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
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.
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
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
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.
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