Grand Theft Auto 3
Our protagonist - Claude, Fido, Nameless; whatever you want to call him - has a serious problem. Betrayed, shot and left for dead after a successful robbery by his megalomaniac, power-hungry girlfriend Catalina, he finds himself in the back of an armoured police van en route for a lengthy stay, care of Liberty City’s trigger-happy, donut-munching finest. Yet, despite the dire circumstances it would seem Lady Luck has not abandoned him entirely just yet. One of his co-captives is apparently deemed of some importance, as the Columbians launch a rescue effort for him, and let the other prisoners go free. Teaming up with bomb expert 8-Ball, our friend steals a nearby car and makes haste to a safe house at the behest of his new ally. Taking a short time-out he considers his situation, and what lies ahead: he must climb the insipid criminal ranks of Liberty City. He must pull in every favour he’s ever had and make friends and allies in every dingy corner of this foul, corrupted metropolis. He has one aim: he wants Catalina dead. He wants revenge.
And so begins your climb through the ranks of the darkly satirical world of GTA3. Although we never find out anything about his past, it seems crime is definitely the anti-hero’s forte. Aptly able to handle anything from a lengthy list of illicit activities, you’ll spend your time almost exclusively breaking the law in one way or another. The plot is neither complex nor terribly remarkable, but it’s the almost-teasing progression through the city and the colourful and elaborate cast of characters you meet along the way who make things more interesting and involving.
Theme WeekThis review is part of our inaugural “theme week” of content. Please click this link for more information!One element of GTA3 which is less exaggerated than other titles in the series is your characters’ motivations and progression through Liberty’s criminal underworld: you begin the game as an unknown muscle-for-hire, and end the game as a moderately notorious muscle-for-hire. There is nothing glamorous here; there are no opportunities to build a cocaine empire or spread your gang and businesses across the state, as other GTA stars have enjoyed. Here it is a simple tale of revenge, told through the eyes of a nameless, voiceless, yet strangely emotive and likeable character.
Liberty City is arguably the star of the show. Rockstar’s own New York is a sprawling, clichéd, crime-ridden conurbation. The detail is admirable, the magnitude impressive and the minutiae varied, and numerable. As always, much of the gameworld is wholly incidental - while there are some elaborate set-pieces which only really come into play during their designated missions, on the whole the game carries a greater sense of scale and awe than most of its imitators, and in some cases even its own sequels. And yet, due to the nonlinear nature of the game and some outstanding overall design by Rockstar North (then known as DMA Design), you are free to create your own set-pieces. Of course, these set-pieces will almost certainly revolve around destroying vehicles and killing police and/or the public, but if you find this morally questionable perhaps this isn’t the game for you anyway.
The characters you meet are definitely a highlight, thanks to some larger-than-life personalities and consistently entertaining scripting and cutscene production. You’ll befriend and accept missions from a cacophony of characters, including mafiosi Don Salvatore Leone (and his troublesome trophy wife, Maria), borderline psychotic Yakuza leader Asuka, paranoid corrupt detective Ray Machowski and guru-of-sorts, media mogul Donald Love. You are free to choose missions with whomever you like, and there are usually at least two missions available at any time, adding to the open-ended, nonlinear structure the series is famed for.
To cross this sprawling metropolis you’ll need transport, and in this respect GTA3 does nothing by halves. Everything from buggies, limousines, muscle cars and speedboats are included, with the only real omission being motorbikes (something that was addressed to wonderful effect in Vice City). Air transport is almost entirely nonexistent, with the exception of the elusive Dodo - a small-winged airplane which is tough but extremely satisfying to master, and represents the only real (however brief) opportunity to explore the Y-axis of Liberty City. By and large, vehicles are responsive and you can throw them around without too much fear of damage - besides, a new set of wheels is almost always easily acquired through ‘gentle persuasion’ of the populace.
Travelling on foot is often somewhat less successful and enjoyable than by car. Although you can jump, it is shallow and often fairly impractical; tantalising access to enclosed areas will come only with imagination and some deft stacking skills. You will spend much of your time shooting, and yet it is sadly one of the game’s weakest elements. You can lock onto your target and flit between anyone in your line-of-sight; however the lock-on has an annoying tendency to target non-threatening characters over those plugging lead into your stomach from eleven feet away. It works well enough on the whole, but there are times when you will meet a frustrating and untimely demise and it wasn’t your fault.
Technically speaking, GTA3 was marvellous back in 2001, and it can still impress today. Loading times are few, although they are painfully long. Travelling between any of Liberty’s three districts will see you waiting on the loading screen for the wrong side of thirty seconds, which does spoil the immersion, although this is an acceptable trade off for the overall infrequency of loading. Graphics are fairly detailed - arguably moreso than in Vice City or San Andreas, although the sequels carry more distinct art styling and colours. It is, however, hard to imagine more than a small number of games which sound better than GTA3. Everything from the voiceovers to the radio and music has been produced to an incredibly high standard, accompanied by a script so witty and entertaining you’ll stay in the car just to hear what the DJ comes up with next.
Grand Theft Auto 3 is a good old tale of revenge told with panache, great humour and taking place in a beautiful and beautifully detailed city. While it has been superseded by its own sequels in many respects, there is still much here to admire and discover if you haven’t previously visited Liberty City. Give it a try, and discover why this legendary game spawned an entire genre of inferior imitators.
Eight out of ten