Tuesday, July 31, 2012


Girl Talk: Niko

Aside from contributing to the moral degeneration of the modern world by teaching the children how to jack cars and murder innocent pedestrians (not all of whom are hookers) AND being incredibly fun to play, the Grand Theft Auto franchise has introduced some memorable dudes for our consideration. Due to my initial media-influenced impression that the games involved much more prostitute-slaying than they actually do and frustration with my lack of immediate "driving" ability, I never played more than a few minutes of GTA Vice City and San Andreas at a time. Their protagonists, however, still managed to make an impression on me. Nobody wears a Hawaiian shirt like Tommy Vercetti, and Carl Johnson is fiiiine (especially when the player squeezes in some gym time). I even have a completely mistaken remembrance of a minor Vice City rock star being a hottie because he was voiced by Kevin McKidd and my ex replayed the game while Rome was on HBO. None of these guys, however, convinced me to play the games until I was nudged in the direction of one Niko Bellic.

When Niko first arrives in Liberty City, his fashion sense leaves something to be desired, as does his new home. Far from the mansion and riches his cousin Roman led him to believe waited in the New World, Niko's first apartment is a roach-infested shithole in a city on lockdown under terrorist threat. Like the upstanding, hard-working guy he is, Niko sets out to realize his American Dream by leveraging his skill set — stealing cars and assassinating people. In the course of moving up the career ladder he encounters a host of stereotypes with various problems for him to solve. He makes friends, goes on some internet dates, improves his wardrobe and accommodations (kill Playboy X when offered the choice; that apartment is SICK), and drives a wide variety of stolen cars around the city. 

The driving, you guys. THE DRIVING. Since no-effing-body in Liberty City wants to drive themselves to/from/in the midst of nefarious and profitable errands, the responsibility always falls on Niko. Does he even have a driver's license? No matter; the cops don't really care unless you wreck into one of their cars, and if a beat cop happens to have a problem with you commandeering a car in Bohan or wherever, all the better. At least a solid half of the fun in this game comes from running from the cops. All the more so if you're in a minivan. If you can manage to get a 4-star wanted level and steal an FIB Enforcer, you are nigh indestructible. So many cars to steal! You can steal a Mr. Tasty ice cream truck if you want! There's just nothing like a high-speed chase in a slow, top-heavy vehicle playing a tinkly "Ride of the Valkyries" jingle.

As mentioned above, I avoided previous GTAs due to perceived lack of video game driving ability. Let me tell any of you who suffer from the same delusion: get over it and go play this game. Much like Niko's off-the-boat style, I was terrrrrrrible upon starting out. Give it a chance! Within an hour, I was blowing through red lights and racing through the gap between traffic lanes like … a recently immigrated Eastern European guy with a troubled past who's really good with weapons, I guess. And it only gets better from there! All the cars handle differently, which can certainly make a given situation interesting, as do the varying traffic patterns. Many missions require you to chase someone, and it's a bummer to slam into a police car accidentally while trying to catch up to your target. Racing is fun, but outracing the police is much more so. And drunk driving … obviously, drunk driving in real life is a big time NO GO, no way no how, do not risk it ever, people. You know, like killing people. To its credit, GTA IV suggests taking a cab whenever Niko becomes intoxicated (which he never does while on a mission). On the non-mission occasions I have visited a bar and ignored this suggestion Niko has always died horribly (usually with Roman in the car. He must be a bad influence!), but not before I and whoever else is in the room have had an enormous giggle fit over my failed attempts to get from point A to B. There's just something thrilling about "driving" in such a realistic-looking environment in such an impossibly reckless fashion. Exhilarating!

Niko is a responsible, business-minded guy. He's got a fairly cynical outlook due to his experience of war atrocities and subsequent criminal career, but is fiercely loyal to family and a few chosen allies. As his cousin Roman soon discovers, Niko didn't come to Liberty City just to enjoy Roman's lavish promises of riches and beautiful women, but to seek closure for his unit's betrayal and slaughter at some point during the Bosnian War. Unfortunately, life in the U.S. does little to improve his outlook. Money still stems from acts of violence which, while fun for the player, don't thrill Niko. His sought-after revenge (or reprieve) of the man who sold Niko's fellows-at-arms' lives for money doesn't necessarily make Niko feel better about the whole sordid state of affairs. A final choice to compromise his beliefs and make a deal or seek revenge against a hated enemy results in the death of either his cousin (at said cousin's wedding! To his pregnant lady-friend!) or Niko's girlfriend, Kate (also at the wedding). Damn. Niko leaves the game on a dark note, understandably pretty disenchanted with the American Dream.

As for me, I want better things for Niko. I hate that he lost a good woman after taking his revenge, but who knows? Maybe now he can leave his life of crime behind and find a lovely, intelligent blog editor to settle down with.

Let's chat!

•              Favorite mission giver/friend?
•              Favorite girlfriend?
•              Favorite mini-game?
•              Favorite car?

Previously: Sinclair.

Jennifer Culp would like to thank her dude for Photoshop assistance, and would also like to own a lime green Peyote coupe.

33 Comments / Post A Comment

Heat Signature

Kids today and their new-fangled videogames. Can't we just go back to the eight-bit Super Mario Bros. and rescue the princess in World 8-4?


Thanks for writing such a good article@y


I've never actually finished a GTA game. Vice City is probably my favourite though due to music and hilariousness. I don't think I got the Kevin McKidd part and I'm not sure if I still have it! *cries
The thing about GTA though is that there is only as much prostitute slaying as the player wants to partake in. So it's really the player who is fucked up if that's all they do.

Oh, squiggles

I never played a GTA game, but I did play L.A. Noire like it was GTA. Does that count?

lavender gooms

@Awesomely Nonfunctional I could not drive for beans in LA Noire. Something about Rockstar's driving/horse riding system just does not computer. If those cars handled like the Warthog in Halo, I would be just fine.

lavender gooms

@lavender gooms Ha ha ha, "computer".


@Awesomely Nonfunctional Hahaha. I could not do a car chase scene TO SAVE MY LIFE.

Oh, squiggles

I am the worst at driving! But I would just laugh my ass off every time Cole crashed into something, totaled his car, then "appropriated" a vehicle from a 'cooperative' citizen.

Yes, Rockstar has problems with horse/car mechanics, but when you are walking/running into a npc, and they fall down, omg those animations kill me. I laugh my head off every time I knock someone over.

Infinite Jess

Which GTA game was it with the radio stations in the stolen cars? (Was it... all of them?) I was so entertained by the fake NPR and fake loudmouth conservative talk radio stations for the fifteen minutes my friend let me play GTA in her dorm that I just drove around until I crashed into a body of water.


@Infinite Jess Hahaa yeah, it's all of them.


@Infinite Jess All of them but maybe the '90s ones? Like the very first ones.


NIKO! Ugh, I've made it so far in Vice City (which is my favorite, but I always fuck up that last bank bulgarly mission?) & I've started Liberty City (& was similiarly a-swoon with Niko) when it first came out. This has inspired me to go back to it, perhaps.


NIKO IS THE FUCKING BEST. LITERALLY THE FUCKING BEST. And can we talk about how pretty fucking accurate the portrayal of the conflict in the Balkans is in the game? No one's the hero, no one's the victor, everyone's the bad guy. War is hell, especially war begun with ethnic cleansing. THIS GAME MAKES ME THINK 'BOUT LIFE!

In lighter news, the ice cream truck is the best car. FULL STOP.



Yeah so many video games actually do a better job than movies in telling stories! The ending for Medal of Honor Warfighter literally choked me up. And according to the guy that runs SOFREP, it's also apparently a pretty realistic depiction of the Battle of Takur Ghar.

Video games for life!!

The Mayor of Bethville

I was wondering when you were going to post again, and here you are posting all up in secret. Now that this game has your stamp of approval, I may have to give it a chance.

Jennifer Culp

@The Mayor of Bethville Aah, not intentionally secret! Last(ish) day of every month is the time of hot game dudes. Sinclair was June's!
And YES; wholehearted stamp of this-is-so-addictively-fun for GTA IV.

The Mayor of Bethville

@Jennifer Culp Oh no! I can't believe I missed last month. I'll go catch up.


I own Liberty City, Vice City and San Andreas and haven't beat one... unless the Simpsons version counts, hah. Vice City was the one I put a lot of time in on so it's interesting that a couple other people mentioned it as their favorite. San Andreas has the best radio stations!

Valley Girl

I have never been able to get past my driving-in-video-games failure, but I've spent my share of time watching boys/stoners play GTA. I have to favor Tommy Vercetti's hotness factor, I mean Ray Liotta and Hawaiian shirts for the win.

I don't remember Kevin McKidd's character but I think it's understandable to believe he'd play a hottie. Just saying.

Some of the best music I've ever discovered was heard from Liberty City. Like this one http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SUmXFv7XwAE


!!! God, I played this game for seriously 3 months straight when it came out but it was SO LONG AGO and my memory is the worst.

I remember losing it every time Genesis' "Mama" would come on the radio, like it had some uncanny knack for picking the dumbest in-game moment to play SUPER SERIOUS PHIL COLLINS.

And I remember this area that had the ridiculous luxury sports car showroom, and I would basically steal a new one every 20 minutes and drive it alarming fast through the window into fake midtown.

And darts! I did love the darts mini-game.


I have spent hours watching my ex play Vice City & I kinda love Niko. He's hilarious and has a conscience sometimes. Vice City isn't as violent/horrible as I thought it would be.... the ex also had the GTA Chinatown Wars for his DS and that one was a lot more violent and insane.


ooooh, I am currently playing! The best car if you ask me, even though it is nothing fancy looking, is the Blista Compact. I spend hours playing San Andreas. Most memorable missions were the car race and the flight mission. Sweat in palms, yeesh!


@Iris YES BLISTA COMPACT. I found it not as ideal in GTA IV but in the previous games it was totally the go-to car to steal.

I can't list a favorite girlfriend because I never managed to snag a date with anyone but Kiki. Anyone else?


I have never played a GTA game (nor ever wanted to if I'm honest) but I love this column!! I was waiting for it all month! I <3 you, Jennifer Culp! It's like you're in my head every month.

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Favorite mission giver/friend?
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Favorite girlfriend?
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Favorite mini-game?
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