The Grind

I am currently playing the crap out of Grand Theft Auto IV. To get this out of the way immediately — it is not a 10/10 game, it isn’t perfect. It isn’t even close. That said, the middle third of the game is pretty excellent, and the game every now and then does something quite technically impressive (before doing something stupid and immersion-breaking). The dialogue is generally well-written, even if some of the plot elements are rather cliché.

My current goal is to try and get as many of the achievements as possible. The "game progress" percentage reported in-game is a bit misleading — I saw that it was around ~60%, so I figured that I would try to get 100% completion in the game (which is a 100 point achievement in and of itself). After a bit of reading online, I discovered that in order to get 100% completion, you need to grind through some really sub-standard, time-consuming content in the game.

  • You have to win 20 race missions. There are only about 10 tracks, so you’re guaranteed to run duplicates. Each race takes about 5-6 minutes to run, so you’re going to kill a couple of hours on this one. The race AI for your opponents is pretty dumb — what usually winds up happening is that I’ll wind up lapping three or four cars that are stuck, ramming each other at low speeds and never making any progress.

    Also, you can’t shoot your opponents (if they die, you lose the race), and you can’t even do things like race a police car or garbage truck. The bottom line is that the racing missions are not very fun.

  • There are something like 30 "most wanted" missions, 20 "vigilante" missions, and 9 "assassin" missions.

    Don’t let the names fool you — they’re all essentially the same thing. Drive to waypoint, engage and destroy all targets. You would think that the "assassin" missions might involve some kind of Hitman-style gameplay, but they do not.

    Oh, and you need to have a police car to start the "most wanted" and "vigilante" missions — just another meaningless hassle on the road to full completion.

  • There are two completely different sets of "steal car" missions — one for your friend Brucie, and then one for his friend Stevie. You need to steal 10 cars for Brucie, and 30 for Stevie. To make matters worse, the cars ordered by text message from Stevie don’t show up on your map — you just get a description of where they are, and a small picture. You are supposed to hunt them down by driving around the neighborhood and figuring out where it is based on landmarks — needless to say, I just used GameFAQs.

    I optimized my gameplay for getting Stevie’s cars such that each mission took between 5 and 7 minutes (to get to the car, return it to his garage, and then go to my safehouse and sleep to trigger the next text message). I don’t remember how long Brucie’s cars took to get, but overall, let’s say there was probably 4 to 5 hours spent on these missions combined.

    (One side benefit to doing Stevie’s missions is that you can pile up a ridiculous amount of cash doing so, and thereby get the "Half Million" achievement as well. I totaled up the possible reward money for his cars and it comes up to about $400,000.)

  • There are, I believe, 50 unique stunt jumps to perform. I haven’t started on these so I’m not sure how long it will take — my guess is that it will take less time than some of the other grindy stuff, because there’s no setup for these. You can just take your best car out somewhere and jump it.
  • There are no less than 200 "flying rats" scattered around the map that need to be exterminated. Fortunately, they are anchored and don’t move, but still…that’s a lot of pigeons. This is what I’ve started working on — I printed out a list of them and am checking them off one-by-one as they are taken care of.

These sorts of activities really highlight the typical one-note mission design in the game — there simply isn’t much to do apart from shooting things, driving things, and "exploration."

Why am I doing this, you ask? I think there’s a combination of a feeling of commitment for having already gotten ~60-70% progress, plus a desire to simply play through everything now and never have to play it again.

This is not the first time that I’ve played games just to get them over with. There was a phase, after I graduated college, sent off résumés for jobs and was essentially just waiting for the phone to ring. I occupied myself by playing Neo-Geo games on an emulator. I played pretty much any game I could find, including really execrable or unremarkable ones like Cyber Lip, Burning Fight, Legend of Success Joe, and Mutation Nation. (I also played the good Neo-Geo games, don’t worry.) With the benefits of emulation (namely, unlimited "money" for continues), there wasn’t much challenge in many of these games, but I still felt compelled to play them, even the awful ones, just so I would never have to play them ever again. Sounds strange, but it made sense to me.

I feel like that is my current mindset with regards to finishing GTA4 — I want to do everything that can reasonably be accomplished, just so I never have to put the disc in the drive ever again. Whether the creators would consider that a good or bad thing, I don’t know.

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