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Are they still worth playing?

We know that all you GTA heads are neck-deep in the beautifully rendered corpses of mid-level irritating crime-boss douchebags, but let’s take a moment and consider our roots. Liberty wasn’t always this chock-full of cell phone blabbing pedestrians, road raging grandma SUV pilots, and rights-violating officers of the law. In a simpler time, there was only one camera view looking down on all the chaos and the citizens were jaggy stick figures. So would there be a point in downloading free versions ofthe original GTAandGTA 2? Let’s take a look at the evidence...

In the misty, bygone days of 1997, as hard as may be to believe, computers existed. Fortunately, so did a man called David Jones, who worked for a Scottish company called DMA Design. He’d already made his mark with Lemmings - one of the best remembered and most loved puzzle games of all time. The cutesy blue and green characters belied nothing of what Jones was planning to release next, their chirpy suicides a thousand fathoms from the mean streets of Grand Theft Auto. Or Race N Chase, as it was nearly called.

What’s most extraordinary as you go back to these games is how much of the GTA universe was in place from the very beginning. As top-down games, clearly they look strikingly different from the new-fangled techna-ma-complex excitement of a GTA IV, but once you get past this you see that nearly every core element was present. Stealing cars? Well, there’s a clue in the name. Running over innocent people for fun and profit? You can bet your bum. Liberty City, Vice City, San Andreas? Absolutely. Older than you thought, eh? Blowing up buildings, smuggling drugs, working for the mob, mowing down the police... yes, it’s all here. Your local insane politician would have blown a vessel if they’d only heard of computer games at that point.

But what about today? Sitting in your holochamber, surrounded by your Micronytendo PlayBox 720ii, does the original Grand Theft Auto - or even its bells-and-whistles 1999 sequel - still survive? The answer is a rather surprising, and completely pleasant, yes. And it does it in a fashion even better than you might think. It also doesn’t hurt that you can now download them for free. “Yes,” you demand in your obstinate fashion, “But why are these ancient flat games still any good?” We’ll tell you, calm down! Have videogames made you violent or something?

So it’s all about the freedom. At the time the games were released, no one had seen anything quite like it. These were games that dropped you into the middle of a large city, and told you, “Brother, go find something to do.” There were pointers, a couple of missions to get you started, and then it was up to you to answer payphones scattered around the city, and do the jobs available. And most weirdly of all, you fail a mission and it didn’t restart, or offer you a reload. You’d just failed, bucko, and you’d better find some new work soon.

Wait! That’s enough of this past tense nonsense. These games are still excellent now. There are pointers, it still is up to you to answer the payphones... the game still makes you want to. You begin in the infamous Liberty City. There’s not an abundance of story, but it’s clear you’re a jobbing criminal, and you start taking on jobs. The way to complete the city (and move on to Vice City) is to simply score enough points. You can take the tasks on offer and complete them with a remarkable amount of freedom, even here, and without hefty time limits or prescribed routes. Or if you prefer the long road, you can simply keep increasing your bank account by stealing and selling cars to various merchants, or even by being a sociopathic murderer and blitzing your way down the streets like a giant human-chopping lawnmower. It’s really very familiar.