What did Grand Theft Auto III mean to you?

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?

Justin Towell, GamesRadar

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.

Charlie Barratt, GamesRadar

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.

Dave Rudden, Official Xbox Magazine

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.”

Henry Gilbert, GamesRadar

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.


  • snothammer - October 22, 2011 11:59 p.m.

    When I was in 7th grade, I had a gamecube and loved it. Seriously, I think I have put more hours into SSBM than any other game, ever. Anyway, my best friend had a PS2. He and his brother played a lot of RPGs, so it seems like a more appropriate choice. Naturally, we'd spend the weekends at each other's houses. Often, we'd rent different games each week to play on each other's consoles. Except for Pikmin, I can't remember a single game we rented for either console, which is probably because I only ever wanted to play one game when we were at his house: GTA 3. I thought it was amazing. I'm not sure I ever completed a mission. But I could spend hours just screwing around doing whatever. One of my favorite gaming memories comes from watching my friend play the game one night. We had started a new file, for some reason, and my friend was about to get in the car with 8-Ball. However, unbeknownst to me, he had memorized several codes and input them all at once. All I saw was some random spinning in circles, and then his character quickly running to the car, only to hop in and have a tank land on top, killing him. We laughed hysterically and I still tell people about that crazy cheat combination. A couple years later, my parents bought me a PS2 and a few games. They didn't buy GTA 3, and I was still underage at the time, so I went without it. Finally, when I turned 18 I bought a copy from Gamestop for a few bucks. I worried that I would think the game was crap due to its age. But I still loved the hell out of it. Now, I did missions, but I could still spend hours doing nothing. In fact, one weekend I had to work a 6am shift at work. I hadn't done that in a long time, so I wasn't sure I could wake myself up in time. So, I decided to stay up all night Friday so I could easily fall asleep early on Saturday before the shift on Sunday. That Friday night, I played GTA 3 from sundown, to after sunrise. I loved it, and it's still a (pathetically) memorable moment from my life. I don't think I'll ever forget the sun rising through my window while simultaneously rising in the game. It was a surreal, special moment. A couple years later, I decided to buy GTA: Vice City. I loved the hell out of that game too. To this day, when I hear 80s music that's in the game, it makes me want to play it so bad. Luckily, my PS2 is packed up until I move out, or else I would never have another productive day off. I have a lot of memories attached to the GTA series. Interestingly, I only own those two GTA games. I haven't bought San Andreas because I wanted to finish Vice City first. But since I'm stuck on missions that annoy me, I'll probably just skip that goal. I haven't bought GTA 4 because I know that since my PS3 is currently hooked up, I wouldn't play another game or do much else. Ironically, I had already purchased Just Cause 2, and I haven't finished any other PS3 games (except for Little Big Planet 2, which I play with my girlfriend) since. So, thank you GTA, for opening gaming up to so many rich and enjoyable possibilities. I've enjoyed the time I've given you. Thanks again. (And yes, I know in many ways that Shenmue did a lot of the revolutionary things GTA 3 did, first. But I played GTA 3 first so it won my heart. Sorry Shenmue. I own a copy. I promise I'll play it someday.)
  • coyoteDUSTER - October 22, 2011 4:01 p.m.

    What I love the most about GTA III are the little things. Your character looking backwards when you drive a car in reverse. Stealing a car and the alarm goes off. Getting carjacked yourself. Other cars pulling over when you're driving with the sirens on. Giving someone the finger when they honk at you. Oh, and kicking in a hooker's skull to get your money back when you're done banging her. It really made Liberty City feel like a real world.
  • Ravenbom - October 22, 2011 10:49 a.m.

    GTA3 got me back into gaming, much like The Bearhat. Not unlike Bearhat, I was more of a PC gamer than a console gamer. I had just gotten over a year and a half addiction to Counter-Strike and was dead tired of the only good console games being the new JRPG which was coming out every month at that point. Then suddenly the game with the most freedom and even role-playing elements came out and I was hooked. My musician buddies who never played games were hooked. Missions became the sideshow for months on end. It was amazing. Suddenly, finishing a game wasn't the reason a game existed.
  • DaveGoose - October 22, 2011 10:37 a.m.

    Great article and PS Mikel and Henry your black and white pictures are f*cking awesome, here is my GTAIII story: When I played old 2D GTA games I always thought the same thing "man if they could bring this into 3D I would lose my sh1t". Realizing the daunting task from a developer standpoint to create a full open world seemed (at the time anyway) more or less like it was not going to happen. When I saw the first screen I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I didn't own a PS2 and had no intentions of buying one but that changed the week GTA 3 came out. I went to a friends house in the morning and played it and it was the video game equivalent of Jesus showing up at a priests door. I was hooked and all we were doing was messing around. My friend had to work that afternoon I went home and got my dad to take me a town over (which was a 30 minute drive) because all the copies in my town had sold out. I bough a PS2, a memory card and GTAIII. All together coming to around $645 bones, my debit card could only use $500 and could only take out $100 from the bank machine, luckily my dad lent me the other $5 so I could get it. Took a serious dent out of my car fund, but it was worth it. I was 16 at the time and I remember just enjoying it, I agree with Mike it became my "go to" game for just random bullshart (replacing the long in the tooth go to game of Goldeneye 007). All in all it was awesome. the next day the bank called me to ask if I was aware of the alrge amount of money I had spent the previous day, I happily replied "yes"
  • festafreak - October 22, 2011 7:39 a.m.

    When this game came out I didn't really feel good killing random people in the street. I didn't play the game at all for the story. All I did was steal a car and drive around crazy trying to get 5 stars so they would chase with tanks. I would then try to steal their tanks and then have my way with the city! If that didn't work I would type giveusatank.
  • inkyspot - October 22, 2011 5:58 a.m.

    GTA got me hardcore into video games, before that I was only watching my brother play and only for a few minutes before I went out. I played this game over and over, only wondering what the next one would look like and be like, I was never disappointed. GTA4 blew my mind. when I pop in that game to this day I am still blown away. I can't wait for GTA5.
  • Mooshon - October 22, 2011 5:20 a.m.

    I first saw GTA 3 when I recommended my friend to buy it. I didn't have a PS2 but having been a big fan of GTA 1 & 2 I knew this was going to be good. GTA in 3d?! The first time I played it though I just couldn't believe it. It looked amazing and you could just do anything you wanted. We just played it with big goofy smiles on, thinking that this was the best game ever made. A few of the lads were living together at the time, and everyone just hung out there playing GTA 3. Drinking and smoking and taking it in turns to survive as long as possible with a 5* wanted level. This game seemed to change everything. I was pretty much the sole geek computer games lover in my group before hand. Not afterwards.
  • Rhymenocerous - October 22, 2011 3:22 a.m.

    GTA III started my love affair with WALKING down streets in open-world games. Yup, gotta love that walk. Also, pretending to be a taxi driver.
  • KishouTenpi - October 22, 2011 2:30 a.m.

    GTA3 to me was a social event Me and my two cousins would gather round the PC and take it in turns trying to get 5 stars I never once played the story, we just had a save that started after the 1st mission, when you were given true freedom and worked from there, no cheats, just cheering each other on.... It was one of the reasons I loved going round to their house :P It was rebellion aswell... I wasnt old enough to buy GTA, I wasn't old enough to buy most games actually :P and my parents refused to buy it me, so I played it there
  • mothbanquet - October 22, 2011 1:56 a.m.

    This was the first game that I can remember thinking ' I really seeing this? Am I really playing this?'. It was a huge step closer to that old dream of having another believeable, utterly real world that you could almost live in. When GTA III was released, gaming became what it is today.
  • D0CCON - October 21, 2011 11 p.m.

    I'm righting this wrong by downloading every GTA on Steam for $12 right now because I never played it. I actually didn't touch a GTA game until I was nearly 16 and a half (or in other terms, 8 years after this came out and GTA 4 was on shelves). I've only played through 4 and I'm playing through San Andreas now, but I'm excited at having access to everything. I doubt I'll enjoy this as much since I'm playing it after the best (and pretty much only) serious one and the best silly one, but some of the missions sound awesome.
  • D0CCON - October 23, 2011 7:04 p.m.

    I've been playing this a bit today (not as much as normal since I was watching the Packer game, but still a few hours) and I must say it holds up remarkably well (even if my PC has this weird way of running old games so that instead of objects reflecting light, they reflect darkness. It's fine at night, but looks a little weird during the day. Also, black appears as dark green). Despite the graphics and the way my PC runs them, I'm amazed with how much fun I'm having with a ten year old 3D game (I already know 2D sprites are timeless and tend to hold up very well).
  • Mexicutioner - October 21, 2011 10:20 p.m.

    When I first started to make friends at a new school I started to go to, I invited a newly made friend to come over and play some GTa. I had just purchased a cheat book, and one of the cheats was called "Extra Gore Mode", which meant that every time some bystander was shot in the leg, it fell off. If shot in the arm, it fell off. If shot in the head, it blew up. If a pedestrian was caught in an explosion, all their limbs flew off and all that was left was a limbless torso. For numerous hours, we killed hundreds and HUNDREDS of pedestrians with a rocket launcher. With the addition of the "All pedestrians carry weapons", and "Pedestrian Riot" cheats, made the experience all the better. To this day, we regularly play GTA 3, Vice City, and San Andreas on a regular basis. I love you GTA 3. Also, Rockstar.
  • Corsair89 - October 21, 2011 10:13 p.m.

    I got my PS2 in mid-2004, a full year after Vice City. I had played VC at my friend's house and I had a blast. I really wanted VC, but my parents saw the strong sexual content on the ESRB label and said no way. So I had to settle for GTAIII instead. I was disappointed at first, but that quickly dissolved after playing for about 10 minutes. The freedom and pointless mayhem were exhilarating. One of my favorite gaming moments is going on top of the roof of the police station and raining a hail of bullets on the unsuspecting pedestrians. The police AI was far too primitive to actually figure out that there were stairs leading to my exact location and they were simply content with running into the wall, where I mowed their asses down. Years later, I was considered old enough for the other GTAs, but they never really recaptured the glory of GTAIII. Vice City was damn close, though.
  • chrisat928 - October 21, 2011 9:55 p.m.

    GTA3, to me, meant endless amounts of fun with my friends, as it kind of invented a new type of multiplayer. We would put in the weapon and armor codes a few times, getting tons of ammo, work our way to a six star wanted level and see how long we could survive. We passed that controller around for hours, and the most time anyone got was about 6 minutes. I usually tapped out around 5. But the best moment though was one time when Will was well past five minutes, and was asking for the armor code again, I read the instant suicide code instead and he flopped dead on the ground, everyone started laughing, and it kept going for about two minutes as Will just sat there looking at the controller. This was something we have kept going through every GTA game including IV and Red Dead Redemption. Although, the number of friends has diminished as time has worn on, it's still fun.
  • Shanetexas - October 21, 2011 9:32 p.m.

    Yeah! That f ucking blue car!
  • Ultimadrago - October 21, 2011 9:16 p.m.

    It was my introduction into a series of fun characters, mindless kill sprees and flying tanks. GTA III was my true introduction to open-world gaming and I haven't stopped loving the genre since.
  • Redeater - October 21, 2011 9:14 p.m.

    Love at first sight. Also countless hours of pointless killing. So much fun.
  • Redeater - October 21, 2011 9:18 p.m.

    I should note that it let my friends and I create new kinds of games while taking turns playing it. My favorite was shooting a gun while in the back of and occupied truck and trying to see how many people you could shoot while the driver hauls ass with you in it.
  • coyoteDUSTER - October 22, 2011 4:03 p.m.

    Excellant pic of Crow!!!!!!!!!!!

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