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What happens if you criticize 'GTA'?

Glowing reviews, huge sales — everyone loves "Grand Theft Auto IV," right?  Not exactly. There are some naysayers — or, at least those that do not offer absolute praise. But these critics are boxing a glacier.
Image: \"Grand Theft Auto IV\"
The "Grand Theft Auto" games enjoy a devoted base as hardcore (if not more so) as rabid “Halo” fans. And these gamers take it awfully personal if you don't love their game as much as they do. Rockstar Games / AP
/ Source: contributor

As expected, Rockstar Games pulled off a bank heist with "Grand Theft Auto IV," with first-week sales topping $500 million. It did so with near-universal acclaim from game critics, as evidenced by the 99-out-of-100 average score on review aggregate site Metacritic. So, huge sales and glowing reviews — everybody loves "Grand Theft Auto IV," right?

Not exactly. There are some naysayers — or, at least those that do not offer absolute praise — in the growing video-game critic circle.

But these critics are boxing a glacier. "Grand Theft Auto" enjoys a devoted base as hardcore (if not more so) than rabid “Halo” fans. And these gamers don’t suffer tepid reviews gladly. Just ask Daniel Weissenberger, who dared to award "Grand Theft Auto IV" an 85 score on the gaming website

According to Weissenberger, approximately 60 percent of the response to his review has been hostile. "They tend not to go after specific things in the review, but rather complain about the number at the end," he says.

Weissenberger's review is largely positive — hence the "B" grade — but he does criticize the game's wonky combat controls, the intelligence of in-game characters, and Rockstar's desire to carry over too many features from past editions of the game. But even though Weissenberger points out a multitude of positives about "Grand Theft Auto IV," such as the game's strong narrative, it's that number gamers obsess over.

Maybe the game industry is taking a page from politics. As we’ve seen during the primary campaigns, the preferred method of defanging criticism is to impugn the messenger's character or motives. This tactic effectively diverts attention away from the content of the message itself.

Weissenberger is receiving the same sort of razzing. Detractors say that he is using his lower-than-perfect score as a way to draw attention to the site he writes for.

Here’s a choice morsel, from a poster called Kevin B.: "The reviewer clearly just wished to stand out as the one person who didn't believe the game was perfect. He was putting his personal opinions aside in order to stand out as a reviewer. Pathetic."

There are others. But this is a family Web site.

The reaction to his review by some readers leaves Weissenberger flummoxed. When was the last time you saw a negative review of a movie or a book whip up this kind of fervor?

"I can't imagine another field where someone would consider 85 percent an insult," says Weissenberger. "When a movie gets four out of five stars, that means it's a great film, bordering on a triumph. Somehow giving a video game the same score is the equivalent of calling it leprous in some people's minds."

The vitriol directed at “negative” reviews is indicative of how hardcore fans take these things personally, for better or for worse.

But be assured that publishers and developers love these gamers. They are the ones that lay down $60 for a game on Day One. They are the "boots on the ground" in the video-game hype war, where the stakes are rising increasingly higher as game budgets regularly soar over $10 million. Internet message board momentum is a valued currency, and when it hits back at a critical voice, the hope is that the review is devalued as the game itself boosted.