"The Family" Business
Fall of the House of Bellic

Brendan Main | 17 Nov 2009 12:40
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You learn over the course of the story that Bellic has been betrayed terribly in his past. It was years ago, in another life, but it remains with him. Weighed against this knowledge, the crime stories of Liberty City seem somehow penny-ante by comparison - games of Cops and Robbers played while the real machinations of the world creak silently along. Bellic sheds no tears when bad things happen to bad people - he has seen worse done to better. At one point, he has a conversation with a long-suffering mobster's wife, who inquires on the quality of his soul. He responds with a wartime memory - a dark parable about dead children lined up alongside a church, their throats cut out. To Bellic, the hand that could do such a deed is beyond redemption. As payback for his own betrayal, he demands very little: He deserves to understand what happened. And the man responsible deserves to die.

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In Grand Theft Auto 4, the series' freewheeling misanthropy is replaced by something harder and more sinister. In previous games, it's all right that people are shot, stabbed, robbed and run down because that's just how the mob does business. But for Bellic, it's because people can expect no better. Much has been made of the game's satirical reflection of New York City, but this world of corruption and casual violence is all Bellic has. He muses that, given the right circumstances, he might settle down and retire from crime altogether, though there is the sense that he understands the impossibility of such a life. How do you go clean in a world where you can steal any car at the push of a button?

Later, when he finally confronts the shell of a man who sold him out those years ago, Bellic has a choice: Kill him where he stands, or show him clemency. In another game, perhaps this decision would affect the outcome. But things aren't so simple here. Yes, sparing the coward's life is proof that Bellic is still a man of principle, capable of forgiveness and mercy. But as he knows all too well, his is not a world in which good men go unpunished.

Things take a turn for the worse. A human trafficker from Bellic's past emerges, intent on collecting on old debts, with interest. He is not so easily paid off: As a man who deals in bodies, he demands his pound of flesh. Late in the story, Bellic is faced with a desperate mobster's final deal, one that would have him thrust back into the hands of the very people who want him dead. It stinks, but by this point the whole city stinks. He is given a choice on how to play his cards, but any fool could tell you how it plays out: The drugs disappear. The deal goes bad. There is heartbreak, betrayal and blood. Someone close to him, an innocent, is killed. Having bent his anger and despair towards those scum who deserve death, Niko has no way of shielding those who deserve to live. The city has cars and money for the taking, but it will not permit Bellic the one thing he wants - a life worth living.

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