Battle of the GTAs

Grand Theft Auto
1998 | PC, PSone, Game Boy Color

The setup: OK, this is going to be real simple, which might come as a shock to those who cut their teeth on the PS2 GTAs and their meaty storylines: you're a criminal, and it's your job to go around messing people the hell up. And that's about it. Answer ringing phone booths, and you'll get missions from shady underworld types and eventually move on to new cities. Oh, and there's multiplayer, which is cool, but don't get too excited - it's all in top-down 2D.

The rides: A staggering number of sweet-looking 2D cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles, tanks and other vehicles that all featured surprisingly realistic and varied handling, but were still hard as hell to control thanks to the camera angle.

The criminals: Eight interchangeable wannabe thugs (four of whom are women) with simple names like Bubba, Travis and Katie. But apart from slightly changing your avatar's color scheme, the character you pick doesn't really affect anything.

The town: The original GTA actually featured three full towns, an accomplishment that wasn't repeated until 2004's San Andreas. Interestingly, all three reappeared as settings for later games, although they were completely redesigned: Liberty City, Vice City and San Andreas, which back then was just a San Francisco analogue instead of an entire state.

The music: A nice variety of late-'90s hip-hop and rock tunes by artists who are still ultra-obscure today, all of which were tied to a certain kind of car - no switchable radio stations for you, early GTA fans!

The violence: Bloody, but pretty cartoony and hard to take seriously, since it was all just tiny stick-men running each other over with tiny cars and firing guns that shot power pellets. Unlike latter-day GTAs, though, you actually did score points by killing random pedestrians - and cops were worth extra. Looks like the haters knew what they were talking about after all.

Why it's the best: If there's any reason why this could be the best, it's because it's the first. The PC version in particular still looks slick and impressive for a 2D game, and it features online multiplayer matches - something that, after GTA2, the series didn't officially do again until 2005's Liberty City Stories.

Why it isn't: Like so many games from the PSone era, this is interesting as a novelty, but it doesn't have much appeal beyond that. Especially not if you've played any Grand Theft Auto past GTAIII - after that, the top-down 2D world and simplistic mission structure feel painfully limiting. It's also a showcase for how far the series' sense of humor has come - seriously, can you imagine a modern-day GTA featuring a "fart" button?

Does it hold up? No, and it wasn't even that good in 1998. Don’t believe us? Try it yourself.

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  • JosefMotley - February 15, 2010 9:26 a.m.

    Personally I think there should have been a "no winners" result. Not because I hate GTA. but because i loved it so much and have been continually disappointed by the series since vice city. obviously GTA3 is pretty much unplayable now and has no in-game map and ridiculous missions. by comparison, when vice city came out it felt like the franchise had been suddenly sold to nintendo - it was actually fair and fun for the first time. sadly they messed vice city up not with the game itself but with its painfully bugged, rushed and ultimately intensely overrated sequel san andreas. though san andreas was by almost all areas the worse game, the fact it finally introduced climbing meant it ruined vice city. san andreas is terrible plotwise in comparison and while it has some good missions, has far too many bad ones i never want to replay again. and now every time i try and play vice city again i'm just frustrated that you can't climb (couldn't care less about swimming, it was actually less annoying just dying in vice city, in san andreas falling in the usually led to deliberately drowning yourself instantly anyway, it was either that or swim round the coastline of somewhere for hours trying to find something you could climb up... AND THEY HAD LADDERS IN THAT GAME THAT WERE JUST FOR SHOW AND YOU COULDN'T CLIMB BUT STUCK OUT OF THE WATER TEMPTINGLY NONETHELESS. HOW DARE THEY) anyway so san andreas by introducing ONE good new feature managed to run the entire back catalogue of the series into the ground for good. question is: can you climb in vice city stories? if so, that's the only decent GTA left. i need to play it again and properly, not drunk in a roomful of people taking it in turns this time....
  • A.J_Smiles - November 9, 2008 9:47 p.m.

    Gang, I was rooting for Vice City. I mean San Andreas is obviously better, but VC was my first GTA game ever and I love it

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