reviews\ Jun 28, 2002 at 8:00 pm

Grand Theft Auto III - PC - Review

The best selling and most controversial game of the year, which was previously only offered for the PS2, is finally available for PC gamers to enjoy.  Since Grand Theft Auto III is arguably one of the best all-around games ever developed; this is definitely good news for those who've been patiently waiting.

While we all hope that organized crime is not on the rise in the real world; its popularity in movies and now on TV shows has surely been increasing.  People are obviously fascinated with this subject matter, which includes sex, violence, corruption and generally being above the law - and from a game publisher's perspective, it therefore makes sense to produce games based on similar material.   The success of GTA III for PS2 perfectly exhibits this and as a result we'll surely see more similar games in the near future.  However, it's obvious that this game (and others like it) aren't meant for everyone to play, which is why it carries the "M" ESRB rating.  The sex, violence, and graphic nature of this game have resulted in much criticism, but all this has added additional fuel to the game's sales.  Now let's get to the game.

Essentially, Grand Theft Auto III puts you into a gangster movie and lets you choose your own fate.  As an aspiring criminal in Liberty City you must work your way up the crime ladder by doing favors for mob bosses, crooked cops, and others who need someone to do their dirty work. The storyline is not complex, but does have a few surprises along the way.  Initially, some of the jobs range from stealing a car to install a car-bomb in it (and then putting it back) to picking up some specific lady friends for your current boss.  As the game progresses though, missions get significantly more difficult, dangerous, significant, and as a result they pay a lot more too.  They're dangerous jobs, but somebody has to do them, right?

Liberty City is divided into three distinct areas: Portland, which is an industrial zone, Shoreside Vale, the central business district, and Staunton Island, which is a suburban area.  You start off in Portland, but once you get to a certain point in the game you can take a tunnel/bridge over to the other places.  Each of these areas is unique in many respects, including the landscape, the gangs running the streets, and the vehicles that are found on the roads.  The on-screen map makes it easy to navigate the city, but for detailed info there's also a huge foldout map that comes with the game.  In each area there's a hideout where you can store cars at and lay low for a bit to let things cool down.  Going to these places also lets you save the game.

One of the main components in this game is obviously car-jacking, which although simple, is quite fun.  When stealing a car, most of the time the driver gets scared and lets you easily get away with their car.  However, sometimes they become fairly upset and try to fight you, so it often becomes more interesting.  Having an appropriate car is essential in many missions because they do have considerably different characteristics.  Small, low sports cars handle great and often help to get you out of bad situations, but they may not be able to take as much abuse as a larger truck, for example.  You must switch cars often depending on the situation and condition of your current vehicle.  With the cops on your tail, you often get rammed or accidentally hit objects so the cars get very beat up and eventually smoke then explode.  The damage modeling on the vehicles is very realistic, so when the hood comes off you can see the engine, etc.

To let you know whether or not the police are onto you, there's a wanted level meter that goes from 0 to 5 starts (with 5 being the highest wanted level).  Once you commit a noticeable crime, this wanted level often, but not always, goes up to one star or more.  When the level is above two or three, the cops will be right on your tail and this is when the fun begins.  If you get up to four or five stars, you'll be chased by helicopters and higher authorities - it gets pretty crazy!  In these situations, it's essential to maneuver your car, truck, or whatever vehicle you have in ways never before thought possible.  If you lose them for long enough the level will start going down until it eventually goes to zero and you can go out in public again.  Also, there are some stars placed around the level that take your wanted level down a notch.  These are usually placed in areas that aren't easy to get to, such as alleys, in between two jumps, etc.  Getting chased is fairly exhilarating, especially when you've almost completed a mission and you don't want to blow it right at the end.

A great thing about this game is that it's non-linear.  There's no set order to complete the missions, and there's no certain way you must go to complete the specific objectives.  Basically, there are various bosses, which show up on the map, who reside in different parts of the city and as you gain their trust, you can stop by to get jobs from them    You end up getting involved with planes, boats, the train, subway, and tons of road vehicles in order to complete these objects, so even though the gameplay may not be amazingly diverse, it's still extremely interesting.  While the PC release doesn't offer any new missions or other additional gameplay elements, it is still a blast to play through.

Also, there are various other game features that are quite different from the rest, which let you have additional fun when not on a job.  For example, you can steal a taxi, police car, fire-truck, or ambulance and turn on a sub-mission that allows you to play taxi driver, cop, fire-fighter or paramedic, respectively.  Additionally, you can get into fights with people on the street, which seems to be the most entertaining for a lot of people.  Sure they're innocent, but hey, it's just a game!  These innocent bystanders often get hit during high-speed pursuits as well and it's sickly entertaining.

Besides the default fighting style of punching and kicking, there are a variety of weapons in the game, including: a baseball bat, pistol, Uzi, shotgun, M-16, AK-47, sniper rifle, flamethrower (which can now be aimed up and down), rocket launcher, grenades and moltov cocktails.  So needless to say, a great amount of damage can be done once these weapons are acquired, which can be done by purchasing them at the local Ammu-nation store.  However, they aren't all available at once.  You earn money both completing missions and by stealing it from people on the street. 

The biggest difference between the PC and PS2 versions is the control scheme, as it's possible to use the mouse and keyboard combination to navigate through Liberty City, rather than only the often constraining gamepad.  Although since some will still probably prefer to utilize a gamepad, this is also an option.  The keyboard / mouse are a great combination when on foot, since you can more easily aim with weapons and more quickly change directions.  In this mode, the game feels similar to Max Payne, which is primarily because of the third person view.  On the other hand, this control scheme is not so great when driving through the city, especially when you first start out.  The keyboard can be solely used to drive or the mouse can be used for steering, but either configuration doesn't match up to either a gamepad or a wheel for driving in terms of precision.

Grand Theft Auto III looks very astounding, but these great graphics don't come without a price.  The high resolution textures and detailed objects require a significant amount of processing power, both in terms of the CPU and video card to run at a smooth rate.  On my test system, even after going down to 800x600 resolution, it still wasn't as smooth as I would have liked, even though this is above the recommended system requirements.  Despite the few hiccups though, this game looks very impressive.  The vast landscapes combined with all the individual moving objects are enough to leave you in awe.  Additionally, the damage to vehicles, people, buildings, and objects on the street couldn't be more realistic.  The detail level is quite high considering the number of unique objects and the overall land area that can be covered.  Also, both the time of day and the weather are accurately portrayed on a graphical level.  The rain looks extremely realistic and the sky at sunset looks just as it should.

The sound in GTA III is phenomenal - nothing was overlooked in this department.  Every element within this game produces distinct sound effects.  This includes all the different vehicles, weapons, objects, and characters.  The muscle cars rumble while the sports cars produce a smoother exhaust note; the pistol sounds nothing like the assault rifle, both in terms of tone and level; and objects make very unique sounds when you run into them depending on what they are.  Much care was also taken in the character development area, as each of the rival gangs and miscellaneous characters around the city have distinct voices, dialects, and sayings when you get into it with them.  Additionally, during the cut-scenes, the voices of the "actors" are top-notch - some are recognizably from The Sopranos, which is pretty neat.  To top it all off, this game supports various types of 3D sound hardware, including EAX, A3D, and other positional cards, making the game even more enticing.

A very cool new feature in this game is a radio station that uses your own mp3 files for the mix.  This station can be tuned in while in a vehicle just like the other entertaining default stations and it really helps to breakup the monotony.  Don't get me wrong, all the radio stations are hilarious and should all be listened to, but there's a point when you've heard everything one too many times.  This is when the mp3 station comes in handy.  Also, unlike many other games, GTA III doesn't simply play your mp3's throughout gameplay without any consideration for drowning out the other sounds.  Instead, mp3 are mixed flawlessly and, for example, the volume fades down to an appropriate level when there's dialogue or sound effects that need to be heard.

The only problem with how this station is setup is that you must put any mp3 files you want to hear in the mp3 directory of the GTA III folder.  Having to copy files from a main library to this location makes little sense as the result is two copies of the same songs.  Also, any files put in this directory must not be in subfolders, since they won't be recognized by the game if they are.  It would have made more sense if you could simply point the game to a directory containing your own mp3s / subfolders of mp3s.

Another cool feature that is only in the PC version is the ability to save replays to a file.  So if you pull off an amazing stunt to get away from the heat or wreak an extraordinary amount of havoc in the city, you can now send out the replays via email, since the files are very small in size.  Also, it's possible to import custom skins into the game, so instead of using the default you can create your own.

Finally, after more than six months of being left out in the cold, PC gamers have access to the infamous GTA III and the final product is very remarkable.  With the advanced graphical capabilities, extensive 3D sound support, an mp3 radio station, and more, this game continues to reign as the top dog and others will continue to be measured against it.

Note: When I first started playing this game I was having some crashing problems, but after upgrading to the latest NVIDIA drivers and getting the GTA III version 1.1 patch, there were no more issues - so make sure you do the same!

As if you didn't already know, this game is rated "M" and is suited only for mature audiences.  It requires roughly 450MB of disk space.

Gameplay: 9
It's the exciting style that the GTA franchise has always been famous for; lots of action, some humor,  tons of possibilities, and overall rock-solid.

Graphics: 8.5
The game looks great, but not everyone has a 2.4GHz CPU, so there are often some delays during gameplay.  There were also a few noticeable clipping issues, but nothing serious.  Other than that, the detail is amazing, the damage modeling is accurate, and the weather / time-of-day effects are great.

Sound: 9.8
The radio stations are very impressive, as they feature quite a variety of musical genres, from reggae to drum and bass, in addition to their hilarious commercials and talk-radio programs.  The sound effects are also perfect in all respects.  GTA III is an instant classic in this department alone and I would have awarded a 10, but the mp3 issue discussed above stopped me from doing so.

Difficulty: 9
This game is fairly challenging, but not completely impossible - a nice balance.  Missions often take more than one try and get progressively harder as you move through the game so you really have to work hard to get somewhere.

Concept: 9.5
You have to steal cars and act like the biggest, baddest tough-guy in town - who'd enjoy that?!?!

Overall: 9.2

GTAIII is an extreme game that promotes unlawful activities without consequences for successfully breaking the law. It is an extreme game for extreme gamers. While the game has drawn a lot of raves, one of GameZone's own reviewers, Ovaldog, did not enjoy the theme of the program. His look at this game takes a contrary stance. If you are not sure if this game is for you, you may want to
read his opinion.


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