Written by  :  Steve Hall (353)
Written on  :  Apr 27, 2006
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  4.43 Stars4.43 Stars4.43 Stars4.43 Stars4.43 Stars

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The GTA series just keeps getting better and better.

The Good

In this installment you play CJ, a Los Santos native returning to his home town for his mother's funeral, who quickly re-acquaints himself with his brother, sister and other members of his old 'hood. As with the other GTA games, you find yourself quickly drawn into a world of crime, both organized and not-so-organized. The story has real depth and the various plots and sub-plots are well developed and quite immersive. Some of the missions can be a little tricky to crack, which adds to the challenge, but some are just pure unadulterated fun. Imbed yourself deep enough in the character and you can get really wound-up by the various twist and turns that CJ experiences.

Now for how it looks and plays...

Graphically superb. With a decent system it looks simply stunning. Night and day are handled very well as are the various weather effects. The cars, bikes, planes, boats, etc., all look great and the buildings are very nicely drawn. Up close, the people look a little odd due to the less-than-stellar polygon count, but it's easy to forgive given the scale and depth of the game.

The sound effects and speech are excellent and help develop the fully immersive nature of this game. Music was well presented, as always. Usually I turn off in-game music, but I kept it on for ages in this game. While the music is not to my particular tastes, it does fit the game very well.

The cars, bikes, planes and boats all handle convincingly for the most part. The motion blur at high speeds can be a little disorientating, but I enjoy it. It helps you realize that you're not travelling as fast as you would like to. The layout of the cities and countryside is excellent. Take a long drive to San Fiero and you feel like you're actually going somewhere, although if you grab a bike or a 4WD and go cross country you notice how small the world actually is.

There are plenty of little sub missions which don't advance the story in any way, they just add to the depth. You've got the stadium races, the road races, the flying courses, delivering various 'packages', and so on. They all have a reward which makes them worth doing, but they're not essential - just fun!

I love the open nature of this game. Just as it's predecessors, you can go anywhere and do almost anything. You can spend ages just wandering around and admiring the beauty of the scenery. And there's a lot of fun to just messing around - go for a cruise in a cool car, try some insane stunts on a motorbike, low flying a jet under bridges, checking out your neighbourhood on a BMX, or base-jumping off skyscrapers.

The Bad

This game, as with the previous GTA titles, was developed for the PS2 and ported to the PC. As a result, some of the control concepts and systems are console-inspired which can be a little frustrating to long-term PC gamers, like myself. For example, the flight controls are non-intuitive for someone brought up on classic Microprose flight sims. And if you change your keys so you can fly easily, you'll find other actions like running and driving completely messed up.

Some of the missions annoy me, not because they were hard or stupid, but because they just didn't seem to fit well in the game. I won't spoil anything for anyone who hasn't played it yet, but it's a personal thing - everyone will probably have missions that bug them.

Then there are a few minor niggles that always seem to crop up in these games. The talk radio station lacks the humour of the previous GTA titles, the need to eat to keep your strength up (actually I don't mind this, but I know a lot of people do), the whole dating sub-plot (easily ignored unless you crave that 100% completion). On the whole these do little to detract from the overall game experience.

The Bottom Line

When the original Carmageddon came out almost a decade ago, I was blown away by the ability to drive anywhere I liked. At the time I thought: "All we need now is the ability to get out and wander around, and it'd be perfect." The GTA series was the first games that really brought that out. GTA3 and GTA4 were awesome, but it always bugged me that I couldn't swim. Now you can. In fact you can walk, run, swim, fly, cycle, drive, ride and even jump in the back of someone's pickup truck and be driven around to explore this world. In fact, there's practically nothing this game won't let you do.