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Grand Theft Auto III (PlayStation 2) artwork

Grand Theft Auto III (PlayStation 2) review

"The back of the CD case says ''you'll have to rob, steal, and kill just to stay out of serious trouble,'' and whoever wrote that sure as hell wasn't kidding. You'll be faced with a lot of plot twists and stabs in the back--all of which you'll get to retaliate for in due course."

I can honestly say I've never played the first two incarnations of Grand Theft Auto--unless you count the twenty minutes I spent struggling with the top-down viewpoint in GTA2. However, I had heard great things about GTA3, so I picked it up shortly after I acquired my Playstation 2, and I wasn't the slightest bit disappointed. Grand Theft Auto III is a wonderful gaming experience--if you like being a violent criminal.

First off, my gripes with the game, as is traditional with my reviews.

The game's difficulty starts off nice and good, but it quickly and suddenly takes gigantic leaps--by the time you get to Liberty City's second island, you'll be wanting to pull your hair out. Many of the missions will take you two or three (or more) attempts before you can actually complete them, and it's not always 100% clear what you're supposed to be doing.

Although the in-game radio stations are a very nice touch, they seem unbalanced. Stations that play music such as reggae and rap have a much wider selection of songs than say, the rock station, which has only a few different tracks that are all interrupted at random intervals by the ditzy DJ. The game's music just doesn't cater to everyone, which is unfortunate.

As wide open as this game is, you would expect to be able to go inside at least some buildings. Sadly, I have yet to find a building that your character can legitimately enter. It's entirely possible that including this would've taken up a lot more disc space than was available, but it's disappointing, none-the-less.

This game's positive qualities far outweigh the negative, however. Allow me to demonstrate.

GTA3's storyline is simple, yet effective: Betrayed by your girlfriend/partner after a bank robbery, you're shot and left for dead--except the police get there first. Hauled off to jail, tried and convicted, and about to be transferred out of the local lock-up into the prison proper, when some friends of one of your cellmates, an explosives expert by the name of 8-ball, stop the paddywagon you're riding in. When all is said and done, 8-ball offers to introduce you to a local mafia member and hook you up with some work. Things flow from there very nicely--the back of the CD case says ''you'll have to rob, steal, and kill just to stay out of serious trouble,'' and whoever wrote that sure as hell wasn't kidding. You'll be faced with a lot of plot twists and stabs in the back--all of which you'll get to retaliate for in due course (just remember, revenge isn't sweet--it's salty, with a twist of lime).

The gameplay is nothing short of beautiful. I don't mean the graphics--which, although not up to par with Metal Gear Solid 2 for example, are quite good--but rather, the fact that this game truly leaves you open to do whatever the hell you want. With the exception of the short sequence leading from the jailbreak to your first contact with the mafia, you never have to participate in any missions if you don't want to. Though completing them is the only way to unlock other parts of the city, each of the three islands is a city in itself--there's never a shortage of areas to explore or things to do. You can beat random people senseless just for the fun of it (and there's never a shortage of pedestrians, even late at night), run around and steal cars to your heart's content--hell, you can even pick up hookers (which even has a legitimate use in the game--it can be used to restore your health)! The simple fact is that this is one of, if not THE most 'open' videogames ever. It truly gives the gamer a sense of freedom that is unparalleled by anything before it.

Gun enthusiasts will be pleased, as well--there are at least a dozen different weapons you can acquire in this game. Everything from pistols to shotguns, assault rifles to rocket launchers, and more. You start with a baseball bat at your disposal outside of your hideout, and through the collection of hidden packages, more weapons will be made available for you to collect without having to pay for them. On top of that, there are various locations where you can just find an uzi or a flamethrower laying around, and you can even kill someone and take their weapon, if they've got one. And trust me--plenty of people in Liberty City walk around with no less than a .45 tucked in their pocket at any given time.

The missions themselves, though somewhat linear in application, are widely varied; you'll be ordered to steal cars, assassinate people, rob armored vans, chauffer hookers to a police ball, and generally make people bleed--and that's just in the first few hours of gameplay.

There are also optional missions; steal a taxi and make money playing cab driver, or steal a police car and hunt down violent criminals (such as yourself) on vigilante missions. You can even pose as a fireman or an EMT if you so desire.

There are also mini-games scattered across the city, such as using remote control cars rigged with explosives to see how many gangster vehicles you can blow up in a set period of time.

The radio stations, though slightly limited in content as I said earlier, make the city seem that much more real. Especially the Chatterbox talkshow--hilarious commentary on life in Liberty City from real-life internet radio host Lazlow Jones. The Chatterbox station alone will make you want to sit in a parked car for hours just to listen to some of the things this twisted city's denizens will pester poor Lazlow about.

And if that isn't realism enough for you, the people of Liberty City really bring it to life. There are hundreds of different pedestrians roaming the place, all of whom have something to say if you care to listen as they pass. Some of the things they blurt out (''Muff-diver!'') are both truly disturbing and highly amusing.

Also along this line is the fact that this city is full of dozens of different varieties of automobiles ripe for the carjacking--hence the title of the game. It's truly something to behold, the realistic way traffic patterns occur. Few vehicles will roam late at night, but in the daytime you'll get people screaming at eachother in rush-hour traffic, a plethora of constant accidents, bad drivers, good drivers honking angrilly at said bad drivers, pedestrians leaping out of the way when a car gets hummer-bumped and goes careening onto the sidewalk--you'll even be carjacked yourself at least once, and once you get over the initial outrage, you'll realize that you can just go steal any other car you want and then laugh at the expression on your character's face as he's thrown out of the car and onto the pavement.

Your exploration isn't limited to land, either. You can cruise around the bay in a (stolen) speedboat, or even fly (with much difficulty) a small airplane.

I've entertained myself for several months just trying to increase my criminal rating (it's currently somewhere in the mid-4000s--Capo) and causing mayhem.

Grand Theft Auto III is nothing if not an extremely addicting game, and a very satisfying one at that. Though it's not intended for the young or squeamish, you should definitely add this fine example of gaming bliss (If you're seventeen or older that is; its 'M' rating is quite well-earned) to your collection today.

kieran's avatar
Staff review by Kieran Greyloch (July 13, 2002)

Kieran Greyloch is an automotive technology student who enjoys wasting every moment of his spare time playing videogames and tabletop RPGs.

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