Without doubt, one of the greatest computer games ever released. Grand Theft Auto III changed the face of gaming forever, and spawned more spin-offs than a Formula 1 car, with a sticky accelerator pedal, on an ice rink. The ground breaking formula led to it becoming one of the highest rated and most critically acclaimed games of all time. The replayability, depth, and overall finish were second to none when it was released in 2001 and the legacy can be seen in countless guises from then, right through to today. Grand Theft Auto III holds an esteemed place in gaming history, and deservedly so.
Casual gamers may have picked up a copy of GTA III, and vaguely remembered the enjoyment of playing GTA 1, GTA 2, and GTA London. The freedom and ingenuity of those titles would have had something to do with their decision to buy part 3, but they would have had no idea of how their lives were about to change. Video game entertainment had changed completely with the introduction of the Playstation 2, and the new technology deserved a flagship title. Gran Turismo 2 was a massive success, as was Final Fantasy 10 and other major titles, but nothing compared to diverse game play that was on offer in Liberty City. After all, you could race in GTA III, and in almost as many different cars, and you could spend just as much time exploring as you could in any Final Fantasy game.
All of the successful features from the previous incarnations were carried into the new game, but one thing set it in a class of its own. The 3D game engine meant that players could use the first person perspective and thus immerse themselves in the environment completely. The magnitude of the artificial world made us feel like we were discovering a new city and in essence we were. Liberty City, although explored in a completely different and 2D format in GTA 1, was a hugely interactive metropolis with a subway system, tri-service ambulance, police, and fire departments, airport, taxi network, gang culture, red light districts, traffic control network, interactive population, and much more. In Fact, the city felt alive, and if you so desired, you could simply travel the streets and get to know it, like you could with any other real world city.
Another deviation from the established GTA formula was the introduction of a progressive storyline. In the previous games, the way to complete each level was to gain a set amount of money. In GTA III, the method of progression was to complete missions which then advanced the game. There were still hidden parts of the city but they would open as the player progressed until the whole city was unlocked. Completing missions meant interaction with characters, and DMA Design took another huge step in gaming history by using well known actors to voice those in-game characters. The credits of GTA III are a who’s who of Hollywood gangster movie actors and many of the voices can be seen in flesh when watching movies like Goodfellas, Bad Boys, Collateral, Reservoir Dogs, and TV shows such as Twin Peaks, Prison Break, and so many more. The addition of established actors gave the game a more professional feel, and further cemented the feeling amongst adult gamers that the industry had followed them into adulthood, and was making games for grown-ups as well as making other games for their children.
Left to right: Michael Madsen (Tony Cipriano), Joe Pantoliano (Luigi Goterelli), Michael Rapaport (Joey Leone), Debi Mazar (Maria Leone)
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When it came to game play, DMA showed that their flair for attention to detail was still with them. The game was packed with layer upon layer of depth, which meant that every time a player picked up the controller, they would inevitably find something else interesting, comedic, or even astounding. Hidden packages, side missions, stunt jumps, intuitive AI, Easter Eggs, and plenty of other features gave the opportunity for players to either go ahead with missions during a gaming session or simply move around the city doing their own thing. The variation in game play cannot be overstated; it really was an open world.
Inevitably the storyline came to an end and when it did the player had the opportunity to watch the end credits, but even after they had finished, the game play still went on. The side missions were still available, and players still found themselves engaged in exploration, car theft, murder, robbery, and prostitution. There was so much to do that the story side of the game seemed like only a small percentage of what was on offer. While it was entirely possible to complete everything that counted towards the goal before completing the story, few people can say that they played the game with such rigidity.
Grand Theft Auto III was truly an amazing experience. The game, like earlier creations, was aimed at a mature and discerning audience and it was classified in most countries correctly, so when less well informed customers mistakenly bought it for their children, there was a significant backlash. At that time, and to some degree today also, many people still saw gaming as a child only pursuit, and there was little awareness of the fact that many companies were producing content that mirrored the kinds of subjects that were being dramatized in film and on TV. Despite negative reviews and subversive action the title continued to sell, and it soon became apparent that a gaming great had come into being. The future face of sand box gaming had been changed forever, and DMA had shown themselves to be a power house of the industry. The success of GTA III meant that the future of the franchise was bright and it meant that fans would soon get a newer installment, after GTA Vice City, of a game that would continue to break records and lead the way in the action genre. GTA 1 and GTA 2 were successful games in a niche market. GTA III was a blockbusting master of the gaming world.