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SummaryMore of an idea than a complete game.
The GoodGrand Theft Auto is difficult to write about now, given its reception and more importantly its legacy to the gaming world. These factors overshadow the original game, its instant notoriety when first released helped to propel an otherwise simple and slightly behind the times game into the big league and secure room for the developers to capitalise and make vast improvements for the sequels, to become possibly the biggest gaming franchise ever.
The first game takes an interesting premise, and really it's all there is to it, you have a map much like the road play mats for children, and on this map cars and people move around with limited independence. You as a player have the freedom to walk anywhere and steal any car you like and drive around this map, running people over or shooting them, and smashing up the cars. On top of this premise a game has been grafted, with various phone booths around the city offering 'jobs' which try to extract the most from the game play premise, such as stealing certain cars, killing certain people, stopping certain people from being killed etc. That's it. All very fun and entertaining for the first half hour of play, but after that it becomes pretty mundane, and as with most action games the only way to secure interest is to make everything harder. I remember playing this for hours on end as a teenage, but as an adult it all seems too thin, variety is added in the various cities visited and cars but that's all. The game is shot through with dark humour, and is a relief that it doesn't take itself too seriously, down to the infamous running over of Hare Krishnas, surely the controversy that made the series name.
Technically the game looks older than what it is, though it can still be impressive that so large a world was programmed to function so smoothly that there's never lag as you speed across each city. The free-form aspect of play can cause some bugs to occur and several times I had to restart a level as it became impossible to complete.
The BadI found the top down view to be incredibly frustrating as it creates a claustrophobic feel after a while of playing, though I see this is a technical limitation not solved until the advent of GTA3 and compared to other 3D worlds around at the time, it's probably best they stuck to this, allowing for a detailed hand drawn world. The missions try to get every last drop from the game engine, and never really step outside of the bounds of it for the sake of story, and quickly become insipid runs that test the patience of the player rather than provide any motivation to continue the game.
The game does commit one my pet hates of computer games, probably as a legacy of being developed for the Playstation as well as PC, in that you cannot save during a level, it took me several evenings to complete a level, often due to technical bugs.
The Bottom LineFreely available from the developer's website, Grand Theft Auto is really little more now than an historical curio of what would late develop into one of the idiosyncratic game series.
The later games are much more worthy of attention and this provides a view of how it all became. The much vaunted free-form play and mature humour which made it so regarded and scandalous on release has now been copied and brought into the common game experience so much that the original game seems limited by comparison and empty, and instead seems the spark of idea that would lead to the much fuller sequels.