going on pizza-delivery runs this time around and that kind of thing. It’s definitely changed from that style, but that’s more focused around what the missions are and what it is that you choose to go do.
GR: About how long do you think it took you to play through the game?
RS: I can tell you exactly, because it’s tracked in the stats that you can see. And the stats are just incredible. I mean... a vast number of details, so I can tell you how many bullets I fired, which I think come the end was something like 19,900 and something. So I actually wanted to just go shoot some rounds off, just to get to 20,000 when I was done. But it was 45 hours. Now, bear in mind, that was to go as much on the critical path as I could.
GR: How close did you get to 100 percent?
RS: My final stat isn’t that close to 100 percent, but that’s partly because [I was] trying to get through that critical path, because we’re on a time crunch and we have to get the story wrapped... in time to make the issue... It’s so easy just to wander off and do things. I mean, driving around, finding the stunt jumps. I mean, here are stunt jumps in the world, and some of these cars go pretty fast, and they can be pretty spectacular. You could easily spend 10 hours just finding them, let alone then completing them, because you have to… nail the landing, or land in a certain place or do a certain thing to actually get it complete. It’s not just, like, find it and leap off it. You can spend a lot of time. So right now, I’m going around and finding some more of those, but in the course of, like, blazing through, I, uh... I’m not sure I want to say the actual number... it’s 60 percent.
Above: Remember this guy?
GR: After having played both GTA IV and Metal Gear Solid 4 to completion, how would you compare them as next-gen experiences?
RS: Well, they are fascinating, because they’re both huge, but they’re apples and pears. I mean, there’s no comparison, because of what they sort of do. Metal Gear is more story, exposition... I mean, there’s so much story in Metal Gear, the whole point is that it wraps up all the answers. Which means that it wraps up all the answers. There is a lot of exposition about who did what to whom, how, when, where, why... But within that, the actual gameplay is still that of a sneak game. Although there's some just incredible firefights. I also think visually, Metal Gear shows what the next generation is really all about. It’s absolutely phenomenal.
From a presentation standpoint, both games show what you can do with 200-plus people, I suppose. The credits on GTA took at least 10 minutes to roll by. At least. I think it’s more like 15. The number of people involved in just things like dialogue, for stuff that I’m sure that, even in 50 hours, I'm just scratching the surface. I mean, they’re both huge games. They’re both… right at the top of the awareness list for really good reasons. But in Metal Gear, you’re on a path, you’re on a story path that is not an open-world kind of thing. And as a result, it can do and present things in a slightly different way. But both of them are very good reasons to have a PS3.