Grand Theft Auto III
The massively popular GTA series moves away from its distinctive top-down style into a more familiar third person 3D affair with this third instalment. Loads of vehicles, weapons and mission types will be available to enhance the now familiar combination of carjacking, shooting and reckless driving.
What's The Big Deal?
The talented bunch at DMA might just have got the 3D transition spot on, capturing the essence of the first and best GTA game, while expanding it in every direction. The depth and attention to detail already evident in the gameworld is extremely impressive.
Much as the 2D purists insisted that it would dilute the concept and destroy the game's refreshing gameplay-over-graphics ethos, it was inevitable that the Grand Theft Auto series would eventually make the move to full 3D. Taking a third-person perspective and returning to many of the ideas of the original game, GTA3 is already two-thirds complete and looking like an absolute cracker. Obviously it will be a different game from the top-down affairs we're used to, but progress so far suggests a successful translation of the game's overall feel into a 3D world. The screenshots available to date aren't necessarily mind-blowing, but a glance at some of the game's massive array of features and gameplay options are enough to get any caijacking fan in a lather.
Clearly setting out to better the previous games and its imitators in every possible way, the game takes place in a convincing and thriving city populated by hundreds of unique pedestrians, police, SWAT teams, army units and vehicles. As well as just jacking over 40 types of cars, bikes and trucks, you'll be able to commandeer a variety of boats and even police helicopters, each promising unique and well-refined handling characteristics, designed to capture just the right balance between realistic modelling and arcade fun. Car damage is also modelled at an advanced level, each road machine having 18 deformable panels, which will take damage and even fall off, eventually leading to the vehicle exploding. The go-anywhere, do-anything approach of the former games will still operate, though a real-time day/night cycle and strict appointment times will help maintain progress. More than 80 gangland missions and 50 optional side-missions will be available in your bid to reach the top of the criminal underworld, with objectives including assassination, vehicle pursuit and demolition jobs. A variety of weapons will also become available through the course of the game, including baseball bats, M-16s, rocket launchers, Molotov cocktails and flame-throwers.
One of the most promising indications that DMA is doing more than simply changing the in-game perspective of the series is the new emphasis on cause and effect in the game. You'll need to take a lot more care with your criminal activities this time around, and you won't attract the attention of the rozzers if you can cover your tracks well enough. For example, if you're on top of a building taking a sniper shot at an enemy, time is of the essence, so you take your shot even though there might happen to be a few bystanders nearby. Assuming you are successful, your target's head will explode in a cartoonish display of gore, and pedestrians standing near the victim will react accordingly, screaming and wiping the splattered blood from their faces. Not only this, but others will run for the nearest payphone or fetch a mobile from their pocket to bring down the law.
Of course, dead men tell no tales, so a few well-placed slugs could save you some hassles with the oinks at a later date. It's this sort of attention into creating a consistent gameworld that promises to make GTA3 an exceptionally satisfying experience, the only problem being that we're going to have to wait six months after the console release before we get it on the PC. We'll see about that...
At First We didn’t really care. The original Grand Theft Auto was a fantastic piece of entertainment, redefining our priorities in terms of graphics versus gameplay. Its simple, two-dimensional style managed to bring an extraordinary depth and freedom of gameplay and we loved it to bits. But then the sequel appeared, swapping the realistic feel and settings of the original for a dark, futuristic city full of violent crime and sophisticated gang warfare and we just didn’t care anymore. The beauty of GTA was that it recreated the real world, with functioning cities full of people going about their lives. So it was great to be able to nick a truck, skip all the red lights if you felt like it, kill a bunch of people and get chased by the police for your crimes. In GTA 2 there were no rules, so it wasn’t fun to break them.
So when we found out that Grand Theft Auto III was going to be a PlayStation 2 game, we didn’t really care all that much. So what if the series started on the PC. So what if it was going to be 3D. It was obviously going to lose all its charm and playability in doing so anyway. Wasn’t it?
A Proper Pc Game
Oh, how very wrong we were. I count it as one of the best games of this decade so far. On any platform. Not since the days of Elite on the BBC have we enjoyed such freedom to roam and do what we damn well please without ever feeling lost, bored or wondering what to do next. Actually, you are always left wondering what do to next. Beat up a dirty copper, steal his car and go on a set of vigilante missions? Get to the top of a high building and start picking off pedestrians with your newfound sniper rifle? Contact your underworld boss and find out what he wants you to do next and where the story is going to go? Only Deus Ex offers the same amount of freedom in the way you complete each mission. And only Deus Ex has kept me so captivated by a believable, consistent gameworld.
So, the question that begs to be answered is, why have we waited so long to play it on the PC? I spoke to Jeff Castaneda and Jeronimo Barrera, two of the game’s producers, while they were in London showing off the PC version, and asked them that very question.
“There’s a huge PC GTA community out there,” says Jeff. “There are lots of forums and webrings dedicated to downloads and news and stuff, so yeah, a lot of PC gamers were really annoyed with us for putting this one out on PS2 first.”
“But it wasn’t a consolespecific game,” adds Jeronimo. “Besides what controller you’re using, whether it’s mouse or a joypad, it’s not a case of a console game being brought on to the PC. This is just Grand Theft Auto, period. Here it is on the PC. And the benefits of this version are that it looks great. The textures are much better, you can mess about with the draw distance and change the resolution and all that stuff.” Here I breathed a giant sigh of relief. There’s nothing worse than a console conversion stuck in 800x600, with no mouse support and annoying clinking sounds as you navigate through the menu with the keyboard. Jeronimo assures me there was never any fear about that. Everyone at Rockstar Games is a huge PC gamer and they know exactly what we want.
Small Mouse, Big World
“With the mouse control the world seems to open up,” says Jeronimo of one of the main advantages this has over the PS2 version. “You get to explore the cities in much more detail, because you can look around easily and notice the street signs, say, without having to tweak your character around until he’s facing the right way and the camera is in the right position.” Jeff agrees. “PC gamers, because we’re so used to the mouse, we automatically have the instinct to look around properly, which works really well in this game. You can get a real sense of how big the city is, you can see the tops of buildings and think ‘I can get up there and do some sniping’”.
I can vouch for the frustration of running around on foot in the PS2 version and struggling to get a good grasp of the world and the objects around you. And at no time is this more apparent than when you're trying to snipe or use the rocket launcher, or even non-first person weapons like the Uzi. After spending ages failing missions because it took me so long to line up my sniper scope with the heads of the mobsters I was supposed to be whacking, I couldn’t wait to do it all again, whizzing the cursor around with the mouse skills honed by so many first-person shooters, and dispatching a load of drug-pushers in a matter of seconds, with a satisfying siphon of blood springing with almost balletic timing around them. I asked Jeronimo if they had ever considered letting you play the whole on-foot bits in first-person. “It was an option, but we didn’t really consider it seriously. The whole point is that you’re this third-person character, and it just lost the vibe of the game without it. Even though I know third-person games are not really a favourite among the PC crowd.” Although, as I point out to him, Max Payne has already changed that. And GTA III works similarly to Max Payne, and the more recent third-person view in Jedi Outcast, with a crosshair on screen at all times when you’re on foot.
Are You New Around Here?
So you can rest assured that this isn’t just a PS2 port. It’s a PC game that just happens to have been released on a console first. But what about the differences between the versions? Well, apart from looking much better and being much easier to control when out of a car thanks to the mouse/keyboard combination, there are a few new features.
First of them is the fact that you can change the main character’s skin, much in the same way you could in Max Payne. Expect to see plenty of skins making their rounds on the Net. You can even, if you’re egomaniacal and weird enough, take a picture of yourself and use it as a skin, so you can watch yourself committing all sorts of unspeakable offences. What that will do to the ‘it’s only a game’ argument we so like to use against the tabloid hysteria towards the violence, is something you can speculate on all by yourself next time you’re sitting on the bog.
“There’s also a new radio station,” says Jeff, “where you can play your MP3s. So, if for any particular reason you don’t like any of the music in the game,” (and if you want to know how much there is, look no further than our Pumping On The Radio panel) “you can just listen to your own sound of people screaming, cars crashing and radio channels being switched from one station to another. These are the bits where we all just kept quiet and watched someone play the game, enraptured by the chases, the stunts, the sheer aliveness of the city. Our silence broken only by the odd gasp, exclamation or laugh.
It should be becoming clear to you by now just what an ambitious title GTA III is, and how little relation it bears to most games released these days. Or, in fact, ever.
“One thing we tried to do with GTA was to change the way computer games are perceived” says Jeff. “And we have a lot of evidence that the series has done that. GTA III is such a sophisticated gaming experience that it’s giving the industry some respect.” Most of us would agree that the general perception is still that videogames are just for kids, but, like Jeff says: “The production value in this game is amazing. You just need to take a look at the voice acting. This game is inspired by all the great mafia films of yesteryear, such as The Godfather, Scarface and Good fellas. And we cast the actors as if it were a film, (for a closer look at the cast, see the boxout). These days it’s really easy for a game to hire a big star, like Macy Gray in a snowboarding game or whatever. They’ll pay them a lot of money but all they’ll end up doing is yelling a bit in the background. It’s just stupid. We hired people who’d do a proper acting job. They might not be the biggest stars, but they’re just right for the part. It’s all part of what makes the game such a hit with everybody. We even have people like Samuel L Jackson ringing up for free copies of the game.” Because a Hollywood megastar doesn’t have enough money to buy one himself, obviously. But it is interesting that his name should crop up, because in many ways GTA is the gaming equivalent of Samuel L Jackson. They’re both violent, have an attitude and don’t take themselves too seriously. Most crucially, they’re both very cool. There’s something hip and streetwise about them. You wouldn't go around wearing a Half-Life T-shirt (well, not unless you’re a fat nerd with no mates), but clothing with the GTA logo stamped on it seems perfectly acceptable.
Grand Theft Absence
I spoke earlier about the freedom you have to do as you please, and Jeff Castaneda is quick to point out how important this is to the game.
“That’s the beautiful thing about GTA III. Everybody can play it differently, to their own style. The missions don’t have just one way of doing them. You have to be creative because it makes you think, and people can complete each mission in their own way.” Add to that the fact that you can hijack taxis, ambulances, fire-engines and police cars and complete a whole set of optional missions in each one while earning some extra cash, and you can see what all the fuss is about. “So many games out there focus on just trying to do one thina well, but with GTA III you can’t classify it or put in into a genre, there’s so many things you can do.”
“And there is so much detail too,” chips in Jeronimo. “Even after you’ve played it for ages there’s loads of things you will have missed.” And that’s not just empty talk. Even as I sat there watching someone play I kept pointing things out only to be told that they were already there in the PlayStation 2 version. But then I was probably having too much fun running pedestrians over to notice them.
For all its greatness though, there are a few things missing. Most glaringly for the PC community, the absence of multiplayer. “We toyed around with the idea,” says Jeronimo, “but if we were just to put in deathmatch modes and the usual stuff, it sorts of cheapens the whole experience. We’d want to design something that was specific to the GTA universe. So we’re going to wait for now until we can do it properly. Anyway, Max Payne showed that a game doesn’t need multiplayer if the single-player is strong enough.”
“The single-player game is very sophisticated,” adds Jeff. “And we’d want the multiplayer to be just as good, not just something people are gonna think is just an afterthought.”
Which seems like a sensible idea. There’s an obsession at the moment with multiplayer modes. You don’t expect EverQuest to provide you with a great single-player experience, do you? So why should every single-player game have to have multiplayer? We’ll wait for the day when Rockstar can create a proper online experience, with a persistent world and gangs of real people you can lead.
You might also notice that there are no motorbikes, but as Jeronimo says: “A lot of time went into designing this and this time we just couldn’t do motorcycles. Hell, you’ve got boats and planes, what more do you f***ing want?”
Pure Cartoon Fun
Remember the media explosion, thoroughly encouraged by the publishers of course, that dominated the tabloid press and even television debates when the first Grand Theft Auto appeared? You could steal cars. You could run over policemen. You could drive on the wrong side of the road. And that was all in a 2D top-down perspective, bearing little physical resemblance to reality. So what would happen when the same thing was released in full 3D, with realistic car physics, bad language and the freedom to perform some serious antisocial conduct? How about beating a dear old granny to the floor, then kicking her in the stomach until she dies? How about finding a tall building, climbing to the top and blowing people’s heads off with a sniper rifle? How about running over a bunch of tramps, waiting for the ambulance to arrive, shooting the medics and then stealing the ambulance to continue your bloody spree elsewhere? Well, guess what? No-one raised an eyebrow. Maybe it was because you couldn’t fly an aeroplane into an office tower, but the gutter press just wasn’t interested.
“There’s a lot of moral choices to make in the game,” says Jeronimo. “You can play it like a complete ass, but if you play it straight it’s no more violent than any movie out there rated 18. And GTA III is an 18-certificate game. It’s not that terrible. There’s a lot of freedom, and what’s terrible is the people who go around beating up old ladies.” Somehow we think Jeronimo has done his fair share of grannywhacking. And we think you will too. Because, despite the realism, GTA III is still pure cartoon fun.
I said earlier that GTA III was one my favourite games of this decade on any platform. But for the moment we can only speculate about how it will translate to the PC. I may have seen some early code and even had a go for a few minutes, but it won’t be until I’ve spent a week playing it myself that I’ll know if it all really comes together properly. I’ve already nearly completed it on the PS2 but, the funny thing is, I can’t wait to do it all over again. Read our exclusive review next month to find out how it goes.
Move To The City
Forget Midtown Madness’ San Francisco And London, This Is The Real Thing
We’ve banged on enough about how much there is to do in Liberty City, but what you probably haven’t grasped yet is the sheer enormity of the place. The city is divided into three areas, industrial, business and suburban and each one is big enough that you’d easily get lost were it not for the handy pull-out map that comes with the manual and the radar at the bottom of your screen. Each area has its own hospital, police station, fire station, weapon shop, hideout and selection of low-lifes. It would take you hours to walk from one place to another, so it’s just as well you can drive everywhere, across bridges and through underground tunnels, you can also use trains, subways and boats. There’s even an airport, a sports stadium, a shopping mall and water dam with its own picnic area. That big enough for ya?
Pumping On The Radio
Get In A Car And Twiddle Those Knobs
As if driving recklessly, causing traffic pile-ups and being pursued relentlessly by the police wasn’t enough to keep you occupied, there are ten radio stations to headbang along to. If you get in a gang-owned car it will probably have on the style of music they like most. So, get in a Mafia Sentinel, for example, and you’ll be greeted by arias from Mozart’s Don Giovanni and The Marriage Of Figaro and from Verdi’s La Traviata and Rigoletto. The Colombians on the other hand favour Flashback FM, featuring songs from the soundtrack to Scarface, while The Yardies prefer K-Jah’s reggae tunes, with short bursts from the likes of Scientist. There’s also some hip hop and rock, although the highlight for most will be Chatterbox FM, a hilarious talk show that might tempt you to park in a quiet sidestreet and just listen. And if you don’t like any of that, there’s the new station for the PC only where you can play all your own MP3s.
Download Grand Theft Auto III
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode