Grand Theft Auto III
I used to be a nice boy. I'd spend Sundays (after choir service) baking cakes with my mum (meringues being my speciality) and I used to own a pink skateboard on which I would stand and go down hills before picking it up and walking back to the top. Girls didn't used to fancy me, they thought I was 'sweet' and I passed all of my '0' Levels with flying colours, barring French.
Then at around age 161 discovered fags and booze and started spiralling down the garbage chute of life. Dalliances with drugs did me no favours and now aged 32 I've progressed to mowing down pedestrians, hi-jacking ambulances and ice cream vans, shooting the police, battering vagrants and paramedics and getting taught the ways of the Lord in dark alleys by ladies of ill-repute. The Tories would talk about the gateway theory. The tabloids would probably blame computer games... And for once they'd be right.
Stop That Train
Yep, Grand Theft Auto III is finally here, despite a long and torturous wait that involved thumb-twiddling, persuading my partner that buying a PlayStation 2 would be a sound investment, blagging a copy from Take 2 and half-completing the game before phoning Take 2 on a daily basis enquiring where the hell the PC version was. Still, good things and all that... Bad news first though: there's no multiplayer. Despite persistent rumours, Rockstar told us it never had any intention of tacking a multiplayer option onto what it sees as a quintessentially single-player experience.
If you've played the game you can see sense in that. The naysayers might have been appeased with the ability to race around the city but most of us got bored of Midtown Madness a couple of years back. And expecting a real MMORPG version of GTA III in addition to the single-player game was never going to happen. Look forward to it in the next version, but for now don't let it put you off one of the best gaming experiences of all time.
And I don't use words like that lightly. I've been on ZONE for three long years now and thanks to a combination of bad luck, lack of time and a reviews editor who refuses to give me anything that might be half-decent to review, I've never given 90 per cent to a game before. I started getting scared that I was going to finish my ZONE career a virgin, which is why I insisted GTA III was going to be mine.
For me it's a flawed masterpiece that manages to do almost everything right. Let me explain further. One of the big debates over the past couple of years has been about freedom. Some see the future of PC games lying in freedom of choice, where the developers create a world and a loose sketch of a game to cover the joins. Others think that linearity is the only way to sustain an involving dialogue. GTA III proves that you can have both depending on your mood. From the very first kick of the game you can pretty much do what you want, where you want, with whom you want. If you want to 'progress' through the game you can pick up a mission at any time, but the first thing you'll want to do is explore, take stock of your surroundings and indulge in a spot of the old ultra-violence.
I Fought The Law
It would be ludicrous of me to suggest that GTA III provides you with a fully working city, where you can enter any building and interact with any character. What the developers have done instead is create the illusion that the whole city is open to you. You can car-jack pretty much any vehicle you can see and tear around creating as much havoc as you want, as long as the filth doesn't catch you in the act. When this happens you're given a 'wanted' rating, signified by a set of stars. One star puts you in the Mark Morrison category whereby the police might give chase for a bit before deciding to stop for a hot dog; five stars means that the whole of the LCPD is after you, along with helicopters, road blocks and snipers. It's a game in itself attempting to reach this sort of gangster status, before losing your wanted tag by either driving over the strategically placed stars dotted around the town, which reduce your criminal rating, or by taking your car in for a respray. (If you're interested I suggest smashing a few bystanders round the face with your baseball bat, waiting for the paramedics to turn up before turning your rage on them, nicking their ambulance and ramming the nearest police car.)
Alternatively, you can just cruise the streets, taking in the sights, before trying for bonus points by launching yourself off the various ramps, bridges and flyovers, and somersaulting your way to a - hopefully - safe landing. Smash the car up too badly mind and you'll have to get yourself out quickly before the flames take hold and it explodes.
The fact that everyone who plays GTA 3 does it in a different way is testament to the fact that the game works on every level, and it's this quality, not the stunning graphics engine, that's had almost every PS2 reviewer in raptures. We might be the first to review it on the PC but we're not about to buck that trend, not even with our reputation.
No Woman, No Cry
But you might recall. I did mention the word flawed. Because, despite the fact that it's one of the best games I've ever played, there are holes to be picked if you're the picky sort. Most of the blemishes are nothing more than gameplay mechanics (like the time I had every police car in the city after me but lost the lot by driving into a garage despite the fact that one of them followed me in) but when, on the odd occasion, your attention wanders, you realise that (whispers) there's not actually a great deal of complexity to the game. The missions that lead you through the story and open up the new areas, while hugely enjoyable, are relatively simple affairs: 'Take this car here', 'shoot that person in the head', 'blow that person's car up', that sort of thing. It generally involves getting from A to B in a set amount of time, and occasionally getting out of your car to shoot someone in the head.
What they do provide though is a refreshing change from the sort of shit we've been wading through for the past couple of years that masquerades under the 'I'm not really crap, I'm just .complicated' banner. Games you can play for hours on without cracking a smile, games that end up with smashing the keyboard in frustration as you're quick saving for the 10th time in a minute. In GTA III, you can only save after you've completed each mission, and it doesn't really matter whether you end up having to do the same one three or four times to get through. Each time it'll play out slightly differently or you'll find a faster vehicle hidden away that lets you breeze through a race you were previously struggling to complete in your icecream van. In any case, how can you complain about a game that offers up a mission entitled 'Big 'n' Veiny', where you have to steer a rickety van around town picking up piles of discarded animal porn that's been dropped by someone out of their mind on spank. I haven't had so much fun in ages and if Rockstar want to employ me as their evangelistically inspired preacher I'd be more than happy to quit my day job.
Because, at the end of the day, finding fault with a game like this is akin to bedding Kylie Minogue and complaining that you got a pube stuck between your teeth afterwards. GTA III does so much right that you'll never say a word against it. It might not dazzle you with its complexity, but the rest of it shines so brightly you'll have to wear shades. I'd stake my life that not a single person that buys it will regret the decision and I'm willing to fight anyone that says otherwise.
OK, we've had to wait a long time for it on PC, but it's just made it all the sweeter now that it's here. What's more, it's a tantalising taste of what's to come in the next version. Put the same game in a complex city where you can go in every building, and where each character has a life and a reason to be in the game beyond acting as eye candy and I reckon you'd have the perfect game. Add in the fabled multiplayer element to the proceedings and I'd have the perfect excuse to finally get involved in an MMORPG. For now, GTA III will do very nicely indeed, thank you very much.
Mark Hill Said It Would Be Great. And He Was Right
They were going to have to do something really stupid to muck up the PS2 masterpiece and, as expected, they've done the opposite and actually bettered it The crisper and more detailed graphics are just the start of it, because in the end it comes down to it playing like a proper PC game. Once you play it with mouse and keyboard it's hard to imagine how we could ever have played it another way.
Your character is a complete idiot. The kind of person who thinks Ivanhoe is a type of Russian prostitute. He's ready to do anybody's bidding, gets shafted by all his bosses in turn and still keeps coming back for more. But the game itself is an intelligent orchestration of noise and violence that maintains a very cohesive shape despite its freeform nature.
Although it's a shame you can't run over a line of Hare Krishnas anymore, there's no doubt that this is a true classic. Because it does what all classic games should do: appeal to people who wouldn't normally play the genre. I don't play driving games, but I could happily drive around for hours in GTA III. You may not play shooters, but we guarantee you'll get a thrill from this one. Absolutely essential.
Just Enough, Just Enough, In The City
Who'd Live In The Country When You've Got This Waiting For You In The Big Smoke?
Grand Theft Auto III might look great on a PlayStation 2, but it buffs up even better on your PC. You might not think a small graphical facelift is enough to radically alter a game, and you'd be right. But what it does is offer even more immersion in a game world that was already well out there. You can have more fun just driving round, observing the inhabitants and taking in the sights as you can playing almost any other game released this year in its entirety. The level of detail is eye-boggling and some of the extras that have been inserted for your pleasure are testament to the work that's been put in by Rockstar.
I've now played through the game twice and I'm still finding little quirks, like the workmen who play out a rendition of the Village People classic, YMCA. Crowds gather round bodies and phone for ambulances, gunfights break out around you for no other reason than it's hot and there's not much else to do when you're an extra in a game. Planes soar overhead and certain ladies come to investigate when you hoot your horn when parked on the side of the road. Oh, and did I mention that it looks the business?
For Those About To Rock, We Salute You
Sloppy Conversions Beware - This Is The Real Deal.
The Rockstar team are PC gamers, which is why GTA III was never going to be a sloppy conversion programmed by a couple of code-monkeys who map the gamepad to random consonants on the keyboard and leave us with a fudge of fixed resolution and console-style text. Unlike other games I could mention. You can now look around Liberty City the way God intended, with mouse and keyboard and a resolution that's only dependant on your graphics card.
But your mouse isn't just there to let you crane your neck and take in the cosmetic fluff. If you've played the game on your PS2 you'll know that one of the biggest flaws was the control system that made it almost impossible to aim your gun accurately, reducing certain missions to hit-and-hope of the worst kind. The game is now infinitely better for this, although if you want to get the best of both worlds you'll have to switch to a gamepad when in vehicle. Them's the breaks.
Download Grand Theft Auto III
After a successful heist with your girlfriend, she realizes that you would better serve her and her upward climb in the criminal underworld as a patsy found dead at the scene of the crime. By some strange twist of fate, you miraculously live and are sentenced to prison. However, Liberty City has other plans for you. While being transported to the prison, a daring jailbreak occurs for a top mafia boss who happens to be in the same armored car as you. Seizing your newfound freedom you carjack a vehicle for another prisoner and drive to a safe house. Thanking you, this other prisoner hooks you up with a local mob boss who's in need of a good man. You gladly oblige as the scars from those gunshot wounds begin to burn.
Beat, rob, steal, kill and generally live the life of a sociopathic thug who would like nothing better than to rise up the ranks of organized crime. But in order to make the slow ascent, you will need to do a lot of favors -- every one of them illegal.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
The first thing I will say about this game is that it is nasty... very nasty. Characters sleep with prostitutes, deal drugs, murder rivals and systematically destroy every moral law in existence. This game is NOT to be played by children. Rockstar Games designed this game for the mature player and you would be hard pressed to find movies with this level of violence. Pick up a bat and start beating the hell out of a bum sitting on the side of the road. Walk up to a car, pull the driver out, shoot him in the face with your handgun and make off with his humvee. The game breaks countless ethical and moral rules, God bless 'em.
As the newest thug on the street, you will be asked to do several favors in order to get your foot in the door. As the game starts, you meet a man named Luigi who runs the local area for a powerful mob boss. Luigi will send you on various tasks in the beginning in order to see if you have what it takes to run with the big dogs. Jobs involve transporting hookers and beating up a rival drug dealer and stealing his car. The missions throughout the entire game are varied and involve several methods of completion. One example is when Luigi finds out a rival gang is pimping their hookers on his turf -- he sends you to kill them. Well, it turns out your hit is driving around the area in a souped up muscle car. Hitting the car causes it to stop and the two occupants to start shooting at you. Now, while I could always kill one of the thugs, the second always got me, until I realized if I stayed in my car and waited for them to exit their car, I could simply run them over Brutal.
Obviously the appeal of the game is to indulge your wild side, and I certainly did. Unfortunately, living this kind of life has its price. I must have been killed 20 times the first three hours of gameplay, as I found shooting the guns in the game to be quite difficult. Since the game is viewed in the third person perspective, you must face your character's enemies, hold the R1 button down and press the 'O'? button to shoot. I found this setup to be questionable. I know it doesn't sound that difficult, but for some reason the whole 'shoot'? concept just didn't seem to work really well. It was so much easier to just take a bat and bash in someone's skull, although after the first few missions, that just isn't feasible because everyone seems to be carrying a gun.
One of the neater aspects of GTA3 is the fact that there are mini-games within the overall game. You can carjack anyone in the game. When taxis, ambulances and cop cars jacked, you can activate missions that can only be done while posing as one of these professions. It's an excellent way to score some extra cash.
Speaking of carjacking, your primary mode of transportation is the car. Cars are all over the city and just begging to be stolen. To carjack someone, run up to the vehicle while it's standing still and hit the triangle button. This throws the door open and your character will grab the driver and pull him or her from the vehicle. In the beginning you can do this with little trouble, but eventually you might run into someone who does not want to be carjacked, and just happens to be packing heat.
Since driving is so important, you should realize that the car physics, while not entirely correct, are present. If you run into another car or obstacle (besides people) the car will sustain visible damage. If you smash the car up too badly, it will catch fire and blow up, effectively killing you. I stole so many cars in this game that with our current legal system I would have been looking at almost 14 days in jail. Controlling these cars was simple as they all were automatics. Steering with the left analog stick and using the brakes and gas will get you around the city in a flash.
As the game continues and you gain more and more respect you will find yourself in other parts of Liberty City (the most dangerous city in America). In the beginning, you play in the Portland district, working your way through Stanton Island and eventually onto Shoreside Vale. Needless to say, the paycheck for completing missions will greatly increase when you get to the more advanced missions. What I found to be interesting was that there are nine different gang/criminal organizations in the city. Yes, you will piss off every one of them and they will come looking for you.
Now, I keep talking about money. What's it good for? Money is used to fix cars, repaint them to avoid the law, and to pay for medical bills that you will incur during the game. Of course if you are a penny pincher, you can look for the health icons that are scattered throughout the city. Other icons include drugs, weapons and a mystery package (you must find all 100 of these). My pro-tip? Get out of your car and start exploring those back alleys.
While the game certainly has a flair for the illegal, the graphics are just average. Characters all look underworldly, but they also look to remedial and blocky. There's no doubt that this game is a next gen game, but the people look too drab and simple looking vehicles are apparent. The city itself is pretty sharp looking, as attention to detail was not overlooked. It's not a simple grid shaped burg and it's got all the goofy turns and one-way streets you would expect from a major metropolitan city. Cut-scenes are short and informative (while looking average) and can be bypassed by pressing the 'X'? button.
Well, here we have it; the game boasts a nine-channel radio (while in the cars) complete with wacky commercials. The music is at once appropriate and original. I would expect to hear latino music if I stole a 'Diablo? gang member's car and I did.
On another positive note, the game has top-notch actors doing the voice work for all the major characters. Michael Rappaport (Deep Blue Sea), Joe Pantoliano (The Sopranos), Michael Madsen (Reservoir Dogs) and Robert Loggia (Prizzi's Honor) are only some of the top-notch talent lending their recognizable voices to this game. In a word, 'wow.'
GTA3 has a fairly informative manual, but unbelievably has a fold out map of the entire city, including all the hot spots. I love it when games have foldouts.
Originality / Cool Features
This game takes on the perspective of the bad-guy. There isn't a single real good guy to be found anywhere in the game and if you do happen to run into one, chances are you'll kill him. An honest-to-God real mafia type game. Nothing like the ill-fated Kingpin.
As a person who has always considered himself to be an honest, non-lawbreaker type, I was fairly disgusted with myself for having as much fun as I did. This was a graphically violent game that certainly pulled no punches when it came to the money shots. I can't stress enough that this game is meant for players of an older age bracket, like 17 and up. I must say however, that it was a refreshing change for me as I have never played anything that made being bad feel so good.
Its a filthy dirty porno game thats training kids how to do filthy dirty things, or so says your mom, the PTA, and that publicity-hounding lawyer you see on CNN trying to outlaw fun. To everyone else or more like the 11 million gamers who play it the Grand Theft Auto series is the ultimate adults-only (scram, you kids!) freedom kit. Both GTA3 and its acid-washed 80s-themed sequel Vice City turn players loose in living, sprawling cities where they can get away with actions from launching stolen cars off 10-story buildings to hosting flamethrower barbecues that in real life would land em in the clink lickety-split. Its a fun world to visit. We just wouldnt want to live there. Ultimate moment: Why, driving within the speed limit and kindly giving pedestrians the right of way, of course. (Just go with it that CNN guy might be watching.)
Heres the latest in Grand Theft Rumorin. The next GTA may take place in the 70s. It might be called GTA: Sin City (think Las Vegas). And you may never see a proper GTA4 because Rockstar may be dropping the numbers thing altogether (so Sin City is in effect GTA5, with Vice City being GTA4). Can we tell you anything useful at all? Nope, cept Rockstar has confirmed the next game will be out in 2004. And the only reason we know that is because weve been sifting through their dumpster.