n the past, the controversy surrounding Grand Theft Auto always seemed a bit out of proportion to the games themselves, which were modest, if interesting, action games hampered by anachronistic graphics and an awkward control scheme. Similarly, Rockstar Games, the champions of DMA Design’s GTA franchise, have succeeded more in creating an image as a hip, cutting edge game company than actually putting out hip, cutting edge games. All this will change with the release of Grand Theft Auto 3, a stunning tour de force that is so masterfully realized, so ambitious, that I doubt anyone in the video game industry will be able to ignore DMA or Rockstar any longer.
The game’s hard-boiled storyline and the bloody nature of the gameplay will no doubt attract the attention of the mainstream press. I, for one, hope that this title will be remembered for its true accomplishment – it’s the first console game that allows the player to freely roam through a living, breathing virtual world while at the same time implementing compelling gameplay elements and plot points. This is even more impressive when you remember that a creator no less than the legendary Yu Suzuki tried to do this with Shenmue and the results were – how shall I say it? – boring as hell.
While the basic premise (working as a hired gun for Liberty City’s various criminal organizations) is the same as the previous GTA games, doing so in a realistically rendered environment is an entirely new experience. To say the levels are massive would be an understatement. This fictional city is so large that you’ll often struggle with the very real-world problem of becoming lost in its expanse.
The game’s 72 missions run the gamut of the criminal lifestyle; from drive-by hits to dropping off payments to crooked cops, but that’s not all that GTA 3 has to offer. Hop in a cab, and you’ll be able to pick up fares for money. Steal a cop car, and you can run down criminals in a Vigilante mission. You can even hijack an ambulance and take wounded victims to the hospital. In addition, there are stunt jumps placed throughout the city, Rampage missions, and 100 Hidden Packages to find. All in all, I’d estimate that it should take you at least 60 hours to experience everything this game has to offer. That doesn’t even take into account the fact that you can waste many hours just randomly killing pedestrians and searching for the hottest cars to heist.
Although many will make comparisons with Driver, GTA 3 shatters the standards set by its predecessors. The only thing that prevents GTA 3 from winning Game Informer’s highest honors are some moderate pop-up issues, and a slightly cantankerous targeting system. Point blank – you need to buy this game.