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What did Grand Theft Auto III mean to you?

Hollander Cooper, GamesRadar

To me, Grand Theft Auto III meant freedom. I never actually played the game's story missions much – I just wandered around Liberty City collecting hidden packages and killing cops. I can't remember a game that I just... played, like I played GTA III, and despite not actually doing anything in particular, I still have vivid memories from my time with it. Of getting to the top of a building and holding out against cops for as long as possible (and cursing that I had to keep inputting codes to get more ammo). Of stealing that awesome blue car with white stripes from inside the car dealerships. Of getting the tank and just... just driving the fucking tank. It allowed complete freedom, and I'm eternally grateful.

Above: That blue car. That blue car exactly

Sophia Tong, GamesRadar

The only reason I played Grand Theft Auto III was because my brother got it as a Christmas present that year. It wasn’t the kind of game that I was itching to play, since thugs, prostitutes, drugs and brutal violence aren’t really my thing. But after watching him cackle gleefully while making numerous attempts to drive a bus off a steep ramp just to see how much air it could get (and maybe even land it once in a while), I figured I might as well give it a shot.

 Now, maybe if I had started from the beginning, I might have been somewhat interested in the story, but I was passed the controller, and the first thing I did was steal a cab. (I had assumed that was the whole point of the game, since, you know, it’s called Grand Theft Auto.) I then proceeded to run over as many pedestrians as I could in a row, just to see how long I could last before getting arrested. I did this multiple times and laughed at the sounds the pedestrians made as I ran them over – is that wrong? Needless to say, I never got very far, and my interest waned, because while it might have been funny the first few times, I did eventually get tired of mowing down innocent civilians.

Mikel Reparaz, GamesRadar

During summer vacations in my teen years, I used to sleep in late as often as I could. Not (just) because I was lazy, you understand, but because I’d discovered that in that hazy, half-conscious state that comes from waking up and dozing off again, I was a whole lot more likely to suddenly realize that I was dreaming. And once you know you’re dreaming, well, anything’s possible. That same feeling of absolute freedom and control was what I’d hoped to see games deliver for years. Titles like Syndicate and Fallout (both which offered the freedom to explore little worlds and to be a bad guy), were a step in that direction, and the first two GTAs were fantastic (for their time), but their 2D presentation left too much to the imagination. Nothing really came close to what I wanted, until GTA III.

 Liberty City couldn’t have been any more aptly named. Here, for the first time, was an enormous, detailed world to explore on my own terms, a giant consequence-free reality in which I was free – and, in fact, encouraged – to behave as though nobody was looking. Driving off cliffs, stealing planes and punching strangers for no reason was exhilarating, and it only got more exhilarating when I discovered cheats that would let me spawn tanks, make cars fly and experiment freely with the game’s weaponry. That it had a pretty interesting plot to follow once I got tired of messing with the citizenry certainly didn’t hurt, and GTA III remained my perpetual go-to game until Vice City came out a year later.

Above: The second I saw this screenshot and realized a 3D GTA was coming, I just about lost my shit

 Sure, GTA III seems almost limiting in its scope now – Just one little city? No motorcycles or helicopters? One hard-to-find plane with no wings that handles like garbage? – and its controls (which Vice City quickly improved on) now seem kind of terrible. But so what if it was a little clumsy, and maybe even a little ugly? It was a giant playground that reacted semi-realistically to your every impulse, no matter how bizarre or twisted, and if that’s not worth a few trade-offs, then nothing is.

We’re betting more than a few of you have fond memories of your own. What did GTA III mean to you? Good or bad, share it in the comments below.

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20 comments

  • 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 'Wow...am 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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