Page last updated at 06:12 GMT, Tuesday, 29 April 2008 07:12 UK

Blockbusters straddle game worlds

By Marc Cieslak
BBC News

GTA IV
GTA IV takes the gamer on a bloody odyssey
Two of the biggest games of the year have finally arrived and they could not be more different.

For the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, Grand Theft Auto 4 is the latest in the hugely successful crime series. Nintendo's Wii receives another innovative peripheral in the shape of the balance board for use with its new title, Wii Fit.

"They are targeting very different audiences, GTA 4 is targeting adult audiences, probably what you would consider the more traditional gamer, whereas Wii Fit is aimed at the mass market, a family audience, probably somebody who would hope to do something less sedentary than just sitting down all of the time," said Phil Elliott, editor of GamesIndustry.biz.

Developers Rockstar Games's latest third-person crime caper, GTA IV, unleashes Niko Bellic on the streets of Liberty City, a barely disguised New York.

Niko must steal cars, rob banks, take out rival criminals and generally cause chaos on the streets of this enormous metropolis.

Liberty City is roughly the size of the real New York and the level of detail and the sheer scope of the game are breathtaking.

The GTA series embodies the so-called sandbox genre, in which players can explore or perform missions in any order they like.

Like GTA games of old, Niko can steal any vehicle the player takes a fancy to, from sports cars and SUVs to speedboats and helicopters.

Next-gen upgrades include improved visuals a completely new physics engine, online multiplayer and, weirdly, a mobile phone.

Niko uses the phone and internet cafes to receive information on upcoming missions or to help maintain his relationships with his criminal cohorts. The phone can also be used to invite associates out for drink, which leads to the onscreen characters' drunken stumbling.

GTA IV
Rockstar have re-created New York in great detail

But all of this detail is icing on the cake, the real depth in this game is found in its gameplay. Fans of previous titles will be familiar with the formula of car chases, shootouts and general larceny.

While this latest remains true to its roots, the game has been refined and honed to such a degree that it makes most other third-person action titles seem hollow and empty in comparison.

Due to the Grand Theft Auto series themes of criminality and violence, these games have always been controversial, attracting the attention of politicians and the media alike.

However industry observers like Neil Long, editor of MCV magazine, are keen to point out the games' adults-only 18-age rating.

He said: "There are a million films out there that are a lot more graphic in terms of violence. Like any other kind of adult content, video games are just another form of entertainment.

"The people that make these kind of statements, perhaps they don't understand videogames and how they as an art form have matured. It is an entertainment form to rival movies, music and TV and it should be considered in that way."

Despite the controversy surrounding this series, 70 million copies of the GTA games have been sold worldwide. As a result, sales expectations for this latest version are high, and Mr Long believes there could also be a knock-on effect for Sony and Microsoft.

"Primarily it will push hardware sales up through the roof on the two formats it's on. Microsoft have been very keen to own this launch in terms of putting a lot of marketing out there and cutting the price of Xbox, Microsoft's message is, 'Get GTA IV for 200'.

"But at the same time GTA is often considered a very Playstation friendly series of games and it will be interesting to see which console benefits the most out of the title."

Wii fit
Wii Fit is being promoted for its healthy benefits

In stark contrast, Nintendo's Wii Fit is an entirely different sort of game. With the help of the balance board, players complete a number of different exercises ranging from yoga to hula-hoop spinning. Most of the exercises simply require the player to replicate instructions, which are provided via the onscreen virtual fitness trainer. The addition of the balance board with this title pushes its cost up to a UK retail price of 70.

The success of the Wii and its motion sensitive controller has seen Nintendo's games appeal to entirely new markets and this fitness peripheral could further add to the Wii's appeal.

Mr Long said: "Nintendo's strategy is very much to bring non-gamers into the industry. Their ethos for a couple of years now is the gamer market is finite; there are 10 times more non-gamers than there are existing gamers.

"That's kind of Nintendo's mission at the moment and Wii Fit is very much an element of that."

Wii fit will probably be the most important title for them of 2008
Phil Elliot, GamesIndustry.biz

Nintendo's Wii is the biggest selling console of this generation, but supply problems and a lack of compelling third-party titles could see a significant slow-down in the machine's meteoric rise.

Phil Elliot, editor for GamesIndustry.biz, thinks Wii Fit could help weather out poor third-party support.

He said: "Wii Fit for Nintendo is the title that will respike and nudge the sales of the console back up again.

"As we have seen with the Xbox 360, Microsoft have had a really good way of putting out key tittles throughout the life cycle of this console."

He added: "Wii fit will probably be the most important title for them of 2008 and crucially it is at a higher price point as well so it will be an interesting marker to see if people are prepared to pay the higher price point, and also how many people are interested in a fitness-based video game."

So the biggest video games showdown of the year looks set to be played out between a game that endorses wholesale mayhem, and a title that encourages wholesome keep fit.




SEE ALSO
Rockstar is EA 'primary interest'
13 Mar 08 |  Technology
Grand Theft Auto receives acclaim
29 Apr 08 |  Technology
On the trail of Manhunt 2
08 Feb 08 |  Technology
European game ratings face update
23 Apr 08 |  Technology
Game ratings under more scrutiny
18 Mar 08 |  Technology
At a glance: The Byron Review
27 Mar 08 |  Technology

RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

BBC navigation

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific