Solomon's Key for the NES was released in Japan on this day in 1986.

Grand Theft Auto III (Windows)

92
MobyRank
100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
3.9
MobyScore
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  Zovni (9366)
Written on  :  Mar 16, 2005
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  4.67 Stars4.67 Stars4.67 Stars4.67 Stars4.67 Stars

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Summary

It may be the bad boy of the videogaming world, but it's also a well-deserved classic.

The Good

There's really not much else I can add to the tons of praises and accolades that everyone and his sister has already written about the revolutionary third installment of the Grand Theft Auto series. Basically it's THAT good.

If you've played any of the GTA titles before, then you might have a good idea of the main concept behind the game. You are a thug/hitman/getaway-driver/criminal that gets dropped in a city and works for several seedy characters doing their dirty work which most of the time involves using the many different vehicles of the city to your advantage. Clever as it was, that concept didn't really make it big time until the series got to this sequel, were thanks to the next generation gaming power of the PS2 and subsequently the PC, it finally got to strut it's stuff and fully develop it's concept of playing the role of a criminal in your own virtual city.

Changing to a 3rd-person perspective the game basically thrusts you in a living, breathing polygonal city crafted with an impressive engine that allows seamless spawning of gigantic buildings, rush-hour like traffic made up of fully detailed cars complete with realistic damage and physics models (to an extent, remember it's not a sim) as well as fantastically animated pedestrians that react to your behavior in different ways and whose models sport such niceties as localized damage for creative murders and different textures/models. The game also features decal textures for nice details such as skid marks, bloody skid marks, reflective surfaces, realtime lighting and realistic weather effects that allow the city to have it's own day/night cycles and everything in between with fog and rain effects as well.

You can take to the streets of Liberty City anytime you want, exploring the many locations to be found and cruising around on foot or in your favourite car (obtained through the time-honored technique of carjacking the series is known for). Of course, this by itself could become unimpressive pretty easily, and quite frankly isn't so much of a feat, as similar "sandbox simulators" that failed to provide the gamer a significant gameplay experience besides that of being left to wonder around on your own were already around (see: Shenmue). No sir, GTA3 is much more than a simple city-cruising game, and it is once you start playing that you realize just how far it's scope extends.

Basically speaking the game covers almost all the bases you can think of when you think of arcade/action gaming. There's every variation of racing gameplay possible, 3D action shootfests, sniping sequences and more, all based around simple yet lovingly crafted missions that always involve you doing shady works for opposing ganglords. This missions mostly follow a main plot, but you have also optional missions that you can tackle or not, (which often yield a bonus of some kind) as well as amuse yourself with the extra minigames/professions such as running fares as a cabby or chasing crooks as a cop which can be as much fun on it's own as the main game in some cases. You can also try to find the extra challenges sprinkled through the city in the form of hidden packages, jump locations or "rampage" missions that involve disposing of a given number of persons/gang members or whatever using a specific weapon or tactic... all without getting the attention of the city's cops, which start tracking you once they see you do messy stuff such as stealing a car or running over someone and whose number and aggressiveness increases with the level of mayhem you cause. And boy can they get vicious! (those FBI dudes would run over their own mothers if they got in their way!). The possibilities are pretty much endless and given the nearly gigantic size of Liberty City (sprawled across 3 different sections) the game offers nearly unlimited gameplay experiences even after you passed that 100% completition mark.

Another key factor in the success of GTA3 is it's use of humor to compensate what was at the time a major concern in the gaming industry and which was it's mature content. Yes, GTA3 is violent and mature, and it deals with criminal organizations, has lots of bloody moments on it as well as plenty of mature situations such as being able to pick up a whore and taking her to do "her thang" in order to regain health (don't you just love that?!). But it's all laced with such a distinct sense of humor that nowhere does the game seem as grim or dark as it is made out to be. The gangmembers are all clever caricatures of the many stereotypes surrounding their particular condition (guess how the Italian mafia or the Yakuzas are portrayed) and practically every element in the game sort of winks at you and tells you not to take it seriously and just have fun. After all, what sort of reaction is one supposed to have when one bombs and murders a group of mafia members with an Ice-cream truck??

The comedy doesn't just work as means to compensate the mature themes of the game, but also gets to strut it's stuff on it's own thanks to the wonderfully scripted radio advertisements, billboards and talk shows that take potshots at everything that composes American pop culture, even taking a jab at the videogame industry with such things as the ads for Pogo the Monkey "Just what the world needs, another cutey platform game!!".

These radio ads and talkshows are just a small part of the other fantastic element in GTA3, and which is it's full fledged collection of fictional radio stations, which you can switch at any moment to cruise around to whatever music you want to, be it teeny-booper pop, 80's classics, hip-hop, rock, classical music or any of the other radio signals that include exceptionally well produced material presented by excellently stereotyped DJs, or lenghty comedy bits such as "Fernando's New Beginnings" in the city's most important talkshow station. All voice-acted with exceptional quality and talent that matches the title's stellar production values.

As a clever extra for the PC version, the game allows you to import your own MP3 files and use them as your very own custom radio as well as other PC-only additions such as being able to customize and change your player's skin (I played my GTA3 as Ben from Full Throttle and a friend of mine did so as Snake from The Simpsons!!) as well as improved control that allows the use of the mouse/keyboard combo we PC users so favor. Quite frankly I have no idea how the hell the PS2 crowd got to enjoy this game using their stupid gamepads and the shitty "classic" controls with auto-aiming and camera-dependant movement, but thanks to the nice guys behind the PC port I don't have to find out and get to rejoice with the freedom my mouse gives me.

The Bad

Minor quirks mostly, those are the only real problems that one can point at the exceptional work of game design that GTA3 is. Everyone has their pet peeve and I'm no exception, but make no mistake, they are all just bitching:

No equalization for the MP3 playback which means some of your files may sound too weak and others too loud. Can't your guy swim?? I understand the use of water as a means of limiting the gaming area, but why does it have to mean instant death? The plane sucks ass pure and simple. Some missions are rather weak, and the plot could be more interesting and involving (see the sequel, Vice City for that). And last but not least, the developers neglected to include a little feature that makes the PC version take a substantial performance hit, I'm talking about the shitty idea of keeping the gargantuan audio files in the game CD.

Not many people took notice of this as being the cause of the game's poor framerates, and even fewer realized that the solution to it is really simple: just download a No-CD crack from your favourite crack site (no I don't know of anyone as all my games are original.... uh...yeah, right...) and then copy all the audio files of the 2nd CD to the Audio directory in the game's root and presto! See? GTA3 can fly even on a P3! But it sure sucks when pirates have to do the developer's work...

The Bottom Line

A fantastic game that using creativity and clever gameplay concepts managed to carve it's place as one of the best titles ever developed for any platform. Plus it's probably the first mature title (understanding "mature" as something more than blood and guts) to attain such a blockbuster/instant classic status and not be relegated to the murky pits of cult-fandom.

If we want to really, really understand GTA3's success we should probably trace it all the way back to the classics of the videogame world, and in fact one can better understand the concept behind the game once one realizes that this is probably the first game to be spawned by the Nintendo generation as an homage to itself. Yes, GTA3 acknowledges such gameplay classics as Super Mario Bros. and the titles every 20-something freak like us grew up with, but does so with the mature interests that we now have, and the result is just fantastic.

This game is a must for anyone, if you really are on a budget and want to play the perfect game then you should probably skip it and get GTA: Vice City which is like the ultra-polished version of GTA3, but still this one is a fantastic experience enjoyable by anyone that loves videogaming at it's best.