Grand Theft Auto III - Does It Hold Up?
Grand Theft Auto III is one of those games that manages to truly influence a genre. Though its core mechanics and gameplay are rooted in the action-adventure spectrum, its open world, freedom, and lively environment made it into something more. Simply put, GTA III is considered by many to be the game responsible for the popularity and growth of sandbox games. Back in 2001, there was nothing quite like it, and it spawned several sequels and imitators. Here we are 10 years and several games later, and the question needs to be asked; does GTA III still hold up these days like it did back when it first launched for the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and PC?
I was pretty excited to play GTA III for the first time in years. The last time I played the game was back in 2005 (as indicated by my last save file in the game), so suffice it to say I had played my fair share of new games since. As I watched the opening cutscene, I started getting more pumped and eagerly looked forward to playing the game. The first thing that stood out to me was the visual design. Obviously, because this is a 10-year-old game, it would be foolish of me to expect the visuals to hold up well these days. Surprisingly, I was glad to see that despite the blocky nature of everything, GTA III still sports an enjoyable graphical look. Sure, the characters are ugly and there are some texture issues, but GTA III is still a sweet-looking game, and Liberty City is full of sights and landmarks. That reminds me, when is Rockstar going to make an HD collection of the older GTA games?
Upon getting into the game's missions, I noticed that the introductory tasks weren't all that engaging. Obviously, the game was trying to teach me the basics, but I found it a bit slow for my taste. However, once I got to the beefier missions, I remembered exactly why I fell in love with GTA III all those years ago. The way each string of missions progresses the story is effective, and getting to know the characters you work for is really cool. GTA III was one of those games that furthered its plot with every mission you completed, making for excellent narrative advancement.
After getting through those first few missions, I was enthralled in performing duties for the mob, taking out rival gangs, and clearing driving missions. Even though it's 10 years old, the GTA III rendition of Liberty City is a wonderfully bustling environment that manages to come to life even more during missions. Exploring every district in my free time was fun, but the way I got to check out areas I would otherwise overlook, such as the junkyard, made playing through missions incredibly rewarding. Yes, driving around aimlessly allowed me to experience the world of GTA III, but experiencing it during missions really added a great deal of significance to most areas.
As I played through the game, I stuck mainly to the story missions, but I couldn't help but stray off and see the sights. When I saw a ramp, I wanted to hit it and watch as my car flew through the sky in slow motion. When I spotted a hidden package, I instinctively wanted to hunt down some more so I could get weapons delivered to my hideout. Oh, and don't even get me started on the Rampages. Those mini-missons added such an arcade feel to the game back in 2001, I just had to return to a few of them during my latest play-through.
For all of the side missions and collectibles that GTA III has to offer, though, easily the most popular metagame is tearing sh*t up. Driving through Liberty City, crashing into cars, running over all of those unsuspecting pedestrians, and bustin' caps are all things you can do while you roam the streets. Sure, the cops will be on to you, and they'll start chasing after you, but that's why you have so many guns. That's when you start raising your Wanted Level. Running from the cops may not be something you'd fancy doing in real life, but this isn't real life. No, this is freaking GTA III! You can run from the cops, and then when your car blows up, you can pop those sonb**ches with your shotgun! The hectic insanity that GTA III introduced and combined with its open world environment made for an amazingly engrossing experience. Not surprisingly, it's still really awesome.
I engaged in a decent amount of pointless crime in between missions, but I soon felt the urge to go back and continue the game's story. Even though it's not my favorite plot in the GTA series (that honor goes to San Andreas), it's enjoyable and interesting to the point where I just wanted to take a break from my wreckless behavior (which essentially means I felt like taking a break from taking a break) and go back to the main goal of the game.
Upon entering the second island in Liberty City, I couldn't help but get excited to open up an entirely new sandbox to play around in, as well as a collection of new mission strands. That's something that always resonated with me about GTA III. After doing everything there was to do on one island, unlocking a new island made for a refreshing gameplay experience. Even now that I played the game 10 years after its launch, I constantly felt like it was rewarding me with more. More content, more cars, more surprises, and more environments to raise hell in.
Seeing how the story shifts with each new alliance adds a nice dynamic to GTA III. Just when you think things won't get any more twisted or sinister, you find out that you're being betrayed. Sometimes, you're the one who has to betray someone. GTA III's story does a tremendous job of making Claude, the silent yet totally badass protagonist, seem like a true criminal who's really just trying to make some cold, hard cash by aligning himself with the mob and turning on his allies without a second thought. He may not be the most animated main character, and his lack of speech makes him totally mysterious, but Claude shines through as a true villain. Hell, to put it bluntly, he's just a greedy d*ck, but that's what makes him so awesome.
If there's one thing that you need when driving around a giant sandbox, it's a solid soundtrack. GTA III featured a collection of original themes, some of which were pretty kick-ass, and others which I never really cared for. Radio stations Head and Game have some pretty cool rock and hip-hop tunes, respectively, and Flashback is an excellent station due to its reliance on music from Scarface. The winner, however, has to be Chatterbox, which features an excellent talk show that's hilarious and witty. Compared to later installments in the series, Chatterbox is fairly limited, and it's a shame more segments weren't added to it. I like listening to talk radio while doing a drive-by on enemy turf, and Chatterbox begins to repeat a bit too soon.
I could probably go on and on, praising almost every aspect of GTA III and making minor complaints about a few of the game's elements here and there, but the fact of the matter is that GTA III is such a well-crafted game that it's amazing even 10 years after its initial launch. With so many other games like Red Dead Redemption, GTA IV, and the bevy of other open world action-adventure titles that have popped up since GTA III (a lot of them from Rockstar), this wonderful open sandbox still stands out as excellence in game design.
It's fun, it's massive, its stylish, and its badass. Sure, the graphics show their age, but they're still pretty decent by today's standards. Even though I must admit that the aiming controls are beginning to feel a bit old school, they're still fully functional, and once you get the hang of it, aiming and gunning down your enemies is a total blast. A decade ago, GTA III was revolutionary, and 10 years later, it's still a worthwhile game that I hope gamers revisit. Even if you just do so to celebrate GTA III's 10th anniversary, I can guarantee you'll get hooked all over again. Now, go cause some mayhem!
The verdict: GTA III still holds up a decade after its release, and it does so with all of the awesome and addictive tropes that made it so revolutionary.