Game Description: You've been betrayed and left for dead. Now you're taking revenge, unless the city gets you first. Mob bosses need a favor, crooked cops need help, and street gangs want you dead. You'll have to rob, steal, and kill just to stay out of serious trouble. Anything can happen out here. Grand Theft Auto III features a fully 3D living city, a combination of narrative-driven and nonlinear gameplay, and a completely open environment.
As the years go by, video games constantly strive for higher levels of realism. The line between the real world and the video game world is starting to blur with the current level of technology in today's gaming hardware. The advancements in AI, heightened graphics, the ultimate switch to 3D, and the medium on which the data is carried are just some of the things that allow the video game industry to not just create games, but simulations. Whether it is the simulation of playing a little sword-wielding green kid or of driving the world's greatest cars, video games are starting to be looked at less like games and more like experiences.
So, now that we have ever-increasing realism in video games, what happens when developers decide to create an experience based on the darker side of our reality with today's technology? You get something like Rockstar Games' latest creation, Grand Theft Auto III (GTA3). This game is basically a crime simulator. You play a common thug who is double-crossed by his girlfriend in a botched bank robbery and left for dead. After getting picked up by the police, the van you are being transported to jail in is hijacked, letting you loose on the streets of Liberty City. You figure the only thing you could possibly do from here is climb the crime ladder to the top, but first you're going to have to start from the bottom.
It should be stated, and obvious, that GTA3 is definitely not for children. The level of brutality and violence that can be found in this game is disgusting at best, and those against the idea of stealing cars, killing gangsters, and running from the law should probably think twice before this purchase.
Even after that being said, you just can't deny how great GTA3 is. The freedom alone that the game allows you is enough reason to give it a try. Go ahead and simply play through the missions if you like. When it becomes time to take a break from elevating your criminal rank, you can go earn some cash by taxiing the residents around, putting out fires, or cracking down on fellow criminals in vigilante missions. Find a ringing telephone booth and answer the call for some entertaining side-missions. Or you can just go have some fun with the fast cars—my favorite is jumping them off the insane stunt ramps that are located all over the city (which are accompanied by some very slick slow motion cut-scenes). This just scratches the surface of what you can do during the game, and is an example of the many different gameplay approaches you'll be confronted with.
Ultimately, GTA3 is linear in the sense that you have to follow a number of missions to come to the end. But even the order in which you do the missions is somewhat up to you (to advance to some of the later missions, you have to create a name for yourself first). And the greatest thing about the missions is the variety of objectives that you'll have to fulfill. Along the way you'll be finding yourself stealing cars as favors to your boss, getting involved in gang wars, and disposing of bodies for your employers. These are just a few of the 73 missions that the game has planned for you.
GTA3 also leaves the solutions to the mission objectives open to your imagination. An example: In a later mission, you are instructed to shoot a Colombian cartel plane from the sky and collect its cargo of SPANK (a drug that circulates Liberty City). The instructions for the mission indicate that you are to steal a boat and station it at a buoy, where you'll shoot the plane down when it flies overhead. "Well", I thought, "screw the buoy", and instead chose to navigate the boat directly to the airport so I could stand right on the runway as the plane flew in. Seemed much easier to me. There are countless ways of playing through the missions, and I appreciated the freedom the game gave me in this respect.
The greatest part of GTA3's open-ended nature is the choice to conduct your character as you want. Feeling good? It's possible to complete the game without harming one innocent person. Feeling bad? Hell, my game's body count statistic just passed one thousand. Unrestrained violence does have its downfalls in GTA3, though. If you start going on a civilian rampage, eventually your arrest meter will get one star (out of six). Kill a cop and you'll get around three stars. Keep killing indiscriminately and you'll eventually get the FBI and the Army after you (when tanks start filling the streets, you know you're screwed). Get arrested, and it's back to square one—you fail your mission, lose your weapons, and become a thousand bucks lighter (same goes for when you run out of health). I'll admit that not harming any innocents is pretty far-fetched—GTA3 is like a war, collateral damage is the nature of the beast—but the option to play 'good' or 'bad' goes to show the depth of the environment GTA3 takes place in.
Speaking of the environment, I have never played a game with a more fully realized city than in GTA3. The sheer size of it all will overwhelm you at first. Towering skyscrapers, warehouse districts, city parks, freeways, planes, trains and automobiles all round out the experience that is the maze of crime and villainy known as Liberty City. The epic proportion of it all really hit me one night when I just stopped and watched the city go on around me. You can hear conversations. Watch the sunset. Fog starts to creep in. People are getting in fights. Other criminals are robbing pedestrians. Hookers try and pick up on you. Car crashes happen in the streets. If a stray bullet or a car hits someone, an ambulance comes along to pick them up. You have to see it to believe it.
I think the largest heap of praise should go to the Auto part in Grand Theft Auto. The driving mechanics and vehicular physics of GTA3 could have its own game and be a solid title. First, there's the number of car models to drive (I think I heard a figure around 60—but I'm not sure), and the countless number of colors and additions that can be found on the cars. Put all the combinations of car makes, colors and modifications together and you're looking at driving hundreds of cars throughout the game. Second, the vehicles are just plain cool. The way the cars break up in the over-the-top accidents will crack a smile on your face, and what makes it all even better is the extreme detail on the models, right down to their interiors. Third, the cars feel right. When you jump into a full-size van, it feels like a full-size van. Same goes for the sports cars, passenger buses, station wagons, SUV's, family sedans—and don't get me started about driving the tank...
And when you're not running down pedestrians in a Yakuza Stinger, you'll be huffing it on foot in the familiar third-person action/adventure style, which is also worth mentioning. It's all done in the traditional behind-the-back camera view, although 5 alternate views are at your disposal. You're going to amass quite an arsenal through the course of the game—bats, uzis, grenades, assault rifles and more—and using them is fairly simple, with a few being extremely fun. There is an auto-targeting function that you use for most firearms, but some, like the sniper rifle and rocket launcher, use a first person targeting system (those are the fun ones). Considering how well the first person targeting is executed, you'll be spending a lot of time...ahem...'practicing' on the streets.
If there is one general complaint about GTA3, it's probably the frame rate. You'll experience slow down at times during the game, but it's going to take complete mayhem to get this game to stutter significantly. Sometimes while driving the really fast cars you'll notice a little hiccup here and there mainly because this game is drawing objects in the distance from miles away. Frankly, I'm impressed that the PlayStation 2 can handle the scope of Liberty City as smooth as it does.
A personal complaint I have is the lack of a full city map. GTA3 provides you with a small map/radar that sits in the lower right-hand side of the screen, but it only gives you the layout of your general surroundings. Its helpful in guiding you along to the mission objective points, but its not very helpful in giving you a feel for where you really are in the city. Considering how humongous Liberty City is, I don't understand why a simple, full city map wasn't included.
GTA3 is sure to turn some heads. The option to enact Armageddon on the city and its innocent dwellers will definitely raise some moral and ethical questions in the gaming community. But, you know what, this is a game. Even though the level of gaming technology today is starting to create vividly realistic imagery, it's still not real, and never will be. People who worry about the social implications of a game like GTA3 are missing that point. If you can realize that, and you have the stomach to sit through your average mobster movie, you're going to have a blast with GTA3. It's the first must-have game I've played for the PlayStation 2.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the PlayStation 2 version of the game.
(Editor's Note: This review contains adult language and subject matter that may be deemed offensive. Parental discretion is advised.)
To say that GTA3 has been critically well received is an understatement of gargantuan proportions. Since the short time of its release, the game is already being heralded not only as the game-of-the-year, but also a groundbreaking artistic masterpiece that qualifies for the ever-diminishing title of "greatest game of all-time." What can I say? I feel like the odd man out in a bad episode of the Twilight Zone. I'm not trying to rain on any one's parade here, but I've read Jeremy's review, several professionally written ones and a host of message board posts, and I'm stunned at how forgiving people have been to this title. Let me highlight and comment on some of the most common threads I've noticed.
1. Outside of a few minor framerate drops and lack of world map, GTA3 is technically flawless.
Just wait a second here. Am I the only player who took issue with the buggy camera system that would immobilize itself up against walls? Was I the only person who had difficulty running in a straight line because the camera would strangely veer off to the side? What about the ultra stiff hand-to-hand combat and the atrocious lock-on targeting system for firearms? None of these problems in of themselves are all that terrible, but GTA3 is not even close to being flawless.
And let's be real about the map issue. The lack of a larger world map and other navigational aids like an obvious compass (not that tiny one on the small map) is not a minor problem, but a major one when you consider the sheer size of Liberty City. Why didn't the developers include a Crazy Taxi-style pointer or a something else a little more intuitive? Throw gamers a bone for Pete's sake.
I would have liked to see more criticism of the graphics in those reviews as well. While the vastness of Liberty City was astonishing, I also felt the city was largely unattractive. The architectural design and urban layouts didn't exactly have me doing double takes and the character models won't be winning any awards for detail or animation either.
2. GTA3 offers unprecedented levels of freedom and a dynamically lively world with which to interact.
Lets examine the "freedom" that GTA3 allows a little closer. Does the game allow players to enter the interiors of buildings? Not really. Is it possible to climb structures and hang on to ledges? No. Outside of a gimpy jump, there's not much a player can do physically. Can players instigate conversations with pedestrians? Nope. Outside of driving cars, working routine jobs, and sightseeing around town, does Liberty City offer any different diversions or interactions with locations, people, or objects? Nada. One can argue that these options are out of the scope of the intended theme and that's a fair counter argument, so lets look at the so-call free-roaming gameplay that does revolve around the theme of being a thug.
Can a player choose which mission to undertake? Again, not really. Players visit different employers for jobs, but the options are all fixed according to the storyline and the missions are all prescripted in a linear fashion. There's no randomness or even an illusion of choice in the mission selection. Players cant choose gang affiliation either. Want to work for the Triads over the Mafia? Want to side with the Yardies over the Yakuza? Good luck trying. There are also no dynamically shifting consequences or influence over the storylines from player controlled action. You can fail a mission a 100 times over or kill anyone indiscriminately (including your own fellow cohorts) and as soon as you're "wasted" or you reset the game, immediate transgressions are forgotten. Everyone in Liberty City has no long-term memory, so players have no control over their own reputation outside of what is dictated by the main storyline.
What about the freedom to complete a mission as a player sees fit? In Jeremy's review, he cited a great example of how one can use his or her judgment to complete an objective with alternate means, but I think these instances are the exception rather than the norm. More often than not, there's pretty much only one-way to get the job done. For example, one job requires players to eliminate a spy on a boat. Players are advised to complete the contract by hijacking their own boat in pursuit. The target is well within sniper range off a cliff, but guess what happened when I honed in on my target with the riflescope? The target was "magically" invisible, forcing me to do as I was told: take out the target with a police boat.
The same criticism also holds true against the items and weapons selection. There isn't really any real variety of tools that allow for different functions and styles of play. As more weapons and cars become available, they simply become increasingly powerful. The sniper rifle opens up an occasional deviation, but like my earlier example illustrated, there's still very little room or reason for individualism.
And lets get one last thing straight here. GTA3 doesn't allow players to play through the game as a vigilante, taxi driver, ambulance driver, or fire fighter. The much hyped about "side occupations" are simply mini-game distractions. Just because the game allows people to take a break from the regular action, that doesn't make the game more open-ended or a "true" role-playing game. There still isn't a choice to walk the path of good or evil. There's only a choice between violence and more violence. Wheres the great freedom in that?
3. GTA3 is great work of art and a gritty crime simulator for mature adults.
After reading some of these reviews, I'd swear GTA3 was a documentary-style videogame of unflinching objectivity and realism. I seem to be the only one who noticed the caricature designs of the cast members during the load screens and the laughably cartoonish violence.
My thoughts on the art of GTA3 can be summed up in a mission briefing with the Italian mobster, Toni. In this meeting, Toni is livid and ranting about the Triads not respecting his turf. The scene is well acted and the delivery of the dialogue was convincing. However, what caught my attention was how Toni would always politely and awkwardly refer to the Triads simply as the Triads. Since Spike Lees Do The Right Thing highlighted racial tensions in the 1980s and Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction mythologized criminal behavior in the 1990s, its should come as no surprise to anyone that part of the criminal ghetto stereotype includes vivid racism. So I found it ironic that in the heat of his anger, Toni doesn't casually refer to the Triads as chinks, slopes or any other derogatory insult as most fictitious gangsters do. Nor do the Triads refer to Mafioso as whops or goombahs. In fact, all the obviously racially segregated gangs are unusually kind in reference to one another. Liberty City must have the most socially conscious and politically correct criminals in the world. I find it telling that any rated R rated film on the same subject can spew racist epitaphs and four-letter explicatives without any hesitation while a videogame rated Mature, is still too timid to get beyond PG level cussing. Do videogames measure themselves against the same societal and cultural standards that other artistic mediums adhere to or do videogames expect to exist in a vacuous bubble devoid of objectivity and wider perspective? From where I stand, I don't see any boundaries being broken here. Like so many other Mature rated videogames, I see a testosterone-filled adolescent interpretation of violence and criminal activity that doesn't seem consistent with pop-culture and doesn't even do justice to stereotypes.
I know many readers are going to find this hard to believe after all that I've said, but I don't think GTA3 is a bad game. I consider GTA3 to be a very entertaining game that had very ambitious goals. Some of those goals were realized while others were not. For much of my second opinion, I admit to over embellishing the role of the devil's advocate because I was unnerved by the chorus of praise that was showered upon a game that I thought wasn't all that deserving. My criticisms aren't so much directed at the game as they are directed at the glowing reviews that people are giving GTA3. Just because the developers dress-up a few mini-games that are mere variations off the typical drive-here-and-kill-that routine, doesn't mean that this game is "open-ended." Just because players can take Dukes of Hazard-like leaps through the air doesn't make Liberty City "interactive." And just because a game allows players to act out violent criminal fantasies doesn't make it daring art. Is GTA3 fun? Absolutely. Is it great art? Fuggedaboudit.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the PlayStation 2 version of the game.
According to ESRB, this game contains: Blood, Strong Language, Violence
Parents should keep young children away from this game like the plague, as it's one of the few games that truly deserves its M (mature) rating. Sexual situations, extreme violence and an emphasis on criminal activity are what this game is all about. If you feel comfortable letting your kids watch an R rated movie, then you might feel comfortable with letting them play. It is only a game, after all. Otherwise, if you are a responsible and mature adult, GTA3 is the PlayStation 2 game of the year in my book and is deserving of every grown-up gamer's time and money.
Anyone over the age of 17 who owns a PlayStation 2 owes it to themselves to check this game out. Driving, shooting, and general mayhem are all included, and it's never been this fun (nor should it be). The length of the game makes this a very smart purchase, as renting the game may not give you enough time to fully explore its potential. Expect 40 - 50 hours of gameplay, and then some.