Grand Theft Auto III
2001 | PS2, Xbox, PC
The setup: This was what the fans wanted: Grand Theft Auto III was fully 3D, and it was amazing. The game opens with a robbery, during which your character is shot down by his own crazy-ass girlfriend/accomplice, left for dead and arrested. En route to the slammer, he meets a bomb-maker named 8-Ball who springs him and hooks him up with the local Mafia. What follows is a romp through a cartoonish criminal underworld, as your nameless anti-hero takes on missions from a long procession of underworld figures while he works to track down his psychotic ex and get revenge.
The rides: Cars, trucks and even boats that range from clunky junkers to sleek speed monsters. Oh, and there's a nigh-indestructible tank, too, which can blow apart just about anything. If for some reason you don't feel up to thievery, there's an elevated train that can get you where you need to go. And if you know where to look, there's an extremely hard-to-steer airplane you can steal and almost immediately crash.
The criminal: A silent, nameless carjacker sometimes referred to as Claude (or, in San Andreas, "that mute (expletive)." He may or may not be a younger version of GTA2's lead thug Claude Speed, but either way he's memorably badass, like an urban Man With No Name.
The town: Just Liberty City this time, although it's now a fully 3D, freely explorable hybrid of New York and Chicago, which by the standards of console games in 2001 was practically unimaginable. Liberty consists of three separate islands, linked by wrecked bridges that eventually get repaired as you delve further into the game's storyline, and the scenery in each one is distinct enough to give you a reason to plow forward.
The music: A large selection of hip-hop, rock, pop and other genres (including opera, weirdly) performed by relatively obscure bands. GTAIII also featured a hilarious talk channel that made an instant star out of its writer, producer and host, a radio personality by the name of Lazlow.
The violence: Still pretty cartoony, but a little more disturbing now that the characters are more detailed and can be blown to pieces with rockets and grenades (or have their heads destroyed by your sniper rifle). But at least you don't get points for that - just money, if your target was carrying any. It's also a lot more robust, with players able to cart around a small arsenal of relatively realistic weaponry in their pockets Oh, and this was the one that put hooker-smashing on the radar of would-be watchdogs everywhere.
Why it's the best: This is probably the single most important game of the last generation of game consoles. It's the model on which every car-crime game of the last six years was based, and at the time its free-roaming setup and insane levels of violence made it arguably the best game ever made.
Why it isn't: Have you actually played this thing lately? If you thought the combat in San Andreas was clunky, go back and try GTAIII again. While it was damned impressive for 2001, today it's ugly and awkward. If you're feeling nostalgic for Liberty City, then Liberty City Stories' remastered version is a better way to go.
Does it hold up? Not anymore. It's fun to look back on, but hard to play after you've touched Vice City or San Andreas.
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