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by Rockstar

gta3yui05-copy.jpg (2708 bytes)Grand Theft Auto 3 is by far the most innovative, imaginative, satisfying game I have played in a long time. Never before has a console game given players so much freedom and variety. GTA3 is also quite possibly the most indiscriminately violent game ever made. This game is rated mature with a big, bloody, capital "M." You must realize, however, that as terrible as it sounds to be running around, stealing cars, beating innocent people with baseball bats, killing cops, and scamming the Mafia, this game is not meant to be malicious. All of this is delivered with a genuine sense of humor, albeit a very dark one. While I would never recommend this game for children, it is so over the top that it is impossible for adults to take seriously. It is entertainment. It is a chance to role-play in a world that no one in their right mind would ever want to actually be a part of. And I must applaud Rockstar for broadening the playing field and letting adults make their own choice in terms of game content.

gta3yui03_chr-copy.jpg (3460 bytes)Essentially, the story can be narrowed down to this: during a heist, you were betrayed, shot, and left for dead. Now, some time later, you have to start from scratch, running "errands" for various criminal elements, earning trust, respect, and money, so that you might regain your position in the underworld of Liberty City, "the worst place in America." Likewise, you could say that the game play consists mainly of exploring the city, taking advantage of the inhabitants, making criminal contacts in person, by phone, or by pager, and completing the missions that are assigned to you.

gta3yui01_chr.jpg (3633 bytes)That being said, it doesn’t even begin to describe the true depth of this game. Every contact you make, every mission you accomplish adds new characters, new loyalties, and new plot twists to the ever-changing story line. The game does not rely solely on the story, however. In fact, the worst thing you could possibly do is try to play this game in a linear fashion. GTA3 presents players with a fully formed world, a city full of possibilities and distractions. Sure, mob bosses assign you incredibly cool tasks like publicly assassinating a turncoat in broad daylight, planting a bomb in another crime king’s car, or hijacking an armored bank car that is being closely monitored by the police. But there are so many other things you can do. You are free to play this game at your own pace and discretion. There are 81 different vehicles to steal, ranging from sedans to sports cars, vans to humvees. You can drive them, collect them, demolish them, or deliver them to chop shops. You can jack a taxi, turn on the light, and collect fairs for cash. You can steal a cop car, monitor the scanner, and kill other criminals at large (this is the best way to amass a stockpile of weapons, by the way). You can also get your hands on fire engines, ambulances, military vehicles, and more. There is a multitude of weapons to use—baseball bats, pistols, machine guns, flame-throwers, grenades, etc. Secret packages and missions are everywhere. You can even resort to petty theft—beating up innocent pedestrians (or simply gunning them down or running them over) and taking their money. There are also the trademark GTA killing frenzies, high-speed chases, and gang wars to take part in.

GTA3YUI7-copy.jpg (3799 bytes)Taking advantage of the Dual Shock Controller, the control system allows you to interact with your environment in a variety of complex ways—walking, running, changing points of view, wielding weapons, driving vehicles, jumping out of burning cars—and yet couldn’t be more simple or intuitive. What really helps is the continuity of the setup as a whole. The right analog joystick is used to move forward, backward, right, left on foot, then right and left in a car; the X button is used to run on foot and to accelerate in a vehicle, and so on. Because the basic functions of each element of the game are the same, you rarely have to stop and rethink what you are doing in a crisis. It is really only the less imperative functions that change.

GTA3RS022.jpg (2893 bytes)The look of GTA series has changed considerably with GTA3. The game now takes place from a street level perspective, rather than the distant top-down view from before. The primary view is third person, but there is also a first person view for looking around (easily accessible on the right analog joystick while on foot) and the old top-down view for nostalgia. There are surprisingly few camera issues in this game, considering all of the changes it must accommodate. The camera generally hovers behind you, but you can quickly and easily look to the right and left, and behind you with the press of a button in order to avoid unwanted crashes or see if the cops are still on your tail. The camera does have consistent problems during firefights, however. It becomes pretty jerky as it tries to decide who to focus on, and 9 times out of 10 it picks the wrong angle. This could have been easily remedied by attaching the camera angle to the target button, so that you are always looking at what you are targeting. This seems like a given, but I guess the programmers wanted you to be able to run and gun while looking where you are going. Luckily, this is the kind of game where you rarely have to worry about killing the wrong person. If in doubt, kill everyone.

$GTA3RS013.jpg (3382 bytes)The graphics are good, but not great, at least when compared to other titles on the PS2. There are lots of instances of draw-in and pop-up. Yet, these problems are only occasionally noticeable and entirely forgivable considering the size of the fully-rendered city, all that is going on within it, and the fact that there are no load times within the game itself (only a relatively quick one before you play). And what the game lacks in pure rendering muscle, it more than makes up for in nuance. Much of the city and all of the vehicles are completely destructible. While careening down the street you can leave tire tracks in the dirt, skid marks on the pavement, and knock over lampposts—all while your car is being dented, the windshield is being shattered, the doors, hood, and trunk are flapping or falling off. Ultimately your car will begin to smoke, then catch fire and explode. The lighting effects are exceptionally well done, as the time of day changes throughout the game. The weather effects, too, are terrific, ranging from bright, glaring sunshine to a violent thunderstorm. Each section of the city has its own appropriate atmosphere. From Chinatown, to the Red-light District, to Portland Harbor, the buildings, storefronts, cars, and people all fit right in. Then there are the little details, like the way your car door doesn’t always shut the first time, and how your character looks in the appropriate direction as he is running, driving, or flipping the bird to a belligerent driver. I have really only found one time in which the characters didn’t behave accordingly. During the course of the game you can make use of the prostitutes’, uh…services. But if you change your perspective to a through-the-front-windshield view while the car is a rockin’, the characters appear to be just sitting there. Not that I was…well, okay, I was looking.

GTA3YUI5-copy.jpg (3365 bytes)The sound is nothing less than perfect. It goes way beyond the squealing tires, the jarring crunch of a collision, or even the nasty little squishy sound people make when you run them over. The radio stations are back and better than ever. Now there are nine stations to flip through as you navigate Liberty City, providing pretty good original tunes as well as absolutely hilarious commercials, promos, and dialogue. They are a big part of the game’s personality. The voice acting is bar none the best any video game has to offer and for good reason: it is provided by some of Hollywood’s great character actors. These are people you know, like Michael Madsen (Reservoir Dogs, Species), Joe Pantoliano (The Matrix, Memento), Michael Rapaport (True Romance, Beautiful Girls), Robert Loggia (Big, Scarface), and Kyle MacLachlan (Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet). Of course, they play the heavyweights. Admittedly, the comments by people on the street, while spot on in terms of character (man on the docks: "man, it feels good to be back on dry land") and sometimes obnoxiously funny (prostitute: "does this look infected to you?"), can get pretty repetitive.

GTA3RS010.jpg (3377 bytes)It really is hard to provide a satisfactory explanation of this game for people who haven’t at least seen it in action. It always sounds like I am embellishing, but I am not. Other games have attempted to create sprawling cities, flowing with life and personality, but none have done so as well as GTA3. And although there are some limitations—you can only go into certain buildings, not every window can be broken—the sense of freedom is overwhelming. You can spend hours ignoring the plot at large, entertaining yourself with the little things. I will say that if you have played GTA1 and 2, then you have only played the Cliff’s Notes to GTA3. This game goes way beyond being the same thing with better graphics; it truly is the next generation of gaming. GTA3 is violent, obnoxious, profane, and downright perverse. It is also a complex, witty, ironic, character-driven work of art. And it is devilishly fun. This is not a video game you would want to bring home to your mother, nor is it a game you want your young children playing. But for those mature people somewhere in between, those with a penchant for black comedy, this may be exactly what you have been looking for.

Jeremy Kauffman   (11/25/2001)


Ups: Amazing freeplay system; incredible detail; lots of variety and options; great voice acting; a wickedly dark sense of humor.

Downs: Some small camera issues; may be too violent for some gamers.

Platform: PlayStation 2