“Sandbox game” and “bargain” don’t have a huge intersection, perhaps, but it contains Grand Theft Auto IV: Liberty City, which was just $7.50 on Steam.

My first evening with it was frustrating, because of the strange controls, both for driving and for combat.  It reminded me of driving the roadsters in Borderlands before I learned that you can smoothly steer them using the mouse.  Only in GTA4 you can’t– you just have to get used to using, or abusing, the WASD keys.  As for combat, it felt like nothing worked predictably.

What helped was trying some multiplayer with friends.  Usually it works the other way– single-player helps multiplayer– but it seems I just needed practice.  Multiplayer with friends is a good time, if you can get past the truly retarded multiplayer system.  You have to log into both Rockstar Social Club and GFWL, notifications require way too many keystrokes, the game crashes a lot, and voice probably won’t work at first.  I never thought Borderlands’ multiplayer would look good.  Still, actually playing missions or hanging around wasting each other is fun.

I’ve always been curious about GTA, and it’s fun so far… I’ve played approximately forever; I’d be finishing most modern games at this level, but the game is still giving tutorials and says I’m 1o% done.  The map is amazing… it’s just a huge city, certainly the biggest I’ve seen in a video game– it makes City 17 look like a village.  (It’s not, of course, the size of actual NYC… at a rough calculation, it has about 1/4 the number of streets between Central Park and the Battery.)

Is it terribly immoral?  Well, of course; you’re an aspiring gangster, though you start out extremely small-time.  The first of your crimes is likely to be speeding… this version of New York is tantalizingly low on traffic.  Then you’ll probably want to steal a car, since the taxi your cousin Roman provides you with is crap.

The missions are highly varied so far– to say nothing of the dates, clothing shops, pool halls, and bowling– though pretty much everything requires driving.  If Borderlands is for gun freaks, this game is for people who really really like vehicles.  And crime, of course.  Some missions are easy, some rather difficult– at least till you’ve mastered the damn cars, which I haven’t.

The in-game media parodies are hilarious… notably an over-the-top hate radio show, and Republican Space Rangers, an animated TV show about taking the fight against libruls and terrists to the skies.