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Classic game appreciation section: Grand Theft Auto III

Obviously, that’s a problem when the media get hold of it and tabloids were up in arms about this murder simulator. They all pointed to the way the game forces you to have sex with prostitutes and then kill them for their money.

I love to point out that at no point does the game even explain to you that you can pick up prostitutes, or that you can sit in the car with them while it bounces on its suspension (erm... they’re meant to be having sex, but if you move the camera round to the front, they’re both sitting perfectly upright in their respective seats - oops).

And it certainly doesn’t tell you to kill them. So, really, who's the sicko here?

I’m not denying, the violence is the game’s biggest pull (or perhaps second-biggest after the freedom of the sandbox world, but we’ll come to that). My best mate at uni used to love watching me play the game, but he would not touch the controller while it was on. Probably didn’t want to get his hands dirty. Whatever's wrong with this wholesome gameplay?

So it was left to me to decapitate people with sniper rifles, set them alight and torch their cars. But it wasn’t the violence that did it for me. It was that open world. The feeling of driving up to the cliff above the beach at night and just sitting there, listening to Laslow on the radio while the clouds swept in and rain started to patter on the roof of the car.

The best game since Bouncing Bananas

I can remember thinking to myself ‘OK, my Dreamcast wouldn’t have been able to do this’, which is a shame really, because after seeing the subsequent PSP iteration of the same city, Dreamcast probably could have managed a crude but faithful version of GTA III.

Above: Dreamcast GTA III? No, it's the PSP version. But I'd like to think it could have been

But at the time, if any one game showed what PS2 was capable of that other machines simply hadn’t come close to, it was GTA III.

Controversial to the last

I’ve actually only finished two GTA games - III and IV. And I remember being surprised by the end sequence of III, where you save the girl, then during the credits she just won’t shut up, so Claude shoots her dead. You don’t see it, but it just capped off the game’s rebellious personality. I mean, Mario wouldn’t shoot Princess Peach (especially after traipsing through all those damn castles) - he’s a dated icon of a more innocent era.

GTA is a game about everything that’s wrong with society. So its success actually speaks volumes for the state of it.

Above: It's hardly Mickey Mouse's Castle of Illusion

So is this really what people want? Yes. The days of cutesy videogames were well and truly over. For better or worse, the climate was now about realism, violence and sitting in a car with a lady while it inexplicably rocked on its axles. Manual hydraulic kits have got a lot to answer for.

20 Oct, 2011

Justin worked on the GamesRadar+ staff for 10 whole years. Imagine that. Now he is a contributor, specialising in racing games, retro, and Sanic.