Rolling Review Part I

As I'm assuming you've heard, GTAIV came out yesterday. I picked it up and toyed with it a bit, but given that there's upwards of 50+ hours of gameplay (with some estimates in the hundreds) I'm not going to wait to finish the game before reviewing it, else you'd be waiting months. Instead I'll give impressions as I get them, beginning with...

This is the first GTA game I've played. I've been well aware of it for a while, but never played before because I never felt a burning desire to virtually beat up a digital hooker. Plus, the earlier iterations had legendarily iffy graphics, due to the amount of processing power devoted to making a "sandbox" city that characters have complete freedom to roam thru. Previous comments tended to say that the main story was less effective than just driving around, listening to funny faux radio and killing people without remorse. All of that is supposed to change with the latest installment – promising a truly interactive "living, breathing" environment, a compelling plot with a sympathetic lead character and a dramatic graphic upgrade. Based on about an hour of gameplay, does it deliver?


Liberty City (GTA's spin on Manhattan) is, indeed, breathtaking. Playing the game doesn't seem like a series of levels, it feels like... existing. No load times, no artificial boundaries, no rules – instead there's an actual environment with legitimate geography, different neighborhoods and populated by people who appear to be living their own life as opposed to being arranged for a main character to interact with. On a pure technical and artistic level, it's a staggering achievement.

As Niko Bellic, I haven't hit the main plot yet, having just arrived in the city to meet up with my loser cousin Roman, who's been filling my head with American dreams and has, instead, been eking out a criminal existence in a roach-filled apartment, drowning in debt. I've driven him around a bit, saved him from loan sharks, met some of his, uh, "friends," etc. Tough to say at this point how much we'll identify with Niko, altho I'll give him some points for not showing up on our shores with a "kill 'em all' mentality.

One thing that feels missing is the purported sense of reality that's part of the hype. Because for all the detail applied to the environment, it's clearly glossed over when it comes to how you interact with it. Within fifteen seconds of the first time I got behind the wheel, I'd crashed into several cars, knocked down a few streetlights and accidentally mowed down a couple pedestrians. Several of these things happened while the girl I was driving around commented on my clothes. Illicit thrills are designed to be a part of the game, and I guess I'm supposed to pump my fist and shout with glee every time I slaughter an innocent Liberty City-ian, but it's a little weird to have no one comment on the fact that instead of dropping them at their house, I overshot it by a block and smashed into a dumpster, pinning a hobo to the wall in the process. Add the fact that whatever car I drive apparently goes several times as fast as anything else on the road and the game's got a few questions to answer.

Which won't happen until I boot it back up and dive back in. More later...


When Irish Eyes Aren't Smiling

So Carly Smithson got voted off last night and, while I can't say I'm too upset about it, she prolly didn't deserve to go.


I've never really "gotten" Carly Smithson. Not that her brogue is that strong – it's just that past beyond said brogue, she always came across as basically a fine singer, particularly if you're looking for someone to front a Heart tribute band.

Which I sincerely hope no one is.

That said, she belted out an acceptable version of Jesus Christ, Superstar. It was maybe a little bit on the shouty side, but it was a step up from Brooke, who was a bit on the forgetty the words side, and Jason Castro, who was a bit on the whatty the hell were you thinky side.

I still think it's David Cook's contest to lose, but for those concerned about the order of losers, you can rest assured that Carly got a wee bit robbed.


Aaaannnddd... we're done.

After last night's take on Mariah Carey's "Always Be My Baby," it no longer matters whether David Cook actually gets the most votes – he's won. He could turn out to be Kelly and take the title, he could be Daughtry and score a career, but that performance may have rendered the rest of the season irrelevant.


So You Think You Can Step it Up and Walk the Runway to America's Top Dance Crew Project?

What this latest installment from Bravo's reality tv factory lacks in innovation, it makes up for in presentation... almost. It's almost exactly the same show as So You Think You Can Dance, but instead of perky Cat Deeley as host, it's... a different kind of perky Elizabeth Berkeley. Why? Well, she showed off her... um... moves in Showgirls where she insisted that she's not a stripper, SHE'S A DANCER! And the judges, instead of being American Idol knockoffs (streetwise black guy, effusive woman, snarky Brit) are a bunch of industry pros that you've likely never heard of.

From the initial episode, I'd say it's better than America's Best Dance Crew (sorry, Randy Jackson Presents America's Best Dance Crew) but worse than So You Think You Can Dance. It's definitely slicker than the MTV show, but it's missing some of the spirit that the younger cast of SYTYCD brings. There's just something more innately appealing in watching undiscovered kids trying to break into the business than mid-tier semi-pros trying to land a somewhat bigger job.

Actually, all of the dancing shows suffer from a rather indistinct prize – I'm not sure what the next Top Dancer actually means, or where they Think They Can Dance or whatever. It's not like the American Idol machine, which pumps out a winner's album even if it's Ruben.

Regardless, is Step it Up and Dance worth a watch? Aside from the terrible title – sure, particularly as most shows are still recovering from the writer's strike. As far as Bravo rip-offs go, it's notably better than their take on America's Next Top Model, called Make Me a Supermodel. It's well-produced, the dancing is good, the cast is a combustible mix of talent and ego, etc. I don't see it spurring an NBC/Lifetime war like Runway, but it's ok for a Thursday. At least for six more Thursdays, when the Cat comes back.