Grand Theft Auto (Original, 1997)

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a game by DMA Design
Genre: Action
Platforms: PC (1997), GameBoy Color, Playstation
Editor Rating: 7.8/10, based on 3 reviews, 6 reviews are shown
User Rating: 6.4/10 - 35 votes
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See also: Top Down Games, Isometric Games, GTA Series, Grand Theft Auto Games

Whether you want to call it creative license, a marketing ploy or bad taste, Grand Theft Auto's theme is sure to raise some eyebrows (and become the target of an annoying senator or two seeking attention).

Think of everything vile (cussing, senseless violence, blood, mayhem, cop killing, running over people) that can be blatantly thrown into a video game, and you'll get an idea of what to expect in Grand Theft Auto. You assume the identity of a newly hired henchman who works for a mobster with a bad attitude (don't they all?). Just like any hired gun, you're given your marching orders via public payphone. At first, they consist of menial tasks such as stealing cars. When your boss gains confidence in you (and you earn his trust), you'll be assigned more complex and important missions which consist of assassinations, carbomb runs and mass killings. Sometimes you'll even have to kill people so that your boss can win a bottle of tequila (he occasionally bets that you could kill a certain amount of people in eight minutes).

The battles takes place in large, 3-D cityscapes (three different ones in all) that are viewed through a bird's-eye perspective. How you navigate within this environment is up to you--but rest assured, there are plenty of ways for you to make the commute. Just about any type of vehicle can be commandeered (30 in all) ranging from sports cars to school buses. It's as easy as walking in front of a car in traffic to make the cautious driver stop, at which point you yank him out the door so you can jump inside. You can even punch the driver, or just coldly run him or her over after-the-fact. Once you arrive at your destination, a large array of weapons (that include machine guns, flame-throwers and rocket launchers) allow you to turn the city streets into a bloody warzone.

Undoubtedly, Grand Theft Auto is the kind of game that is going to make consumer groups sweat. Regardless, we just hope that its gameplay is as entertaining as the controversy it wilt inevitably stir up.


Download Grand Theft Auto (Original, 1997)


System requirements:

  • PC compatible
  • Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP

System requirements:

  • PC compatible
  • Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP

System requirements:

  • PC compatible
  • Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP

Game Reviews

'The police are about to have a real bad day.' Thus predicted the legend on the box of the 18-certificate Grand Theft Auto, along with a Parental Advisory logo giving notice of 'EXPLICIT CONTENT'. It's safe to say that both warnings were on the money, much as it's also true that GTA really did change the world. In fact, if the hysterical reactionaries are to be believed, it is directly responsible for the breakdown of society. Arguably the most controversial game of all time, it was debated in Parliament, banned in Brazil, and spawned more tabloid headlines than a fight between Jordan and Posh. And all this for a top-down 2D game that was little more than a glorified version of Pacman.

Eh? Not our analysis, but that of GTA creator Dave Jones: "All the pedestrians were the dots, you were going round knocking all the dots over, getting points, and the police cars were the ghosts. So really, the fundamentals of the core game, basically, are Pacman" An interesting correlation, except Pacman didn't reward you for stealing cars, crushing innocent people and shooting policemen - all features incorporated during the development of the game, which surprisingly took the best part of four years.

As Dave explains, "Initially I wanted to try and create a city that was as life-like as possible. Cars would drive around, traffic lights would work. If you ran somebody over an ambulance would come and take them away. If you set fire to a car someone would come and put the fire out. So that was the basis - we thought it would be very cool if we could actually create a real breathing city, and that was the whole initial drive. And then we thought about what we could do in this city, and that's when the weird and crazy ideas came out."

Name Game

One such idea that was in place for almost the first year of development was the option to play as the police. In fact, the original title was Pace 'n' Chase, not a name that readily lends itself to a game that sold upwards of two million copies. According to Dave, that idea was eventually quashed in favour of somewhat less law-abiding behaviour.

"Basically, once we had everything up and running, nobody wanted to play the police. It just wasn't much fun as there wasn't a great deal to do. It then became a case of just adding and adding more and more things like stealing cars. And then an ambulance came when you ran somebody over - but wouldn't it be really cool if you actually stole the ambulance as well? So we did that sort of thing. Obviously, once the police start chasing you, it's only going to be fun for about five minutes so we needed a way to make them stop chasing. So we introduced the spray shops. It really was an evolutionary process."

That process came to a head in 1997, when the game was finally released. With new-fangled 3D games very much at the forefront, the initial response to a quirky-looking top-down affair was lukewarm to say the least. Enter PR guru Max Clifford, a mention in Parliament, and a series of events that ultimately led to one of the biggest-selling game brands of all time.

Life Of Brian

Working at DMA Design at the time was Brian Baglow, occupying a fairly broad role that included some PR duties. He takes up the story.

"Somebody had drawn it to the attention of Lord Campbell of Croy. What happened was he raised the question in the House of Lords - which was a bit irrelevant and completely pointless - but it suddenly got out there. And then Nigel Griffiths, who I think was the junior minister or shadow minister for Trade and Industry or something at this point got involved. He jumped in with: 'It's outrageous and shocking and shouldn't be allowed!', again from a completely uninformed point of view. But that's what really sparked it off.

From there we had everyone from the Police Chief Federation through to RoSPA, the road safety people, complaining that the game was irresponsible. The only people we didn't have any complaints from were the Hare Krishnas, who probably had more reason to complain than almost anyone else. Indeed they did, considering that slewing through a crowd of them in a fastmoving vehicle gave the player extra points, and resulted in some very dead (or at least reincarnated) Krishnas.

This kind of content fuelled the controversy, helped inestimably by the appointment of one of PR's best-known figures, tabloidmanipulating spin-meister, Max Clifford.

Read All About It

As Baglow recalls, "BMG Interactive, who was the publisher at the time, brought in Max Clifford, which from my point of view was great. My first ever PR job and I'm working with The Master, and I mean that in a Dr Who kind of way. It was great, I had my own page in the News Of The World that had a headline like 'SICK CAR CRIME GAME BOSS IN TOT SLASH SHOCK'. My parents seriously wanted to sue. What happened was that they turned a real-life incident into a news story. I crashed my one litre Metro after hitting a patch of black ice and kind of hit a tree, and that was it. My Metro turned into 'a high-powered XR2i' and 'I hit a bit of black ice and smacked into a tree damaging the car' turned into "'It's lucky I wasn't on drugs!" sneered Baglow.'

From a PR point of view, Baglow was naturally more than happy to feature in such a story, and indeed played no little part in its appearance. As he now admits, "It's entirely possible that somebody may have tipped the paper off, I'm not at liberty to comment." (He nods vigorously.) "What happened was they were looking for somebody on the team that had been involved in an accident, but nobody was willing to stand up and stick their head above the parapet. Dave [Jones] wasn't interested, and they eventually came to me, and I just went 'Yeah, whatever -1 wrote the whole game, fine.' As a little insight into how the tabloids work it was illuminating."

Clifford certainly earned his corn, and as Dave Jones says, "He was great, the publicity we got from that was absolutely tremendous."

Pacman To Paxman

Further free advertising rapidly followed, with the game's detractors inadvertently helping to bring it to the masses. As Baglow recalls, "The marketing director of BMG ended up going on Newsnight and debating this with Jeremy Paxman and a guy from the Christian Families Coalition or something, which was scary in itself. Jeremy Paxman was brilliant, sitting there saying things like, 'Come on Mr Butler, you're not going Jf to tell me that children play these games, surely?'" Jones also remembers the time r fondly, citing "The best one was when it was on Breakfast TV for two hours. They were having a debate about it, showing it, viewers were phoning in."

And all this for a visually simplistic game that was scarcely above the level of a 2D cartoon.

"I know," says Jones. "To be honest, a lot of people actually when they heard about it said: 'That's terrible and disgusting.' When they saw it they were like: 'Oh what's all the fuss about?"'

It's a sentiment echoed by Baglow, who says: "All the controversy was based on the initial premise. Everything that happened, happened because people heard there was this game out there where you could shoot cops and run over people, and that was it. Immediately, it was 'Dear God! It should be banned! I can't allow this!' Not one person who criticised the game had ever played it."

Music Sounds Better

This is probably just as well, as had the game's critics delved deeper they would have discovered something that may have sent them off the end of the outrage meter. What wasn't widely publicised at the time was the fact that the music in Grand Theft Auto contains some of the most disgusting and degrading lyrics ever committed to CD.

The man responsible? Brian Baglow, who remains resolutely proud of his contribution to musical posterity. Having previously written a few lyrics on a nonprofessional basis, Baglow was asked to come up with the words to a thinly-veiled AC/DC pastiche called 4 Letter Love, which still appears on his CV today. A sample lyric, Brian?

"Well, the chorus is 'Beat me, bite me, whip me, f*** me, come on wank me, now go down and suck me.'" Charming. But as he says, "It was an 18-certificate game so we could get away with a fair amount. It was unique, there's not so many jobs where you can go into your work, come home and go: Well, today I wrote the lyrics for an incredibly blasphemous, sacrilegious and generally filthy metal song."

Baglow also came up with The Ballad of Chapped Lip Calquhoun by Hank O'Malley (And The Alabama Bottle Boys) for the themed Country & Western station that you heard if you stole a pick-up truck. Other relevant stations with their own repertoire kicked in depending on the typical owner of the vehicle you took control of. It was a pioneering idea that pushed GTA beyond the realms of a game and into the arena of mainstream entertainment.

"Initially we wanted to make it like an audio feast," says Dave Jones. "In the first one there was no licensed music, we did absolutely everything ourselves. We created our own songs, our own radio stations and we did everything from country and western to Jazz - a tremendous amount of tracks. The lyrics were absolutely brilliant. If you listen to them, everything relates to the game, they told stories about the game and everything in it. That's what I think was lost a little bit with Vice City having licensed tracks, but then, obviously, it made it even more mainstream."

House Music

Despite all of GTA's music being recorded in-house - with Baglow making up fictional artist names such as Animal Testing Center and Government Listening Post - the quality was enough to convince experts otherwise, particularly as the box boasted a '60 Minute soundtrack featuring all new music by some of today's hottest new acts.'

According to Baglow, "We had several magazines actually fully believing we had got all of these deeply underground bands in on the soundtrack, but it was all internal at DMA. There was a guy studying chemistry at Dundee University, this big black guy, Johnny - he did all the hip-hop stuff. Craig Connor, who wrote a lot of the tracks, is still at DMA, or Rockstar North. We got a local guy in to do the steel guitar and a couple of local drummers, but it was all done in-house."

It's a ploy that's stood the test of time, and the soundtrack is highly listenable today. The game is also reasonably playable, although you can't help wishing it was in 3D, something that of course came true with GTA III. In between came the add-on, London 1969, and GTA 2.

According to Dave Jones, "It was just an evolution of GTA 1. It all went a bit futuristic, which was a bit of a mistake, because the cars weren't quite as recognisable. But there was some nice stuff like three different gang types. If you beat up one of the gang types, you got favour with the other, things like that."

Take That

The leap to 3D was massive in every sense, but what is little known is that GTA 2 could have been the breakthrough title, were it not held back by Sony's console.

As Dave says, "The fact is we always had to do the game on PSone and there was no way it could be done. GTA 2 we actually had up and running in 3D but we couldn't really release it in 3D on PC and then 2D on PlayStation, it would have been a lot of work to do that. It was a question of getting the timing right and waiting for PS2. It was tricky - a lot of technical challenges. Running somebody over and seeing it top-down against seeing them in your windscreen, that was a big difference."

It's a difference that publisher Take 2 obviously appreciated. In fact, they liked it so much they bought the company, renaming it Rockstar North, at which point our man Jones departed. The rest, of course, is history, with GTA III proving a massive commercial and critical hit, selling millions worldwide, despite the dark satire on American consumerist society that it offered. Its sublime sequel Vice City upped the ante even further, offering 80s-themed shenanigans, and enough licensed music to spawn no less than eight soundtrack CDs.

A far cry from Sideways Hank O' Malley and his Alabama Bottle Boys. And a very long way from Pacman.

With all the advertising fuss that's been kicked around for GTA2, it's a perfect time to go back to the original -and see how much better it is. Despite all the publicity Grand Theft Auto garnered for its violence, joy-riding and glamorising of anti-social behaviour, the reason it was a hit with the critics and public alike was that it was so much fun to play. On one hand, the top-down view and cartoony colours make it feel like a sophisticated toy (and make allegations against its unsuitability for public consumption preposterous). On the other hand, it's the fact that the city feels so real - you can even play it straight, obeying traffic rules like a good citizen - that makes it so much fun to be a criminal. If you haven't played it before and are considering buying 67142 on the assumption that it must be superior, save yourself a few quid and get the original and best.

As a carjacker trying to rise in rank within the Mafia, your role in Grand Theft Auto involves more than just theft. In order to gain notoriety from the "bosses," you must perform specific tasks, such as making hits on your enemies or collecting protection money from restaurants. At your disposal are 30 vehicles to carjack, plus a slew of weapons, ranging from a machine gun to a flamethrower. With over 200 missions taking place in three gigantic cities, will Grand Theft Auto be one of America's Most Wanted or will it be a victim of foul play? More on this Micro Machines-with-a-twist game soon.

Can't afford it? Then steal it. Grand Theft Auto allows you to steal anything from a bus to a Ferrari and attempt to evade the law with your new prize. The game features a unique top-down perspective offering tremendous visual depth as you race anywhere you can to escape. This game will be a real steal!

In Grand Theft Auto, you're a goon on the lam, pulling jobs such as bombings or drug runs as you avoid the police either on foot or by hijacking any car in sight. GTA's violent nature, complete with abundant cursing, is sociopathically chic...but the game's just not any fun.

The cities are mind-numbing mazes that require you to refer to a paper map included with the game (lame!). In addition, tall buildings block your vision in the overhead view, and your goon is so poorly rendered that you can't tell what direction he's feeing. On top of that, he's nearly as difficult to control as the cars--almost all of the dozen or so available are way too sensitive. The game's one redeeming quality is its sound, which offers music tracks from the radio of each car you commandeer. GTA's a cool concept, but it should serve 15 to 20 for wanton mishandling of gaming potential.


  • Use trucks for your usual work, Penetrators for speed missions, four-wheelers when you need steady control, and buses when you're taking fire. However, you should stay away from using bikes--they're too easily destroyed.
  • On Level 1, the four-lane highways will get you across the river--but if you're hot, rite bridges will be blockaded by the police. In which case, you should grab a Penetrator and ram 'em.

Snapshots and Media

Playstation Screenshots

GameBoy Color Screenshots

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