Tomorrow is Grand Theft Auto III’s 10th birthday, and to celebrate, we’ve been cranking out a series of articles this week devoted to the series and what we loved about the third game in particular. What inspires so much love? Well, in 2001, GTA III was something nobody had really seen before: a big, freely explorable 3D world in which we could drive around and behave like psychopaths... or not. It was freedom in a way that games had never really offered before, and – with the help of a slickly presented story and a little ultraviolence – it became a huge success and a pop-cultural phenomenon.
Because of its openness, of course, GTA III meant a lot of different things to a lot of different people. So once again, we’ve polled our editors, this time to ask: what did it mean to you?
It's strange to hear that GTAIII is 10 years old, probably because it was the start of such a new chapter in gaming. I can't think of any other game that's had such an impact on the industry. But personally, whenever someone says its name, I immediately have a flashback vision of the garbage truck mounting the pavements by the docks at night, flattening streetlights for fun. For all its cultural significance, it's all about the unscripted chaos for me. Long live GTA.
Grand Theft Auto III got me back into gaming. When consoles abandoned the timeless 2D sprites of NES, SNES and Genesis for the immediately dated 3D of N64 and PlayStation, I defected to the PC – the polygons there were still pretty rudimentary, but at least they weren’t unrecognizably blurry as well. After several years, however, the prohibitive cost and frustration of upgrading my computer every six months drove me away from games altogether. They were too much trouble, or too much ugly, and I just watched movies instead.
Then a friend showed me GTA III and everything changed. It’d taken another console generation, but 3D was finally justified. How else could Rockstar build an entire (and entirely believable) city for you to explore and exploit from nearly all imaginable angles? The freedom and immersion were more than overwhelming – they were intoxicating, and though I hadn’t touched a controller in years, I suddenly couldn’t put one down. Five years later, I’d not only become addicted to games again, I’d moved to San Francisco to pursue a job in the games industry. So, in a not-so-indirect way, GTA III changed my life. Thanks, Rockstar.
I remember working at a “still branded as Funcoland” GameStop a decade ago, and seeing Grand Theft Auto III being played on our counter-top demo PS2 unit. The game had managed to fly under my radar due to the first two games’ lack of public appreciation and the insane 2001 holiday release slate that was scheduled over the next few weeks (including Metal Gear Solid 2, the original Xbox, and the Nintendo GameCube).
Once I saw this game in motion – so unlike anything I’d ever seen in my 20 years of living and gaming – I knew everything was about to change. GTA III made gaming cool, as our clientele changed from almost exclusively hardcore gamers and Pokemon-trading kids to include former game-haters, as well as adults (some of whom were getting back into gaming after decades, others who were being duped by their kids into purchasing M-rated wares). Pre-orders became big after GTA III shortages inspired panic that folks would miss out on the “next big thing*.” For better or worse, it changed the industry in a major way.
As for me personally, Grand Theft Auto III was (and still is) the realization video gaming’s potential to present a unique experience unlike any other art form. What looks like a normal city on the surface is really the world’s ultimate playground, as you can go (almost) anywhere and take (almost) anything that isn’t stuck on the ground. The multitude of memorable characters and the exceptional soundtrack brought the immersion even deeper. It was so easy to get lost in GTA III’s world – the dozens of hours I spent completing the campaign and dozens more I spent racking up incredible crime sprees while speeding around in sports cars can attest to that. Ten years later, GTA III is still one of my favorite games of all time.
* I apologize for telling any customers of the Levittown, New York Funcoland that State of Emergency would be the “next big thing.”
When I first saw Grand Theft Auto III, it was after I’d been hearing about it for a month after its release. It was Thanksgiving, and I was enjoying Super Monkey Ball on my new GameCube when a friend brought over his PS2 to show me something special. From the outside it looked interesting but simple, though that perception changed when I played it. The mayhem and seeming lack of direction made me appreciate just how unique it was to have a limitless world of possibilities open up. After feeling the freedom of blowing up whatever I wanted, driving whatever I could steal, and going wherever I felt like going in the impressively huge world, I saw that games had been changed forever – and I was on board for this new future.