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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Memories #8: Grand Theft Auto III

In 2001 the PlayStation 2 really began to hit it's stride with a tidal wave of hit releases releases. One game that managed to stand out from the crowed was Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto III. While the series had a cult following with the two top-down view games prior and the London 1969 expansion game, GTAIII was the game that rocketed the franchise to juggernaut status that it enjoys to this day.

Everyone and their grandmother seemed to be playing this game. All the video game magazines were raving about it, all my friends were playing it, it was on the news and it was even banned in Australia. At first, I had no interest in playing GTAIII. I just went about my business, playing Metal Gear Solid 2, Super Smash Bros. Brawl and Final Fantasy X. But sometime in 2002, I saw a used copy in GameStop for $34.99. When the game was going for $50 new, that price seemed hard to pass up and I'd finally get to see what all the fuss was about. The game had been hyped up so much that I began to wonder if it was actually one of those games that was in no way worthy of all the acclaim that it garnered. It turned out to be all that and ten bags of baroque chips.

The back of GTAIII's case labels Liberty City as "The worst place in America." Truer words have never been written. Right at the start of the game Claude, my nameless, silent in-gamer persona is betrayed by his partner Catalina and left for dead. The only person he can trust is a guy named 8-Ball whom you escape prison with. Adding to the depressing atmosphere was the rain and the song that happened to be playing on Head Radio when I stole a car, Fade Away, which would end up becoming one of my favorite songs in the game. While behind the wheel of the car I jacked, I made many mistakes. I ended up failing the simple task of driving to a destination on the map several times because I wasn't used to the driving controls. After a short while, I was successful in getting 8-Ball to his desired location and was free to take on missions or explore the first island of Liberty City.

"Your wheels or your life."
I like his chances.

The words "freedom" and "explore" carried a tremendous amount of weight in GTAIII. In the majority of the games I played, I was restricted by order and mission structure. Not in this game. If I didn't feel like doing missions, I didn't have to do them. I could beat people up with baseball bat (still one of my favorite weapons in the game), steal cars, run people over and engage in all kinds of juvenile acts to get myself in trouble with the law and then ditch them. It was these very activities that placed GTAIII in cross-hairs of parent groups and politicians and gave them the ammunition they needed to say the that the game was a bad influence on children and encouraged them to act out the events they saw in the game. Makes me wonder if these people have ever played a video game but to keep this particular feature from steering towards they headache inducing debate that is the war on violent video games, I'll let it go right there and just say this. Killing people with flame throwers, guns, running them over, beating them to death. All of it was massively FUN. Just thinking of all those times I went on a spree, offing people for their money brings a smile to my face. Every time I resumed my file on GTAIII I would always make sure I took the population of Liberty City down a few notches and I would revel in it.

Of course there was more to do in my free time than just mindless killing, joyous as it was. One of my favorite ways to make money was by playing taxi driver. Just jack a taxi, kill the driver and start picking up fares. It was a great way to rack up cash, especially since GTAIII was far more generous with the green than later GTA titles would be. Making quick cash early on in GTAIII was never a problem.

If it has wheels, you can steal it.
Being bad is very much encouraged, but you
can still make an honest living in GTA III.

The first few missions of the game were pretty simple. Pick up some hookers and escort them to a policeman's ball, take a car and attach a bomb to it, kill some members of the Triads. You know, nothing too complicated. But even on the first island of Liberty City, some of the missions approached Nintendo Hard territory. It didn't take much for your car to blow up in this game and shooting at it made it go up in flames that much faster. And in the world of GTA, you get shot at a lot. One mission has you pick up some mob bosses and take them somewhere but before you can get there, you get ambushed by a gang packing heat. So you have to keep the bosses alive as well as yourself. It was missions like this one that made me turn my attention towards the numerous cheat codes that GTAIII offered.

The fast rides are among the best.
Cause enough mayhem and eventually you'll get
some of these sent after you.
All of Liberty City is pretty much screwed
when you get one of these.

I had absolutely no shame in cheating in GTAIII. Instantly getting the fuzz off my back after going on a killing spree was such a relief. The no wanted level cheat was probably the first among GTA cheats that I memorized. And the weapons cheat. Ohhhh, the weapons cheat. Shooting people with a pistol is alright. Burning them to a crisp with the flame thrower, blowing them up with a rocket launcher? AWESOME. The rocket launcher was especially delightful to use. At times I would find some high ground and start shooting people and nuking cars. When the cops brought out a helicopter, I'd just take aim and it was down in a matter of seconds. But the granddaddy of all cheats would have to be spawning a tank. Talk about power. The tank was nigh unstoppable. Any car it touched was instantly blown up, which made me laugh like a madman every time police cars would try to stop me. The tank has never been as strong in a GTA game as it has in GTAIII, able to take a sizable amount of punishment before you can't use it anymore. As a result, it isn't as fun to use in later installments. A shame, really.

As good and well-thought out as the missions are, what I remember the most and had the most fun doing in GTAIII is screwing around. Being a misfit, causing all kinds of havoc, chaos and destruction is some of the most fun I've ever had, in a video game or otherwise. Being bad really does feel good. I've played the hero so often in gaming. It was refreshing to give that roll a rest and act on my destructive impulses. GTAIII may look dated and not be as deep as it's sequels, but this is still one astoundingly fun ride. Last year marked the tenth anniversary of GTAIII. I think I'll revisit Liberty City to celebrate.

1 comment:

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