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Platform

Playstation 2

 

Genre

Action

 

Publisher

Rockstar

 

Developer

DMA Studios

 

ESRB

M (Mature)

 

Released

Q4 2001

 

- Expansive environment

- Great voice-acting

- Cinematic

- Entertaining missions

- Tight control and camera angles

 

 

- Jerky gun control

- Slight pop-up and fade in

- Occasional slow down

 

 

Review: Grand Theft Auto III (PC)

Review: Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (Playstation 2)

 

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Grand Theft Auto 3

Score: 9.0 / 10

 

The Humvee's windshield is spider cracked, it's hood is buckled, the drivers side door has broken off and is screeching down the street behind me sending showers of sparks flying and in my wake is a swarm of police cars humming like killer bees.  I power-slide into a left turn underneath the El train and crash into one of its steel pillars. The engine coughs and spits flames so I climb from the ruined vehicle and jack a cab driver stopped at a light. After I pull the unfortunate from the drivers seat and toss him to the street the pursuing officers jump from their cars to chase me on foot.

 

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Then...magic! As I coast away with a fresh new pair of wheels the inflamed Humvee explodes engulfing the cops in fluorescent diesel fueled brimstone and frying splinters of steel. I soon pull into one of my favorite hideouts and wait for the heat to die down before taking it back to the streets.

 

"Welcome to Liberty City...the worst place in America."

 

This is a typical scene in GTA 3 where you'll play the starring role of an unstoppable badass wreaking havoc and making a name for himself in the fictional Liberty City.  The game leads the player through an adventure of non-linear, explosively action packed missions employed by the Mafia, Yakuza, crooked cops and various local gangs. The scene is set when our "hero" is double-crossed by his girlfriend (I guess "ex" now) during a bank heist. She surprises him on the way to the get away car with a 9mm slug in the chest before running off with the loot.  Later, organized thugs looking to break their friend out attack the police van he's being carted away in and our favorite menace to society is back out on the streets in no time. He wastes not a second getting back to work and you start off there with your first job from a Mafia under boss named Luigi (played by Joe Pantoliano).

 

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Every aspect of GTA 3 screams of quality.  Barring the occasional pop-up or fade in and the rare slowdown of frame rate, it's a technical masterpiece. With balanced game play, incredible sound affects, a varied slamming soundtrack and accurate, all-too realistic graphics it displays the appeal, humor, visual affect and playability that makes it a candidate for game of the year in my book! While the graphics and interactivity are not of Shenmue caliber and sharpness, they retain a 

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grungy realism and immensity that Shenmue ultimately lacked.  The many insightful camera angles and effects that are applied like motion blur and the sharp first person view are tightly designed and add to the breadth and fullness of the experience. 

 

Out of three main islands you begin in Portland, is the industrial area complete with seaports, factories, warehouses, Chinatown and a seedy Red Light district. The shady inner city 'hoods, smokestacks and dingy buildings so finely replicate any American city's darker side.  The second area, Staunton Island, which opens when you complete a number of missions, is the inner heart of the city, the business district where glass towers block the sun, yuppies cruise in convertibles and corporate executives swing their briefcases on the way to work.  And finally, the third section is a more scenic sub-urban area with an airport and expensive houses where all the executives, crooked cops and politicians live. 

 

One of the most impressive aspects of the game is the sheer massive geographical completeness of the environment combined with the overall sense of freedom and open-ended goodness.  So full of vitality, Liberty is a gritty metropolis complete with drifting trash, working street lights, realistic building textures and hordes of pedestrians, gangsters, drug dealers, pimps and all sorts of corruption.  Neighborhoods are recognizable with distinct architectural styles, colors and imagery and they're announced by a message at the bottom right of the screen. 

 

When you first gain control of your character, it's hard to believe that he has such freedom and that the city is so vast and interactive. I was knocked breathless by its real life scale.  There are miles of roadway, hundreds of buildings and shops, underwater tunnels, subways and elevated trains all so accurately depicted.  You can ride the subway, watch a pimp beat down a prostitute, explore the cities many nooks and crannies or jack a cop car and start an epic car chase and gun battle with the Police.

 

You fully realize how free you are when you find yourself searching the city to its core for a place to hide from the Police. I spent a good deal of time just starting conflicts with the boys in blue, taking out as many as I could and seeing how long I could last. The AI is smart and forceful, the more you aggravate the law, the harder they hit you.  You have many options -you can jack a larger vehicle and use it to your advantage when ramming through the roadblocks the cops set up or block the street with a truck, and hide behind it while you exchange machine gun fire against the inadequate pistols of the law. You can take a fast racecar and simply out run them in their slower, harder to control vehicles. But be careful, when you take out Cops your "Wanted" rating, represented by gold stars, is increased and you can find the FBI or even the National Guard bearing down on you like bloodthirsty hawks.

 

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Ultimately, there is no single way to complete missions or deal with the problems you encounter throughout the game.  You can use whatever strategy, weapon, vehicle or method to achieve criminal greatness. The missions are issued by assorted mafia and gang characters via pager, pay phone and more often in person. When you finish a few missions with one person, they usually introduce you to another contact, yet even through random missions a central focus is at the heart of it all - as you attack and betray people around town you gain enemies and allies and the story progresses.

 

GTA3 earns its "Mature" rating and then some. The moment you're loose on the streets you can start randomly attacking pedestrians with fists or a bat and taking their money when you've fully pulverized them. As the game progresses this leads to a variety of antisocial infractions that involve an array of weapons including a flamethrower, grenades, a sniper rifle, Colt 45. pistol and an AK-47.  These come in handy during missions but they are fun to play with in random acts of violence.

 

Any car you find is jack-able and you'll find that in such a huge and diverse environment, you will always need wheels to get from here to there. They come in a large variety and you'll quickly discover your favorites. There are buses, delivery trucks, ambulances, cop cars, fire trucks, European and Japanese sports cars, Cadillac's and many others, all with there own feel, control and accurate design. 

 

Driving, as is implied in the title, is pivotal to success in the game. Fortunately, the developers made the driving controls intuitive and easy to master. As you progress through the game more cars will become available. Once you sample the speed of the Yakuza stinger or the Stallion (among others) you'll find in Staunton you'll never want to go back to driving the station wagons found in Hepburn hills.  At any point in the game, you can pull a driver from a vehicle and speed off although some of them will put up a fight. 

 

While sometimes slightly cliché, the missions are very entertaining.  You're forced to invent creative ways to pull off stunts without alerting 5-O and staying alive at the same time. The jobs you encounter come at a comprehensive pace and never seem to leap too far ahead in difficulty. You start off with small jobs like chauffeuring prostitutes and graduate further to more complex runs like knocking off the Chinese Triad bosses and blowing their fish factory sky high with a truck load of bombs placed near a pair of gas tanks.

 

My favorite example is a mission to whack your former boss who double-crossed you.  Instead of running in kamikaze style and attacking as soon as he leaves his after-hours spot, I decided to ambush him by blocking the driveway of his house with a stolen fish delivery truck, waiting for him to pull up, ramming him off the road for an element of surprise then spraying his car with a flamethrower and watching it explode while I run off in a hail of gunfire.  Beautiful...(wiping tear from eye).

 

The city is littered with helpful items including Rampage Icons, Cop Icons (which reduce your "wanted" meter) and a barbiturate pill icon that sends the main character into slow motion land for a minute or two.  There are also over a hundred "hidden packages" along with various weapons and power-ups to seek out in alleyways and corners. You'll find various useful shops like the "Ammunation" store that sells guns and ammo and the "Pay Spray" that can repair and repaint any vehicle.  In each section of the city there's also a "hang out" spot where you can save your game and any vehicle you park in the adjoining garage. 

 

The many cut scenes sprinkled throughout the game are both realistic and darkly humorous.  The quality of the voice acting varies from character to character although most of it is above average. Rockstar employed a cast of known actors and actresses including Michael Rappaport (Deep Blue Sea), Michael Madsen (Reservoir Dogs), Joe Pantoliano (The Matrix), Debbie Mazar (Goodfellas) and Guru from Gangstarr who perform convincingly and lend a very cinematic quality to the games framework.

 

The music varies from cinematic background music to the selectable, licensed tunes that pump from the radios of any car you steal.  As soon as you get into any car the radio clicks on to one of various styles of music including hip-hop, house, eighties rock and classical. There's even a humorous talk show station called "Chatterbox" where callers antagonize the smart-mouthed host. The music can be changed on the fly by pressing the L1 button in any car - sometimes its fun to just listen.

 

I'd be hard pressed to find too many negatives about this game. Besides the slight graphical mishaps my only reluctantly admitted gripe is the often-clunky controls during gun battles. Occasionally the camera angle makes it so your character blocks your view of the targets and the lock-on targeting system is less than perfect. Even once you get the hang of it it can be frustrating when you get gunned down because couldn't get your weapon aimed quickly enough.

 

I was pleasantly surprised by Grand Theft Auto 3. I was always turned off by the first two installments of the series because of the top-down view but this incarnation's fully 3-D setting has finally materialized the gritty world only hinted at before.  It's rare to find such a playable game, such a monolith to non-linear gaming. It's also rare to find a game with so many enjoyable factors that the negatives are so neatly buried underneath. With such freedom you'd expect convoluted camera angles and badly planned game play to dampen the experience but in this case, I've reaped nothing but enjoyment from Rockstar's fourth PS2 attempt. And that, to me, is what it's all about.

 

- Doug Flowe

(November 23, 2001)

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