The game makes no attempt to disguise the fact that it is designed to look, sound and feel like the city I have lived in for nearly all 32 years of my life.
This game is hardly the first to try to replicate some portion of the New York experience — programmers have been trying to do this for decades. But Grand Theft Auto IV is the most contemporary attempt at this experiment, and may be the most realistic made available to a mass audience.
For a native New Yorker, the game is both comfortingly routine and eerily disorienting; you find yourself playing because it is a limitless escape and a consequence-free confinement. Liberty City is like nowhere I’ve ever visited, even as it tries with all its heart and soul to remind me of a place with which I’m already intimately acquainted.
It’s not the game’s fault that it can’t perfectly replicate the infinite variety of New York. But it sometimes comes so close to pulling off the illusion that it invites you to look for the imperfections.
When my two hours of game time were over, I left the Rockstar Games offices and stepped out into SoHo at midafternoon on one of warmest spring days of the year. The sun worshipers were out in full force, each of them as distinct as snowflakes: guys wearing oversized earphones and baseball caps tilted at every angle, women wearing minimalist skirts and shorts that gave them only the illusion of being clothed. An amorous couple making their way north hardly noticed me as they nearly crosschecked me into a streetside table of $6 sunglasses.
There was so much uniqueness and so much variety that there was no room to move, and I knew I was home.