Grand Theft Auto III (GTA III) hardly needs an introduction. This massively popular game is notorious and it's been banned in Australia. It's probably the quintessential game that's both lots of fun to play and completely inappropriate for anyone under 18. Why is GTA III's blend of violence, sexual innuendo, reckless driving, and organized criminal activity so much fun? For anyone who has ever watched The Godfather or Goodfellas, it's an opportunity to be Vito Corleone. And, unlike the first two games in the series, the connections between the missions and the development of the character are masterfully done. As long as fantastical violence doesn't bother you, GTA III is a superb game.
The PC version is a clean, well-done port of the PS2 title, with the mouse making aiming and movement around Liberty City even easier than its console counterpart. The graphics, as expected, are significantly better, and the dreamy tracer effects from the PS2 version are still there, though muted. The pixilated graphics have been replaced with clean lines and impressive reflection effects.
You take control of a young "cleaner" during his meteoric rise to power in corrupt Liberty City. During the initial game levels, you'll be given relatively mundane jobs that eventually evolve into assassination assignments and similar tasks. Initially you get by with baseball bats and semi-automatic pistols, but the arsenal of available weapons gradually increases to include Uzis, grenades, AK-47s, and rocket launchers. Shrewd players will quickly learn the necessity of choosing the correct weapon for each job, depending on the circumstances.
Getting around the city is accomplished in a variety of ways, but hijacking a car is the preferred method. Anything can be hijacked, and most standing vehicles are fair game as well. The characteristics of each vehicle vary widely, with most obviously based on contemporary rides, and as with weapons, the mission dictates the choice of transport. Many of the cars in GTA III are great fun to drive. The Banshee, a roadster, is fast with great handling, while a Humvee has decent speed, great durability, bad cornering, but good stability.
The wanted meter, a row of six stars in the upper right hand corner of the screen, displays the level of forces trying to apprehend you. Rear-ending a police cruiser gives you a one-star ranking (which will disappear if you lay low for a few minutes), but killing cops will immediately jump the ranking up to two stars. More cop killing will take the ranking all the way to six stars, at which point the FBI, army, helicopters, and SWAT teams are deployed.
There are ways to evade detection and lower the wanted ranking, and successfully completing missions frequently hinges on being able to avoid a high wanted rating. When your rating gets to three stars and higher, it becomes very hard to survive without finding some cover. The genius of GTA III, of course, is how much fun it is to go on a rampage and die in a hail of bullets.
The interactive environment of Liberty City is amazing. Traffic patterns change from district to district, certain areas are particularly dangerous, and pedestrians roam everywhere. The proportion of prostitutes is unbelievable, but it does add to the atmosphere of decay. Day changes to night, with sunsets, and stormfronts come and go. The fact that so many of the city's buildings are inaccessible is disappointing, but that's a minor criticism.
The people and story of GTA III are similarly impressive. None of the characters are particularly likeable, and most are repugnant. Salvatore Leone, the initial boss encountered, tries to have you killed right after promising you "made" status. Why? Because his girlfriend, who you ferried around earlier, told him she was having an affair with you. It's never clear whether you were or weren't, and the game implies it doesn't really matter, and in Liberty City, it doesn't. What does matter is that Salvatore believes it and wants you dead. Later, of course, you kill him without thinking twice since you're paid good money to whack him. Such is gameplay in GTA III.
GTA III's depiction of criminal life is much like it is in The Godfather -- simultaneously alluring and disturbing. Determining who can appreciate these nuanced messages is unclear. Teenagers, the target audience, probably won't. Rockstar deserves credit for portraying the seedy atmosphere and twisted figures of Liberty City so well, but it's obviously a game for adults. The GTA III TV advertisements, however, target a teenage audience, which is unfortunate. The gratuitous violence and unabashed lifestyle of killing and theft is more suited to an adult rating (18 or over) than the ESRB mature rating, although it's a fine distinction.
As a game, Grand Theft Auto III is fun with impressive character development, replay, variety, and gore. With the separate missions optional with the Taxicabs, Fire Trucks, and Police Cars, Crazy Taxi is essentially a free mini-game. Rampage missions, evading the police, and racing your car off ridiculous jumps are so much fun that completing the missions may take you quite a while. Just do everyone a favor and keep the kids away from it.
Graphics: The graphics have improved substantially in the PC version, but the edges are still rough, probably due to Liberty City's massive size.
Sound: Nine different radio stations will amuse you, and you can add your own .MP3 files. The gunshots, explosions, and screams are interesting though not special.
Enjoyment: It's all about having fun with plenty of things to do. Not appropriate for kids.
Replay Value: With over 80 missions and imaginative things to do (like jumping into the river), you can play indefinitely.
People who downloaded Grand Theft Auto 3 have also downloaded:
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Grand Theft Auto 2, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Grand Theft Auto, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Grand Theft Auto London 1969, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (a.k.a. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone), Age of Empires 2: The Age of Kings
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