If you’re interested in its premise and you’ve never played it before you simply owe it to yourself to at least try GTA III.
The Grand Theft Auto series has always been about pretty much the same, as each game mixed an open world style of gameplay (known as sandbox) with a really mature plot. The result of such marriage was a really compelling experience that was both unique and highly enjoyable, but the main issue with old GTA games was how poorly designed their mission structure was. Fortunately, Grand Theft Auto III took such a refreshingly unique approach that it reinvented the whole series, making it one of the best games of its generation.
At this point everyone probably knows that this is one of the most violent video games to have ever come out. Nowadays we’re really used to games portraying this type of violence or sexual themes, but when Grand Theft Auto III came out it was highly controversial. The game and its developer Rockstar, were heavily attacked by the press and various parents associations and later on it was banned in Australia where it was refused classification. Ironically, the game received more unfavorable judgment for the things the player was able to do, but weren’t necessarily part of the main plot. That’s to say that the player can go on a rampage killing everyone in sight, but this isn’t as simple as it sounds as the police will try stopping him. GTA features a wanted level (from one to six stars) and if you do enough bad things the military and even the FBI will be involved. Additionally, the story makes many references to violence, drugs, prostitution and its humor includes sexual innuendo and lots of “adult” situations.
At the beginning of the game an unnamed criminal (the player character) is betrayed by his girlfriend after robbing the Liberty City Bank. She shoots him and leaves him to die in the back alley of the bank, but he survives and as a consequence of his actions he is arrested and sentenced to jail. While he is being transferred from one criminal facility to another the police convoy is attacked, setting the main character free. With the help of his friend 8-ball, the main character finds a place to stay and starts working as a local thug for different mafia leaders.
The story is one of the game’s best features, mainly because it has certain unpredictability to it and even when you decide to take part on a mission there’s simply no way of telling how it’ll end or what will happen next. These missions allow you to go many different places and it’s really nice to know that Liberty City is composed by three huge districts: Portland, Stauton Island and Shoreside Vale. It should also be noted that at the beginning of the game only one section of the city is available, so you’ll have to progress with the story to be able to visit the other two. It’s surprising how well represented some places are and you’ll see locations such as beautiful mansions, beaches, parks, bridges, an airport, shops and so on. In these places you’ll also be able to meet some really interesting characters. Most of them are terrific and their stories and motivations are really deep and multifaceted, mainly because voice acting is really awe-inspiring.
The gameplay is also a magnificent element in GTA III as being able to control your character and driving cars in such a precise way is simply a blast. The game puts this outstanding arsenal at your disposal and you’ll be able to use every weapon you can imagine, from a baseball bat to a rocket launcher. Controls are a little different when you try to shoot, but getting used to them isn’t really that hard as the game includes a lock-on system (hold R1 to lock on and press L2 or R2 to cycle through the different possible targets) making things much more effortless. There’s also a drive-by technique which unfortunately isn’t very precise and can only be used to hit slow moving pedestrians. Cars can also take damage and once they have reached a certain amount of damage they’ll explode. Each car is really distinctive and finding the right one for a specific mission is something you’ll eventually need to do if you want to finish it successfully. In addition, some cars are associated to specific missions and when you get a police car, a taxi, an ambulance or a fire truck by pressing R3 you’ll engage in a special mission. You’ll be able to do vigilante missions in which you have to kill criminals, deliver passengers (like in crazy taxi) to certain destinations and so on. The game is full of little details like this one and there are simply many things to do apart from engaging in missions to complete the main story of the game.
It should be taken into account that at times, the difficulty of the game can be extremely demanding and this may put some people off. The decision of making some missions so difficult seems rather archaic nowadays, but as a consequence, the game feels much more rewarding. Apart from this, the diverse missions usually involve doing simple tasks such as taking a package from one place to the next within a certain time or killing enemies. The core structure of these is so fun that you can overlook minor problems like the sometimes inconsistent difficulty.
Liberty City is a really lifelike place and it’s surprising how many things you can find in it. There are hundreds of pedestrians which make funny remarks when you drive by them; there are newspapers which actually move when you run them over with your car. If you jump in a car and immediately take off you’ll see that your character didn’t have time to shut the door, and only when you stop hitting the gas he’ll be able to do so. GTA is full of details like these, and even though they don’t add anything significant to either the story or the gameplay, they surely make the world much more realistic and interesting to explore. At first, when you notice these things, you may find them funny or even simple, but when all of them combine in a really cohesive way you’ll see that GTA III is much more complex than what it seems.
In terms of graphics the game hasn’t aged really well, but considering how big and detailed Liberty City is there’s simply no way anybody can complain about it. Also, previous games in the series featured a 2D top down perspective that was pretty limited and didn’t allow you to look past certain point, and fortunately, the cartoony look of old games was replaced for a more realistic and great looking polygonal perspective. Characters look really good and the car models are amazing, the only thing that would have been more interesting is if the game actually allowed you to enter certain places. In fact, you can go inside some houses or shops (like Ammu-nation) but the fact that you can enter only a few gives the feeling that you’re in an incomplete city. There are some rough-looking textures and minor graphical inconsistencies as well, but ultimately, the city is so detailed that shortcomings like these are just insignificant. Furthermore, it’s really great to know that the game allows you to use different cameras to see the action, so besides the third person behind the back one you may also use the cinematic and the top down perspectives really proper of the retro games. Using these during missions can be woefully inadequate, but it’s quite interesting to know that they are there in case you want to try them.
Soundwise, GTA III is simply superb. The streets of Liberty City are full of sound effects like talkative pedestrians. Voice acting is more than suitable and each performance is more than convincing thanks to the voice talents of some popular celebrities. The best aural element is probably the inclusion of multiple radio stations, as each one has a specific soundtrack associated to it, except for Chatterbox. Chatterbox FM is arguably one of the game’s best elements, the radio is the only one that doesn’t have music. It’s hosted by Laslow and it features a format in which listeners call and give their opinions and concerns about various topics. The commercials are also amazing and (as the rest of the game) parodies different elements of society like video games, relationships, food, nudism and so on and so forth. Everything in this particular station is surprisingly funny and it’s full of laugh-out-loud moments that you are not likely to forget any time soon, mainly because the great sense of humor is directly linked to the self-awareness that the game provides.
In conclusion GTA III is amazingly unique and even though today we can find many clones, there’s nothing that comes remotely close to the experience of playing this game. The fact that so many years have passed since GTA III came out may seem to have hurt the game a lot, but most fans would be surprised to see how well such a simple premise holds up even after so long. If you want to enjoy the story and follow the structure of the missions in order you’ll probably have an amazing time, but if you want to forget about the story and go on a rampage of your own, you’ll also love it. GTA III represents a unique experience that only Rockstar North knows how to portray accurately. If you’re interested in its premise and you’ve never played it before you simply owe it to yourself to at least try this game. Nobody should miss this game, no matter what.