In a brief moment of candor I am going to reveal a startling truth. Writing game reviews is difficult. Often you are forced to find shining points in games that may not directly appeal to you or, even more terrifying, you are unable to properly convey the sheer intensity, quality, and playability of amazing games. This review falls into the later category. Grand Theft Auto III is a game that succeeds on so many levels, rarely falters, and leaves you with a lasting impression about how far video games have truly come. May I be fortunate enough to impart on the reader all of the respect I have for the creators of this video game masterpiece.
Grand Theft Auto III (GTA III) is the third installment of the impressive Grand Theft Auto (GTA) series. It is also a radical departure from its precursors and it’s a gamble that has paid off immensely. The player is thrown into the role of a criminal, intent on earning fortune and glory in imaginary Liberty City. Stealing cars is only a small part of the overall game and becomes as natural as eating or sleeping. In the process of causing mayhem the player interacts with dozens of characters, gameplay elements, and a host of choices. GTA III combines elements from driving games, RPGs, and several other game genres in a way that has never been executed so well.
Graphics in GTA III are, upon first impression, somewhat weak. However, the more the game is played, the more you understand the trade offs that were made. Character models are somewhat blocky and car models are somewhat primitive, but the game engine displays an impressive number of entities at any one time and does so without any frame skip. Speeding through the city, there are an incredible number of unique textures and excellent level design keeps the game moving quickly. The game keeps decent view distance and rarely do vehicles just appear. I found little tearing or other common graphical errors throughout the game. The value is in the details and the graphics are very detailed, although slightly muddled. Weather effects such as fog and rain are instrumented perfectly as you can see reflections off the road and sometimes fog is so thick that you can barely navigate through the city. Day and night are well implemented and you can even see the moon change as the month progresses. The graphics help to suck you into the living, breathing world that is Liberty City. Now common effects such as lens flares are well used, and shadows are most expertly implemented. I found the shadow effects to be most impressive when driving through the tunnels; the shadow underneath your car rotates as you pass underneath lights. The car damage model is excellent also and comes complete with smoke, flying body panels, and detailed suspension.
GTA III’s camera provides for the selection of several different modes and I am positive that each player will be able to find a mode that suits them. The camera allows for good movement control and I never felt hindered by it. This, in my opinion, is a major feat in a game of this nature. I especially enjoyed the ability to select the “classic” GTA overhead view. It was amazing to me how the city was detailed from every angle. Overall the graphics in GTA III are not outwardly impressive but are very functional and show excellent emphasis on the details.
The sound in GTA III is hilarious, and while that may seem an odd descriptor, I find it quite fitting. Game sounds are well recorded and set the perfect environment, gun shots are powerful, and each car rumbles with distinct engine noises. The car radio stations provide for an excellent selection of music and at times are quite comical. There are genres ranging from classical, pop, 80’s, and my personal favorite: jungle. While the station DJ’s may get repetitive after a while, there is still enough variation to not get annoyed. The radio stations properly convey the level of customization that this game allows the player.
Hands down, GTA III has some of the best gameplay that I have ever encountered in a game. The freedom provided by GTA III allows the player to be goal oriented by completing missions for several different crime bosses, or just cause mayhem throughout the city. The game’s story is not very deep but flows well and has several nice twists and turns. Driving control is excellent and it becomes a joy to just cruise the city in some of the faster cars. Various gameplay elements help to add depth to the GTA III experience. Crushing and re-spraying cars, completing jumps, finding packages, eluding police, rescuing patients, extinguishing fires, and capturing other criminals are all part of the daily routine. All of these elements combine to provide an amazing selection of gaming possibilities. Sometimes it is difficult to decide what should be next on the agenda. Once again, the real genius is in the details: the much heralded ability to pick up prostitutes, the various side missions, and the police. The law in GTA III plays a major role and you can even get the army after you, complete with tanks and M16’s. The difficulty level of the game steadily increases as you progress but I never found the game overly difficult. I found it challenging, somewhat frustrating, but never obnoxious.
The story line helps to create links between the different gangs and you will soon find yourself a hated enemy or an adored ally to many of the city gangs. This is carried over from GTA II but I enjoy the implementation much more in GTA III. Overall, the breadth of the gameplay in GTA III is amazing and I believe this game will hold much more replay value than any of the other games in my collection.
GTA III is a masterpiece on so many different levels, and this review is barely able to convey my sheer respect for this game. I anxiously await the next in the series and drool at the possibilities. GTA III is my pick for game of the year and despite all of the other big releases, I feel that every mature PS2 owner must make room in their collection for this video game epic.