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The Top 7… Ways Grand Theft Auto III changed the face of gaming

5. It hammered home the importance of a good soundtrack

No, this isn’t just about licensed music. After all, other games had already forked over cash for the occasional chart-topper, and Grand Theft Auto III’s most recognizable tracks were ripped from Scarface’s soundtrack of ‘80s hyper-cheese. It’s not so much that GTA’s track list was stellar (although it certainly has been ever since), it’s the way the music was incorporated  into the game.

Above: Also the fact that it was sometimes fun to just sit in your car and listen to it

Somewhere between the fall of chiptunes and the rise of clichéd synthetic scores cribbing from Hollywood pap, Rockstar took a different approach and the interactive world became better for it. For starters, nearly all the music played “diegetically.” Pardon the $10 word, but that’s when the music you hear emanates from an onscreen source. In GTA III, almost no music plays without the presence of an in-game radio – no car, no tunes. It’s a small stylistic choice, but when combined with static, ads and DJ chatter, it certainly enhanced what was already hell-bent on being the most realistically immersive, interactive experience the world had ever seen. Think of other atmospheric moments that used iconic songs – your arrival in Rapture. Your abduction in Prey. Now go ahead and tip your hats to GTA.

Music that plays over a movie or game scene is typically meant to yank a specific emotional reaction out of you. GTA, however, took a more authentic approach and let you define your own mood simply by offering a seemingly absurd variety of ear-food. Also, Lazlow’s fake commercials and talk-radio channels are among the funniest things ever written for games.


GTA’s track lists and radio stations swelled to such enormous proportions that it eventually became difficult to catch the same song/bit more than once, which is more than impressive for a game that you can play for over 80 hours. Also, Rockstar was so committed to allowing players to define their own experience that GTA III was among the first games to let you pipe your own music into a custom station (on pretty much every platform except the PS2, anyway), and has stuck by the feature (whenever possible) ever since. Yes, even in the iPhone game.

4. It made celebrity appearances in games a big deal

Grand Theft Auto III wasn’t the first videogame to enlist the help of celebrities to fill in its voice cast; it wasn’t common, but sometimes actors would reprise movie roles in game adaptations, or lend their voices to the occasional character here and there. It wasn’t seen as prestigious, because, well, game developers didn’t treat it as anything special. GTA III changed that, turning the credits of a videogame into something to be proud of. While the main character was completely mute, the secondary characters were played by well-known actors like Frank Vincent, Joe Pantoliano, Michael Madsen and Michael Rapaport.

Above: Frank Vincent's turn as mob boss Salvatore Leone was so memorable, in fact, that he reprised the role twice

They weren’t exactly A-listers, of course, but that’s part of what made it so special: Rockstar didn’t grab Bruce Willis and shove him into the starring role, they chose character actors from popular films and cast them in roles that they would have been cast in had Grand Theft Auto III had been a movie. They were the first developers to treat their script like an actual script, getting the right actors for the parts instead of just haphazardly tossing in recognizable faces whose names would look good in a press release.

Above: Although there may have been one or two notable exceptions to that rule down the road

Rockstar raised the bar for videogame voice acting by not only including well-known actors, but by teasing competent performances out of them, increasing videogames’ overall quality and cultural cachet in the process.

3. Mods, Mods, Mods!

Does the world need a custom skin that makes Claude look like Deadpool? No, but that doesn’t make user-created content any less awesome. It wasn’t just the game itself that made Grand Theft Auto III so important; it was also what players added to the GTA III world once the game arrived on PC that forever raised the bar for the sandbox genre, casting a shadow over every open-world game that followed. Thanks to player-made content, the PC version of GTA 3 made Liberty City the kind of place where anything could happen. It didn’t just change the face of gaming, it made that face look like the Batmobile, gave it a light saber, and sent it to a McDonalds restaurant with a bazooka and an AK47.



Above: Super Sayan Goku steals taxis and gets beat up by homeless people. This is your sandbox

The culture of community-crafted content continued to flourish with the release of Vice City, San Andreas and GTA IV with promising projects, like the Terminator 2 mod for GTA:SA and the Back to the Future: Hill Valley mod for GTA:VC. And while modding was itself nothing new, the mods that players banged together for GTA III were such desirable game-changers that they helped turn modding (or, at least, downloading mods) into a mainstream thing.

22 comments

  • MidianGTX - October 24, 2011 5:17 p.m.

    Space Station Silicon Valley and Body Harvest were excellent, why don't more people know about them? I guess the N64 is partly to blame, but screw console wars, just follow game reviews and buy as much hardware as you can afford.
  • Zepaw - October 22, 2011 12:43 a.m.

    GTA3 was definitely the game that got me into non-Nintendo console games. Pokemon and Mario was about all that was on my radar before then.
  • UnrealCanine - October 20, 2011 6:28 a.m.

    GTAIII allowed extensive modding. Valve allows extensive modding on Steam GTA + Steam = ................oh
  • D0CCON - October 19, 2011 5:08 p.m.

    Open world games are more often than not my favorite types of games out there, so I'll be forever in debt to this game. Thanks a million Rockstar.
  • H2A2I00 - October 19, 2011 10:39 a.m.

    Im proud to say that I have a copy of Body Harvest for my N64 and that game was incredible.
  • AuthorityFigure - October 19, 2011 3:38 a.m.

    This list is also a list of some of the complaints I have of the game.
  • psycho ninja 4 - October 19, 2011 12:55 a.m.

    I could never seem to find a working copy of this game. But when i was able to find a disc that worked (for a while at least) were absolutely awesome.
  • Larinah - October 18, 2011 7:10 p.m.

    I was probably one of the few people that actually played Body Harvest back on the N64... It really was a great game. I loved how you could actually blow up houses, back when destructibility was nowhere to be found.
  • Yeager1122 - October 18, 2011 3:27 p.m.

    Now i wonder what GTA 5 will bring to the table.
  • Deathblow92 - October 18, 2011 1:25 p.m.

    Jokes on you GR, I missed nothing, I've actually played Body Harvest, and I rather liked it.
  • StrayGator - October 18, 2011 12:47 p.m.

    1993 DOOM Mods are huge.
  • Sjoeki - October 18, 2011 10:11 a.m.

    Chatterbox, that was the reason I bought GTA III, pure awesomness.
  • rob619 - October 18, 2011 8:53 a.m.

    If this contributed in the release of Just Cause 2, then hey men! Just Cause rocks...
  • sternparez - October 18, 2011 5:13 a.m.

    HD Collection, now! (I had Body Harvest)
  • KidKatana - October 18, 2011 4:08 a.m.

    Space Station Silicon Valley! If ever there was a game that deserved a sequel to expand on its ideas and improve its mechanics...go on Rockstar, get a sequel on - make it an XBLA/PSN download so you don't lose quite so much money when nobody buys it.
  • inkyspot - October 18, 2011 3:27 a.m.

    The game that changed my life and interest in Video games. Most of the games in my collection are open world. Seriously, it all started for me with GTA 3. Waiting for GTA 5, in the meantime I will endure the pain with the upcoming Saints Row The Third.
  • NanoElite666 - October 17, 2011 9:54 p.m.

    I remember Body Harvest! Had an N64-owning friend way back when who had the game, so I played it a few times.
  • MsSmith - October 17, 2011 8:27 p.m.

    I actually went back and played this a few months ago ago. It might look like complete ballocks graphically now, but it's still a genuinely fun game to play even to this day. :)
  • BrittonPeele - October 17, 2011 8:05 p.m.

    Now I just want to play Body Harvest and Space Station Silicon Valley.

Showing 1-20 of 22 comments

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