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

2. It popularized seamless hybrids of driving and on-foot action

For many gamers, GTA III introduced the entire concept of an open world where any vehicle was yours for the taking. Of course, there’s a hint in the game’s title that it wasn’t actually the first time this type of gameplay existed, but even aside from the earlier GTAs, DMA Design (the developer that became Rockstar North) had toyed with the concept in Space Station Silicon Valley (where you didn’t hijack vehicles so much as you possessed robotic creatures) and Body Harvest, which came awfully close to being a prototype for GTA III’s 3D sandbox. Because nobody but the most studious gamers knows what the hell those games even are, however, we have to tip our hat to the original hooker-beater for ushering in the era of run, drive, shoot.

Above: Baseball bat or Humvee? Hmm…

GTA III made “sandbox” a gaming term, and it couldn’t have done it without the interwoven on-foot and on-wheels action. You can’t just plod around a city on foot, after all, so unlike other, more standard action games of the time (which frequently featured distinct vehicle missions separate from the “real” action), GTA III gave players freeform motion. This opened up all kinds of tactical possibilities, like running over enemies, picking a heavy vehicle for increased survivability, and parking your car for impromptu cover.

Above: Getting shot in the back is less of a concern when there's a car behind you to soak up bullets

With driving being such a major part of the game, GTA III couldn’t simply knock out a single physics model and copy-paste it onto all the cars. It needed different behaviors, providing variety and choice – more often than not, specific cars would be better suited to specific missions. In the years since, countless other sandbox games have followed a similar approach, and seamless use of a variety of vehicles has also bled over into less free-form games, like Warhawk, Pursuit Force and the Battlefield series. Even games with no jackable cars, like InFamous and Prototype, probably wouldn’t have developed their sprinting/super jumps/gliding/grinding/parkour without GTA III first showing that to have a truly sprawling world, you need special mechanics for getting around in a hurry. The result is a whole genre of action games in which half the fun isn’t the “action” itself, but the journey along the way.

1. It turned open-world games into a real genre

When GTA III hit, open-world games weren’t really a new thing, but they were relatively rare. PC RPGs like the Elder Scrolls series and Ultima had been giving players absolute freedom for years, and MMOs like EverQuest were setting players loose in huge, detailed 3D worlds. And as we pointed out in the last entry, there were GTA, GTA 2 and Body Harvest, although their 2D presentation and/or obscurity kept them from becoming huge breakout hits.

Above: Body Harvest was GTA III crossed with Earth Defense Force, before either of those things existed. Yeah, you missed out

None of those games, however, managed to create worlds that were quite as vivid and interesting as GTA III’s – or quite as destructible. The freedom to explore sprawling fantasy worlds was one thing, but being able to go apeshit in a convincing, mostly consequence-free clockwork city was quite another.

For some, the result was an unfocused mashup of different game types that didn’t really appeal. But for so many more, GTA III was nothing less than the fulfillment of a promise games had been making for years: a big, open dream world in which we could do whatever the hell we wanted, whenever we wanted to do it, no matter how insane or destructive it might be. It was the world on our own terms, and it was a watershed moment that made open-world sandbox games a genre unto themselves.

Above: For better or (cough) worse

Oh, sure, the initial attempts weren’t much more than (frequently disappointing) knockoffs of GTA’s formula. Gradually, however, sandbox gaming grew and evolved past its criminal origins. Games like Spider-Man 2, Jak II and Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction proved that open worlds could be much more than venal opportunities for joyriding and pedestrian-smashing (although, more often than not, there was plenty of that, too). More recently, series like Assassin’s Creed, Dead Rising, Just Cause, Crackdown and InFamous have refined the genre into something exhilarating, giving players true, complete freedom of movement and lots of room to experiment.

Above: Nothing that led to this existing could possibly be bad

It’s not an approach that works for everyone, of course, but GTA III broke important new ground, and gamers who like to freely explore, experiment with game worlds and generally just tear shit up with no clear agenda owe it a huge debt.

Oct 17, 2011

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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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