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The complete history of Grand Theft Auto

Grand Theft Auto III
PS2 / PC / Xbox / October 2001

One PS2 and a year later, GTA in 3D is precisely what Rockstar delivered. But few expected a game with so much detail and depth. Again, the gameplay dynamics in GTA III are almost identical to its predecessors - starting on foot, you can drag hapless motorists from passing vehicles and then drive off into the vast and virtual Liberty City (one of the three cities that featured in the original GTA). As per usual, various paying jobs are available via payphones and you can stray from the mission structure to raise a little unscripted hell. Once again too, the environment was blessed with an extraordinary degree of detail, intelligent AI and more filth and wicked brutality than ever before.

This is classic GTA with a 3D face. GTA III’s detailed Liberty City is irresistibly immersive. Viewed via a third-person perspective, the posh suburban areas contrast with grimy downtown districts; Triad gangs operate out of Chinatown laundries, while sharply-dressed Mafia kingpins live it up in hilltop mansions calling themselves ‘businessmen’. The city feels alive, almost real. Day turns to night as you play, sunshine turns to rain. And fog. Lots of fog. Warring gangs and commercial radio station chit-chat add to the big-city atmosphere. If you stop and stand still, you can expect GTA III’s digital life to go on without you. And eventually steal your car.

As usual, most of the game’s action takes place in a variety of vehicles, each one with handling that feels realistic enough, but has an arcade edge that favors easy street-cruising and frantic car chases. On foot, things are a little less perfect. Aiming the weaponry can often be imprecise and when some missions hinge on your ability to hit-and-run, this can be frustrating. But the crime missions give GTA III the feel of a gangster movie.

You can collect and sell cars, find hidden packages and locate hidden vehicles. And should you want to, you can live life as a taxi driver or play at being a paramedic, ferrying injured citizens to the hospital in a wailing ambulance. Or be a fireman, squirting out car fires with your massive pump. Or a vigilante, squishing criminals in a cop car. Or a psycho, running heinous rampages. Or a stuntman, squealing through the streets looking for sheet glass to shatter and ramps to hit. Or a pilot... you may think that planes,New York-style skyscrapers and a 2001 release were a bad mix, and yes - the terrorists scored another little victory here. Changes were made. But it was to the cop car liveries, not the Dodo. The wings on this horribly tricky light plane (registration Y-ME369) were clipped well before 9/11 - perhaps because of what lurked behind the reservoir of the Cochrane Dam...

GTA III just keeps on giving. It also illustrates how gamers have changed over the years. A demanding adult audience now wants more than cute furry animals (armed with oversized weaponry) bounding around gaudy platform worlds in search of floating coins and orbs.

And let’s face it, the PlayStation 2 was a big part of turning this successful and respected (by knowledgeable people rather than ignorant and self-righteous moralists) series into a phenomenon. The PS2 built a bigger, hipper and (to generalize) more culturally savvy audience than powerful but cantankerous PCs ever could. And, again counter to the proudly stupid assumptions of the “I’m all for the rights of the individual, but that individual is me” brigade, not all PS2 owners are goggle-eyed, blank slate 12-year-olds.

If Gran Turismo satisfied players’ need for fast cars and Pro Evolution Soccer sated their dreams of football glory, then GTA III recreated the gritty, violent action of gangster movies; the wild chases of cops ‘n’ robber shows of many a childhood. It may be seedy and nasty, but it’s proud of it, delivering ‘escapist’ entertainment that lets you play a sinner in Paradise Lost - rather than standing by, tutting, and watching everyone else have all the fun.

GTA III shifted over seven million copies on PS2 alone, winning the Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers Association’s first ‘Diamond Million Seller’ award. Incredibly, GTA III appeared in the top ten of the official Chart Track listings for over 50 weeks. Not even the hotly anticipated PS2 exclusive Metal Gear Solid 2 would compete with that.