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Grand Theft Auto IV Is Broken

Grand Theft Auto

I was pleasantly surprised, the other day, to find a copy of GTA IV on my doorstep. GTA has always been best on the PC, with fast performance and a great modding community. I’ve honestly been looking forward to this version.

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The installation has taken me nearly two hours. The game itself is on two DVDs, amounting to a whopping 14GB of data plopped onto my hard drive. That’s more than Crysis. Still, I’m a PC gamer, so I’m used to big games. Then the activation came. GTA IV uses SecuROM, that garbage software that ruined Crysis: Warhead by giving you only three installs, and connecting to the internet every time you wanted to play. After waiting for GTA to install, I was ready to play.

The game wasn’t, though.

First, I had to activate the game through SecuROM. Fine. However, the application refused to connect to the internet, declaring I was “offline”. Really? News to me, considering I’ve been playing the copy-protection-free World At War online all day. Apparently, this isn’t an uncommon problem, since Rockstar and SecuROM have a website dedicated to creating an offline activation fix. How is SecuROM still in business? What company in their right mind would choose a security method so secure that it doesn’t let anyone play?

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After generating my offline activation code, which required a code pulled from GTA‘s install and my serial key, I was getting a little cheesed. Still, the game wasn’t ready to let me play. I had to sign up for Rockstar Social Club, a stat-tracking website I honestly don’t care about, and linking that account to my Windows Live account, in turn linked to my Xbox Live Account. The amount of tabs and windows open in my browser was ridiculous. Do you know how many browser windows I should have open when I’m installing a game?

Zero.

I’m installing a game, not signing up for Netflix. Finally, after creating this unholy trinity of accounts, I clicked “play”. Oh dear, now I have to wait for the Rockstar Social Club application to update. Hooray, that’s updated, time to play!

Nope!

Time to download the new Games For Windows Live client. Are these people serious? Did anyone sit down and run an install during QA and think “this is acceptable”? If they did, fire them. This process is tedious, unnecessary and above all, stupid. I should not have to have Games for Windows Live and Social Club running to start the game. How many extra applications should I have when I run a game?

ZERO!

After this odyssey of boredom and frustration, I was finally able to play the game. My beast of a PC would finally display Liberty City as I’d never seen it before. Not so: According to Rockstar, “Most users using current PC hardware as of December 2008 are advised to use medium graphics settings. Higher settings are provided for future generations of PCs with higher specifications than are currently widely available.”

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An offline activation tool was available, on the site mentioned above. I put in my code, serial number, etc, and finally installed the game properly. In the game however, I’ve made no progress. Games For Windows Live, Microsoft’s attempt to unify the PC as a gaming platform, is required to play GTA IV. Not just to play it: to save it. What on Earth? What is the point of that? I can understand it being required for online play, but to disable something as basic as saving progress offline is utterly dumbfounding.

It’s a shame, really. GTAIV was my game of the year on the Xbox 360, and it’s sad to see a port so crippled by DRM software and poor application integration. I’m not the only one, either – Kotaku posted a comprehensive article on the bugs, install errors, and woes experienced by unlucky gamers. Nvidia has released a set of beta hardware drivers to increase performance in the demanding game.

Grand Theft Auto IV is a masterpiece of a game. Unfortunately, it looks like not many people on the PC are going to think so; this version of GTA IV will become the posterchild for the negative effects of DRM. The game is so frustrating to install, so infuriatingly intent on preventing piracy that it shoots itself in the foot. The ridiculous level of security in this game is only going to inspire pirates and discourage customers. I just feel lucky that I received a free press copy. If I had paid for this, I’d be livid.

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in October 2006.

Gentle persuasion

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