Grand Theft Auto III: Your Thoughts for the Book on this Popular and Controversial Title

Bill Loguidice's picture

The next chapter I'll be tackling is the one on Grand Theft Auto III, which of course encompasses the games before and the games after it, as well as the various "sandbox" precursors and numerous modern day clones and knock-offs. I'm certainly no expert in the GTA mythos, so any help or thoughts would be greatly appreciated. Right now I only own Vice City Stories for the Sony PSP, though I may have to rectify that with a rental to get up to full speed. Thanks for the help, guys!

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Rowdy Rob
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Controversy as Entertainment.

I never played GTA3, but I did play the first GTA (the one with the overhead view), "Vice City" and "San Andreas." I think the appeal of these games are generally the same.

The controversy over the games reflects what makes these games so appealing: shock value. When people listen to "shock jocks" like Howard Stern on the radio, a large part of the appeal is "I wonder what he'll say next?" Even people who hate this kind of "entertainment" still find themselves listening, perhaps getting some subconscious thrill out of having their buttons pushed. In much the same manner, these games keep players guessing "I wonder what I will have to do next," via the "mission" format.

I'm no psychologist, but I saw a documentary once on TV that made me contemplate "shock" as entertainment. The documentary was trying to explain the roots of laughter, speculating (but not concluding) that we laugh at "safe surprises." The "peek-a-boo" game that parents often play with babies was the demonstrated example, the baby giggling repeatedly as the parent revealed themselves.

I suspect that this might be the key to the whole "shock" industry; people are entertained by "safe" surprises, things that push the "edge" without harming us. This might explain pretty much the whole entertainment industry (music, movies, celebrity scandal/gossip mags, etc.), not just games.

The GTA games keeps the players involved by sending them on various "shocking" missions: one mission might involve selling drugs, the next might be assasinating a crime lord, the next might be robbing a bank, the next might be gang warfare, etc. etc. The missions are so varied that they each play out as almost entirely different games, keeping the players prolonged interest, while still maintaining the "shock" narrative ("I wonder what I'll have to do next?"). What's "safe" is what polarizes people on these games (or any other controversial entertainment), because everyone has a different "line" that they don't want to cross.

The production values of these games cannot be an underestimated contributor to the success of these games. They are done VERY well, with excellent programming, graphics, music, and top-tier voice acting. The game engine(s) are very flexible, allowing players nearly endless experimental and exploratory possibilities.....

The GTA games are also subversive parodies of modern culture, goring many sacred political cows (both liberal and conservative). The "talk radio" parodies are particularly entertaining, almost worth the price of the game in and of themselves!

That having been said, they really didn't hold my interest that long; I've never finished any of the games (or even made it to the half-way point). There's only so many times I can hear the "F" word or commit crimes before it loses its shock, and I'm left to driving around town aimlessly (in the game, of course!). Plus, I admit that the games do bother my conscience a bit, even as I initially thrill at playing them. This is just me being a jaded gamer, though, and probably doesn't reflect the experiences of the average GTA player.

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andrew
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Interesting Game :)

GTA3 is an interesting feat of engineering. It moved the game on from 2D quite well, although fell behind a bit with some of the things in GTA2. It included almost all the items in GTA1 - stunt bonuses, exploration, setpiece missions, emergency services, a variety of weapons, wanted system, secrets, trains/transport and tanks. Notably; and not many people realise, but the game can be played top-down too (although bridges sometimes get in the way, just like GTA1/2), a camera setting allows you the ability, which was taken out of later games which moved away from the tile-based city approach.

The main beauty is that driving around doing random things, and there being some classic Kill Frenzies, weapons and secrets to find, always makes exploring worthwhile. It can get dull - the game is, if nothing else, repetitive, but for the in between mission activities it provided just enough depth, as GTA1 and 2 did. The radio helped a lot here, the music stations were done in a similar style to the original 2D titles with a continuous track - the Lazlow Chatterbox show is great comedy writing, and really builds the world up. Exploring the world for the first time - simply driving around - can be actually quite fun. In a way, a good way to do something between missions, but not for more then half an hour (there's only so many cops you can kill, heh).

The best part was the transition involved a lot better AI - pedestrians cursed, shouted, ran away, attacked back. Cops were much more varied - GTA2 was actually the first to introduce SWAT, FBI and Army levels of star rating, but the behaviour in GTA3 included roadblocks, helicopters (a first), and of course the same kind of arrests as you could get in GTA1 and 2. The AI for Ambulance and Firetrucks were present too, transitioned into 3D well. The world really felt lived in, and people spawned continually - GTA1 and 2 had some really dense areas, but the population levels were a lot lower. Yes, the AI was arguably rubbish in most aspects of quality (although at the time, better then many), but quantity was staggering.

The game control was however a bit clunky - controlling cars was sometimes a feat (and some missions didn't let you get your vehicle scratched). Running and walking were a joke - you got tired easily (meaning you stopped to catch your breath), so cars were the only mid-to-long distance way to travel. Weapon aiming necessitated a mouse - the console version I couldn't cope with. Even then, it was pretty hard, since the mouse configuration was for movement not precise aiming (nevermind grenades). No form of cover, meant gameplay involved primarily having armour all the time and reloading on death - losing all those weapons hurt too much. The sequels did improve bits and pieces on the controls at least.

Sequels also importantly added swimming, boats and helicopters you could use. The division of islands for story segregation is pretty sad, really, and although that's carried on the actual physical barriers are much more removed. The lack of freedom in that respect is annoying. :)

The graphics were not spectacular as such - as much as GTA IV's graphics are good, they too are not spectacular - it's the fact there was so much available things on screen at once. Many missions piled up the enemies and cars involved. Comparatively good graphics however, which did last a long time considering San Andreas'.

The storyline was... cliché. Pop culture cliché at least. Typical gangs, very sterotypical mafia, corrupt cops, huge corporation empires. The actual enemies were vague and the reasons for going after them were pretty nonexistant or confusing. As you played a mute, the character also really lacked depth. However, some individual characters were funny or interesting, and the voiceacting was reasonably good as well as the cutscenes (which had some really good coverups for a mute, hah!). Some side missions were a lot more enjoyable then the main ones. I don't think I ever finished the game either (although I saw the last few missions online at one point) - the final island missions shows the gameplay was poorly constructed - the last missions can be nigh on impossible. Some of the missions really made you grit your teeth (eg: making sure your car doesn't get dented, aggghhh!) - there was (as is per GTA's style) no mid mission saves, and they were all scripted so there is zero replay factor. At least you could skip cutscenes!

Oh, but of course, GTA1 and 2 barely had a story. Notably, this was really the first story in the series of any merit. A good first attempt I think. Without the pop culture and characterisations of Vice City, the second game in the 3D series wouldn't have gone quite so well (and might well have bombed if it was worse) - it is the most lackluster of any of the 3D games, likely including the portable ones (which I have not played). The main thing is; since the story is reward, most of the missions just are not worth it for the reward of more story. There are many exceptions, but in general, the missions are not enjoyable enough by themselves and the reward is so poor as to remove the chore element from the difficult ones. Some real treats in there though, and the levels as a whole were usually well designed.

It was also very linear - unlike GTA1 and 2 which allowed mission selection (at least, a choice from a few missions - GTA2 gang system was also better then GTA3's), the game forces a linear path. This doesn't make the game more fun, although of course the storyline, what that it is (since they are really mini-stories for each group) possibly comes across better. This lack of freedom was a bit odd, and has carried on sadly. Apart from side missions, none of the 3D GTA's really allow mission freedom, to pick and choose jobs. In fact, if you fail a mission, it loops time and allows you to do exactly the same one again (something not present in GTA1 or 2). At least you could save for free in your hideout at any time out of missions, which was very important! (GTA2 you had to pay to save, hah!)

So, some good humour really helped the game, and while the freedom is there, you can't really do too much without getting board (so, you do it between missions, which is more the point) - you also probably will get stuck in the missions, they are not very lenient and certainly harder then later games. No multiplayer also was very annoying (at least when you got board of singleplayer) - GTA2 has some great multiplayer you can do on LAN, and no doubt GTA IV is much better with the multiplayer then without it. A great game, and an outstanding release at the time however, and pushed the genre in a good direction! Without it I wonder what would have happened to the general genre.

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andrew
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Violence, Swearing and Prostitution

I also forgot to add, it is violent (headshots cartoonily remove the actual head, and spray blood), but it's not seriously realistic. Terribly cartoony in most cases, especially running people over. The swearing is there, of course. Prostitution is more in the open then the previous games, although previous games certainly had missions based around it, being top down, you never saw much (and couldn't really tell genders even). Drug references are there too, although none are really seen in game (although the kill frenzies might be a reference to them, they're pill shaped) the drug SMACK is a core part of the gameplay (the Columbian Cartel, your supposed enemies, are drug smugglers).

Adult to the most part, but very cartoony ways of doing it to be honest. However, you can have a bloodbath, for sure.

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Matt Barton
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I played the latest GTA

I played the latest GTA briefly while visiting my brother, who has a PS3 and a nice TV set. I was impressed enough with the graphics, but I agree that it wasn't anything better than what I'd seen before (certainly nothing compared to the jaw dropping Myst got it when it first appeared on the scene). From what I could see, the main appeal was the smooth gameplay and, like Andrew mentioned, the keen attention to detail. I can see why people would want to buy this game and spend time exploring the city and figuring out the rules of the game.

That said, I must admit that the aesthetics always turned me off at the get-go. I don't want to play a gangster thug, or whatever it is. I don't care for those people IRL (and have less respect for the people who try to look/act the part), so there's not much draw. I'd much rather imagine myself a Master Chief or Sir Graham or what have you. :) It seems to appeal more to kids who love gangsta rap and that whole scene.

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yakumo9275
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We wold walys put GTA when

We wold walys put GTA when we wanted to waste time. hit the cheat for a tank and drive and and cause chaos.

I remember getting the flame thrower and going to the elevated train station and lighting up! lol. It was always fun trying to find where the SWAT couldnt get you (the tunnel was good)..

never did play many missions at all.

-- Stu --

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Bill Loguidice
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Playing around

I see an interesting thread in these great comments (thanks guys!)... That just as many gamers did in fact use it as a virtual sandbox over playing it "straight", meaning going from mission-to-mission.

From my own perspective I must say that I appreciate the games more for modeling a fairly open, realistic world (albeit with cartoon violence and parody), than the actual mission-based gameplay (at least in my limited experience from Vice City Stories on the PSP and superficial sessions on the PS2 games). I can understand the repetition comment. I know that was an issue for me with the otherwise superb Simpson Hit and Run (which I like even better than the last one, The Simpsons Game).



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Mark Vergeer
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Love the sandbox

Love the sandbox idea.
Dislike the violence in it and it is my personal dislike as I am a psychiatrist. Didn't like Reservoir Dogs that much either. Loved the over the top violence in Kill Bill though.
It is good that the violence in GTA is cartoony, over the top. This makes it very similar to watching Roadrunner drop a 10 ton Acme weight on the coyote.
As I said it is a personal dislike and it is not a professional disliking, with me stating this game is the direct cause of supposed increased violent behavior in kids.
Nope anything with violence in kids is the parents responsibility. It's the parents that need to teach the kids what is right from wrong and being exposed to 'play-violence' can be okay as long as it is pretend-violence. Solid role models - preferably in parent shape - need to be teaching the kids that.



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www.markvergeer.nl

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Bill Loguidice
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GBA Grand Theft Auto III and other thoughts

I just received the PS2 "Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy" today from Amazon (I just ordered it late yesterday too!), so that should give a bit more authenticity to my writings on the subject. I'll be playing it on my PS3, but will be getting captures from my PS2 for the actual book. That would just leave me not having played the apparently poor GBA version and the earlier, now freeware, GTA 1 and 2 (assuming my having played the portable Vice City Stories on the PSP would be sufficient).

Anyone have any thoughts on the GBA version? It's my understanding that it was criticized for being a modern release, 2004, that ignored all the advances from the 3D games and essentially went back to the "old" model from GTA 1 and 2, visuals and all.

By the way, I never played it myself, but do remember hearing about this homebrew GTA for the NES a few years back: http://blog.makezine.com/archive/2005/05/homebrew_grand.html . Anyone try it? It doesn't seem to be around anymore...



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Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.

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andrew
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Never heard of it

Never heard of the DS thing. The GBA port, well, probably just wasn't very good. The GBA wasn't that powerful for real-time things, and the top down view I must admit would be dated, although still fun.

I also implore you to try the PC version of the game too for comparison purposes at least, but if you're a console gamer you might enjoy the console more for continence. It's just that the PC one allows you do manual aiming, and in my mind, better controls for the cars (which really are annoying to drive sometimes). There's also a player skin changing feature in the PC version, and although I never tried them, a lot of mods for more vehicles etc. were done and are around the net.

Cheats I must admit were always fun, but a sore note was it'd invalidate your save file with a "Cheater" thing if you saved (or sometimes not save at all?). That utterly sucked, and they just were really bad at designing that "feature" - maybe on the pretence that it'd take extra testing to make sure it was "compatible" with missions, bah. Annoying for everyone until GTA 4 I think, which doesn't do that.

One thing I missed before was the fact the game also, and this is comparatively new for most games of the era, included weather (which altered driving conditions) and times of day - although it rushed by quite fast, the shadows, lighting and car lights all changed, and the populations increased/decreased as people went to work/came back/slept at night. Quite good that. :) - GTA2 did have an option for "Day" or "Dusk" when you set your options up, so it's not entirely new in the series, but still good stuff.

The engine's origins are also interesting, RenderWare wasn't used for much of anything in the same line as it, and it obviously took a beating to get it to GTA standards (especially, I bet, the changing times and large levels). The maps are all modelled in Max (from screenshots of their creation), which must have made it hard to design for. The scripting language they used also has been described to me as "Hellish" by someone who worked on Multi Theft Auto: San Andreas. It looks like a rather poor state of affairs to design and build the game with, interestingly! I wonder what their internal tools were like...

Andrew

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Bill Loguidice
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GTA

"DS" thing, Andrew? Not sure what you mean...

Thanks for the further info too...



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Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.

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