Wednesday, 20 May 2015

The Past and times of Yore: Grand Theft Auto 3, the new chapter

Release Date: October 26th 2001
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Developer: DMA Design/Rockstar North
Platform: Playstation 2, PC, XBOX, Android, OSX
Players: 1

Well this is it, probably the most influential and groundbreaking of the Grand Theft Auto games to date, Grand Theft Auto 3 one of the most popular games for the PS2 and one of my favourite games ever. As many of you might know Grand Theft Auto 5 has come out recently on PC which I am now avidly playing, so I thought it would be a good time to review the first of the series to pioneer the 3D aspect and one of my favourite games of all time. Having first played the original GTA and GTA2 It took me awhile to get GTA3 as we didn’t end up getting a Playstation 2 for awhile and I was stuck playing Driver 2. Not that it was a bad thing of course it’s just most of my friends had PS2’s so I was kind caught out and even when we had sleepovers/parties etc we did that whole “pass the controller around” thing playing GTA3 on the PS2 which I understand now why it’s good to do it that way because especially at parties you want to sort of have a go then chillout not be playing constantly. But I had brought my PS1 specifically with all these multiplayer games and all these controllers (and the multitap) and it seemed like a bit of a waste but anyway that’s what happened.

Our antihero, the then-nameless thug
We eventually got a PS3 and GTA3 was the first game we got I’m pretty sure, I think I’ve played it through about 6 times now including the one on my Asus Nexus 7 tablet though I didn’t make this a an Android and his Nexus post because I’ve only played it once on that and besides it’s really for Tablet games only. I suppose I don’t really need to explain this but in the beginning the original Grand Theft Auto was a top-down birds eye view style game which I loved but was kind of redundant with no ability to save and was pretty damn hard in some cases especially when you could die with a one hit kill and couldn’t really aim your gun. GTA2 made this a bit better with the same top down view but much better graphics and lighting inc the option to play the game at night. It also had a better weapon selection and of course saving ability. 

Grand Theft Auto 1 and 2
But this was nothing compared to what happened next, GTA3 on the PS2 brought true 3D, bird’s eye no longer. I can still remember the wonder we all had when it came out, it just looked so damn good, and even without ragdoll physics, running over pedestrians, stealing and smashing cars, shooting people, blowing stuff up and all the things you do in the game had never felt better. This was one of the games I loved playing for the first time as it had one of those start-from-nothing starts that I love so much though it can be argued that you never really amount to much anyway but we’ll get into that later. Other things I loved about most of the starting area was just randomly exploring and experimenting with the world and mechanics which is what made GTA great. While not being the first this game was one of the earliest and most popular sandbox for its time and the series was part of the reason for the massive success of the Playstation 2 console.

"My Stallion!"
So let’s get into it shall we, the story of GTA3 begins with you being betrayed by your “love” Catalina which most people will remember from the events of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas which apparently happened before the events of GTA3. I’ll sidetrack a bit here to explain about GTA’s protagonist who you play, he is basically a no-name thug who was betrayed and jailed and escapes then works his way back up also never speaks for some reason. We didn’t really question this as we were having too much fun to care until San Andreas where we find that he is actually mute and when the 10th Anniversary edition of the game came out that his name was “Claude”, but we didn’t know this back then and it didn’t really matter. 

Claude is betrayed by Catalina
After the betrayal you are travelling in a prison van when the bridge gets blown up in a prison break attempt by the Columbian Cartel in which you and your prison friend 8-ball are able to escape. You then basically go on a crime wave of various different jobs for a Variety of gangs inc the Mafia, Diablos, Yardies and Yakuza plus a range of other singular characters, the game had a much deeper and cinematic storyline then the previous games as there was actually full cutscenes and you also had a much bigger sense of presence being much closer to the action so basically any of your actions had much more weight to them, especially killing people which went from comical to slightly less comical but was still confronting at the time leading to various controversies.

Fist fighting (this shot is taken on the Android version of the game hence the action buttons on the bottom right)
The main weight of the story is you getting revenge on Catalina for her betrayal as she is the main antagonist of the story though you do make more enemies as you go along. This game does not have the previous “Respect” system that GTA2 had you basically do various missions for the different gangs with the end result of some attacking you on sight though unlike the previous game you cannot simply gain the respect back by attacking either gang making it much more dangerous to go back to old areas meaning that it was advisable to do nay alternate or collection quests before doing the story missions. 

The Triads from Chinatown in Portland
The game map is loosely based on New York City, starting on the Portland (Industrial/Brooklyn) district you gradually make your way through Staunton Island (Business/Manhattan) to Shoreside Vale (Residential/Staten Island) by doing the main story missions. This was the first of the GTA games to be on a single map and feature blocked access preventing you from gaining access to other areas, this is done by various methods inc: bridges being blown up or under repair, tunnels being blocked off and preventing the protagonist from being able to swim thus drowning if they fall into water. The map was notably bigger and obviously not split into 3 different levels/cities as per previous games though there was a short loading time when you switched islands. 

Map of the City from the game case, you can see most characters displayed around it.
The world was plenty big enough back then and there also seemed to be a little more nature areas then before though the main thing was the change to 3D and all of the experimentation that came with it. The graphics though nothing by today’s standards with polygonal faces and round balls for hands but back then it was pretty damn good, sure there’s was a bit of clipping and tearing as there were a fair few buildings and objects that the camera could clip through and there were some instances where the camera got a bit annoying  but for the most part it was ok, it was everything you could want in a  city really, lots of people, lots of cars, lots of cops :P the level of details was pretty good. 
The world was essentially fully working.
This was the first GTA on console and the PS2 controller worked absolutely fine, controlling your character was basically just like an RPG with one stick moving and the other stick to look around you soon got used to walking, running and jumping around, stealing cars, punching people and it all looking so much better in 3D. Although there was no ragdoll it was still fund to see the physics engine in motion with full 3D rendered models as you just didn’t get this in the previous two games. The aiming system though much better than the original two games did have drawbacks as it was relatively hard to free-aim at things and using weapons like the Sniper rifle were quite difficult which is why nowadays I usually play GTA games on PC with a PS3 style controller for backup.

Guns could now be aimed and you automatically followed your target when locked on.
As this was a GTA game there of course the weapons which contained basically all you needed inc a Baseball bat, Pistol, Molotov Cocktail, Uzi, Shotgun, AK-47, Grenades, M16, Flamethrower, Sniper Rifle Rocket Launcher. With most of which utilizing the “lock-on” feature by pressing one of the shoulder buttons of the PS2 controller whereas the others were either thrown or used scoped aiming, this helped immensely with aiming as basically before you just pointed yourself in the right direction and hopefully didn’t get shot first  or just sprayed your bullets though it did look kind of funny when using a one-handed weapon while running around and shooting as you bent your arm in all sorts of directions. But for the most part the combat was good, it was fun punching random people or smacking them with the baseball bat and blowing people up or setting them on fire, the weapons had a very punchy feel inc the Shotgun (obviously) an the Sniper Rifle.

Doing this was very satisfying the first time.
 I liked most of the weapons but my favourites were probably the AK-47 with its raw rattatat sound and animation, the M16 which was scope aimed for some reason (despite not having a scope) and was ridiculously powerful, it could explode a car in a second and made mince meat out of anyone who got it the way, both of the weapons could be fired straight and level without aiming too which made the great for multiple targets. The Flamethrower was another of my favourites due to the fact that it just looked so good, the particle animation was still way better than the ones in Vice city and San Andreas.

Fwooosh! it's burning time
This wouldn’t be a Grand Theft Auto game of course without the cars, driving was heaps more fun too due to the obvious fact that you could actually see the road ahead of you this time, though interestingly enough you could actually switch back to using the top down view if you wanted too though I don’t know why you would as you couldn’t see anything when under a roof or bridge and the Portland area had the railway line on the top most of the time. One of my favourite pastimes was doing doughnuts on grassy areas using the Stallion which was also one of my favourite cars, driving using the controller was quite simple you just used the triangle button to get in (or jack the car) accelerate with X, brake with square and the to shoulder button to handbrake, then there was the extra things like looking behind and to either side to do drive by shooting. Drive by shooting was a feature actually introduced in Grand Theft Auto: London, 1961 by way of a power-up but was not freely available to do at any time in most cars until GTA3 though only if you have the Uzi equipped as this was the only weapon that could do drive-by shooting. 

Drive by from "in-car" view
That wasn’t the only thing though, in the new 3D Universe (which the Playstation 2 era games were called) you could now roll and flip your car all over the place and in addition to this many Unique Jumps were placed around the city which were pretty awesome as you knew they were triggered by the slow-mo where you could watch yourself win (or fail) with style. Similar to GTA2 there were no motorcycles available in the game but the amount of cars was enough as with previous games you had a whole range of vehicles to choose from cars, trucks, emergency vehicles, gang cars and of course a solitary plane (sortof). 

The Dodo, probably the most popular vehicle in GTA3 and one of the GTA's most iconic vehicles in the series
GTA3 was the first of the series to have proper emergency vehicle and taxi missions. No longer do you just get into a Taxi and a random pedestrian just gets in and gives you money to take him wherever you want to go, this time around you can actually take fares, ferry people to the hospital and even be a Vigilante with various rewards such as cars, health and bribe pickups. These missions were kind of fun but very hard in a way too, especially getting top the highest level with them, the Taxi missions were only 100 fares so was pretty easy as you didn’t have to use the same car. The Police and Paramedic ones were incredibly hard as if you crashed your Ambulance it was game over, the Vigilante missions gave you 20 seconds out of your Police car to either shoot the criminals or find a new one but often there was none to be found and keeping yourself and your car intact was no mean feat especially when some criminals were armed with shotguns. 

Sometimes it's good to actually help people.
This also wouldn’t be a GTA game without the sound and music, yes the radio was back again and in full force this time with a variety of different radio stations inc the first ever (and possibly the most popular) talk radio station Chatterbox FM and was possibly the first appearance from Lazlow who has been in every GTA game since. The Radio stations unfortunately still were not updated with more popular music instead compromising of various lesser-known bands and music which was actually written and performed for the game itself. The lesser-known music was probably used as the licences for more popular and well-known modern music was either unavailable or too expensive however I was very fond of the Double Clef FM radio station which had a truly spectacular version of La Donna E Mobile and a great selection of other classics as well (damn I’m even sounding like Merryweather) and there was also rap, techno, pop/rock, 70/80s, drum’n’bass and Reggae stations. This wasn’t too bad as a lot of the music was pretty catchy and is remembered today and when Vice city came out GTA started having proper popular tracks in the radio. Each gang car had their own favourite Radio station too, such as Double Clef FM with the Mafia Sentinel

La donna รจ mobile!
The sound and sound effects were pretty much what you would expect, I liked all the gun noises and explosions though there really isn’t much to say as it sounded fine to me. The biggest addition of course was the dialogue as the previous two games had basically none at all except for the cutscenes, the game was now almost fully voiced (funnily enough except for the protagonist) and even the pedestrians say random things as you walk by and react when you steal cars attack other etc. I spent a few times fighting the police and it was fun to hear the banter of the two in the helicopter saying things like “stop police!” “just shoot him!” “I can see my house from here!”

Tony Cipriani, The Mafia Capo
Speaking of the Police they are back in force for this game, you have up to 6 wanted stars as per usual, the cops in this game are pretty annoying as you can't really have much fun without getting at least a 1 star wanted level as their pretty touchy. As with GTA2 the police have a similar level of escalation going from casual to serious to all out with a helicopter and roadblocks, then to SWAT Vans then to the FBI with fast cars and machine guns then finally to the Army with M16's Trucks and Tanks. I've only got to this stage a few times but you don't last long.

5-0 in force
  Gangs make a return for GTA3 though are not the main forefront for the game as in GTA2 they are involve a large part of the story missions, other gangs and random missions not in the storyline are accessed through answering ringing payphones in various areas, they do still patrol their territory and have their own vehicles moving around which you can make use of, the most prominent threat they create is that when you pass certain points in the storyline a different gang becomes hostile to you (for example the Triads after you blow up their factory) this makes travelling in that area difficult and trying to do extra missions such as Hidden Packages, Unique Jumps and  Taxi and Emergency Vehicle missions extra hard as you are constantly being attacked and pulled out of your car. Speaking of which there is variety of extra activates and missions you can now do in addition to the Taxi and Emergency vehicle missions which I have detailed below:
  • Go on Rampages and shoot as many gang members as you can with a different weapon each time.
  • Go off roading in the off-road missions.
  • Blow up gang cars in the Remote control car missions.

Ah the elusive hidden packages, spent a bit of time getting these
 I tried several times to get the %100 but failed at %98 twice I think, after that the GTA games just got bigger so I didn’t even bother, the extra activities were a great addition to the series as they gave you something else to do as well as all of the random things. Other things I liked was all the easter eggs you could find inc one really strange one where you can drive through this old rail tunnel and find a bunch of bums with Molotov cocktails. But anyway GTA3 was one of my all time favourite games and although I got to it late (as with most games) I played the absolute hell out of it, I think I’ve finished it at least 6 times now, several of those going for %100 completion which was time consuming even then. The game was not free from controversy of course being banned in Australia (due to prostitution and bashing of hookers etc) shortly after release but of course that only increased the popularity.

Te "Liberator" mission
So the graphics may be outdated and the features may be small compared to the newer games, but all would agree this was one of the greatest and most groundbreaking games to come out of the 21st century so far and has turned a already popular series into a massive one.

Well at least I think so.


The free world

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