Grand Theft Aspirations

Mafia (PC, PS2, Xbox)
Both beauty and beast, the original PC version - which was released after GTA III - received much acclaim, while the console ports that followed were infinitely inferior in comparison.

Rising through the ranks of a family mob may have sounded like an exciting prospect for console gamers but, in practice, it was a lesson in tedium.

Besides the technical problems that hampered it, the disadvantages of a game set in the '30s soon became apparent. Want to drive a fast car? Forget about it - you'd be lucky to reach 60mph. Weapons of mass killage? Well, let's just say that a hunting knife is no substitute for a rocket launcher.

After being dazzled by the bright lights of Vice City, Mafia was a real wet weekend. However, given the plaudits received for the PC version, it would be surprising if publisher Take 2, or developer Illusion Softworks, had no interest in adding a second iteration to the series.

Jak II (PS2)
To ensure this was a more mature, dark and gritty affair than the original, Naughty Dog provided players with a "massive metropolis... three times as large as the entire world of the original Jak and Daxter". Generous, huh?

In that massive metropolis players could, of course, explore at will. They could also steal vehicles, kill the populace and, er, explore at will some more. Yes, 'exploring the city' was really just a clever way of saying 'aimless meandering'.

And as you trudged from mission to mission for the nth time, you cursed the utter pointlessness of the sprawl that Naughty Dog had created.

Trying to pass off what was, quite obviously, a ridiculously enlarged mission hub as an immersive city was a stinker of an idea and a very poorly conceived and executed attempt to ape GTA.

That the series was concluded after its third instalment was no great surprise. It was no great disappointment either.

Simpsons Hit & Run (PS2, Xbox, Cube, PC)
The most blatant and unashamed copycat of the lot is also, by far and away, the most prosperous. Released 16 months ago, Hit & Run is currently top of the budget chart and number eight in the all prices chart - just three places behind GTA San Andreas.

There's no swearing, no violence (at least not the type perceived to harm tiny minds) and no weapons. If you hit too many Springfield residents in your 'borrowed' vehicle, Chief Wiggum's boys give chase and there's no escaping them - they always catch you.

Yet, despite the drastically sanitised makeover, this is still unmistakeably GTA, it's just dressed in yellow and stamped with the Groening uber-licence.

Thankfully, while replicating the GTA DNA, developers Radical Entertainment successfully adopted one core element that other imitators seem to inexplicably overlook: Grand Theft Auto's ability to provide an abundance of unadulterated fun.