In 1997, DMA Designs would release a crazy driving game, full of violence, theft and comedy. This would be the start of one of the most recognisable franchises of all time: Grand Theft Auto. When I first played GTA in 1997 on the PlayStation (and on the PC later), I just loved its crazy nature. There was something about roaming around the different cities, robbing cars and running over pedestrians. It was mindless fun but I never felt it was anything more than that. In 1999, it would receive a “mission pack” called Grand Theft Auto: London 1961 and a sequel (Grand Theft Auto 2). The sequel added in a new “gang” mechanic where you could become an ally or enemy to the different gangs in the city depending on your actions. GTA2 maintained the top-down view but another game would arrive in 1999 to show us what could be done. Driver from Reflections Interactive moved the camera behind the car, giving us a 3D world to explore. It contained many different cities from the sunny Miami to the rain-drenched New York City. The only thing that was missing was the on-foot action from Grand Theft Auto. This would be added in Driver 2 but it wasn’t exactly ground-breaking, with driving still being the high point. However, this genre was going to see a massive shakeup in 2001. The Grand Theft Auto Trilogy would arrive with a bang.
Grand Theft Auto III
The game that inspired me to write this post (and also the beginning of the GTA Trilogy), Grand Theft Auto III was a colossal shift in the genre. The PlayStation 2 was not long out but did have some impressive looking games, especially compared to what came before it. I remember being excited to get one as I had loved playing it in my friend’s house. I would scan through magazines to see what was coming out and one game caught my eye: Grand Theft Auto III. It looked fantastic. The camera had moved from top-down to street level, the 3D models looked detailed and the on-foot sections looked cool. That Christmas, I finally got my PlayStation 2 and with it were three games; Pro Evolution Soccer, WWF Smackdown: Just Bring It and Grand Theft Auto III. Of the three games, GTA3 was the one I spent the most time with. It blew away my expectations. I had always preferred Driver over GTA because of its gameplay and camera but GTA3 was in a different league all together. It only focused on one city, Liberty City (based on New York) but it was a big map, bustling with life. The game allowed you to explore Portland (one of the three islands) at your leisure. You could dive into the story missions, find secret items, engage in “rampage” missions or just go for a joyride. Progressing with the story unlocked two new islands for you to explore: Staunton Island and Shoreside Vale. Each island had its own theme, from the dockland setting of Portland to the suburbia of Shoreside Vale. The game controlled well, with driving easy to get to grips with. Shooting wasn’t refined but it was a far better experience than some other games. The story was also a great experience, seeing you tangle with the mafia, drug cartels and even a property magnate. Claude was probably one of the flaws with the game as he had literally no personality. The music was fantastic, with several different radio stations all playing licenced music, as well as the wacky Chatterbox FM. GTA as a series had launched in 1997 but it wouldn’t see its popularity explode until GTA3 in 2001 and it was only just beginning.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
For many, this is their favourite in the series and it’s easy to see why. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City would arrive in 2002 and take us back to the 1980s. Set in 1986, Tommy Vercetti has been sent down to sunny Vice City to look after a drug deal. The deal goes south and Tommy now has to fight his way out of trouble. Vice City parodies a lot of 1980s films, most notably Scarface. Tommy is voiced by Ray Liotta and as such he has mountains of personality over Claude (and most other GTA protagonists for that matter). The game looks stylish, with the 1980s Florida setting really driving the presentation. Everything feels like it has a neon tinge to it. The game also adds in new vehicles, such as helicopters and motorbikes for the player to steal. Vice City uses the same engine as GTA3 but it makes some improvements. Shooting is more refined and the player now has an even greater arsenal at their disposal. Weather effects and textures look better, helped by the lively Vice City compared to the grim Liberty City. The game features two major islands but there are smaller ones in between. The comedic value is taken up a notch, helped by Tommy’s personality but also the all-star cast featuring Fairuza Balk, Danny Trejo, Burt Reynolds, Danny Dyer and Dennis Hopper. The 1980s tropes are out in full force, from fast cars to mullets and even 80s rock bands. The games missions also have a wide range of variety including a bank robbery and driving a limo with a bomb in it. The mini games return too, with taxi and ambulance games being joined by selling drugs out of an ice cream van. You can also purchase property in this game which will provide a steady income. The music is pure 80s bliss, with a range of different music stations to listen to so there’s something for everyone. Vice City really did take what was great about GTA3 and improved on it in every possible way. Despite facing newcomers in the genre in the form of The Getaway and Ture Crime: Streets of L.A., Vice City really did stand in a class of its own.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
From the sun-soaked beaches of Vice City, the series would head west to the orange hazed state of San Andreas. The final entry in the GTA Trilogy would arrive in 2004 and what an impact it would make. Vice City had already fought off The Getaway and True Crime: Streets of L.A. but San Andreas was about to blow a recurring foe, Driv3r, out of the water. San Andreas was massive, and I mean massive. Rather than being a city with two or three islands, San Andreas was a full state with cities, forests, deserts and mountains to explore. The three main cities of Los Santos, San Fierro and Las Venturas would be modelled off Los Angeles, San Francisco and Las Vegas respectively. Each city would have its own charms such as the strip in Las Venturas were you could gamble away your money. In between there was Flint County, Whetstone, Red County, Tierra Robada and Bone County to explore. Similar to the previous two entries, these would open up as you progressed in the story. Speaking of the story, you star as Carl Johnson (CJ) as he heads home to attend his mother’s funeral. While there, he runs into crooked cops, rival gangs and rap artists. The story sees characters from previous games turn up (including Claude). It takes the craziness of Vice City and adds in a 1992 West Coast vibe. Inspired by films such as Boyz n The Hood, it is the largest adventure yet. The game also adds in new player abilities, such as the ability to level up your stats through exercise (something that’s a little divisive among fans) and the ability to swim! Yep, that’s a big one! It also pokes fun at Driver, True Crime and The Getaway along the way (the series has always poked fun at Driver though). There’s also the ability to customise CJ’s look, from his clothes to his hair and even his physique. Secrets, side missions and collectables all return as well as training missions to keep you entertained. You can even fly airplanes and get a jetpack. Rockstar would also pull out all the stops to once again provide an all-star voice cast including Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Penn, Ice T, Peter Fonda, James Woods and Axl Rose. As you’d expect, the music is once again top notch, featuring some of the best early 90s licensed songs for you to enjoy. It’s my favourite of the GTA Trilogy.
Grand Theft Auto: Stories
There are two more games set in the GTA3 universe that don’t seem to be making an appearance in the Grand Theft Auto Trilogy Remastered, which is a pity. GTA: Liberty City Stories and GTA: Vice City Stories are PSP games that would later be ported across to the PlayStation 2. As a result, both have lower quality graphics and less content but they’re both great games to play. Liberty City Stories is set in Liberty City in 1998 and follows the events just before GTA3. You control Toni Cipriani as he returns home and tries to fit back in with the mob. Once again, the three islands of Liberty City are fully explorable, with plenty to see and do. Vice City Stories follows Vic Vance, the older brother of Lance Vance from Vice City. The game is set in 1984 as Vice City is starting to see its construction boom. As a result, the city looks a little different from Vice City, with many key areas from the 2002 game missing. The game mixes the “property” system from Vice City and “gang” system from San Andreas to create an “Empire-building” story. These games were well received and helped to further expand the world of GTA3 and all its wacky characters. Hopefully, they’ll get a rerelease soon.
Grand Theft Auto is now an enormous franchise, with games spanning multiple systems including handhelds, PCs and consoles. After San Andreas, the series would take a more realistic approach with Grand Theft Auto IV on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Liberty City was more detailed, car crashes were more brutal and character models looked wonderful. The grim world, populated with some comedic elements, was a stark contrast to the GTA Trilogy. The last full game in the series, Grand Theft Auto V, would be the most successful, spanning three generations, introducing Grand Theft Auto Online, and giving us three playable protagonists that we could freely move between. Set in Los Santos and the surrounding county, GTAV had us pulling off heists, handing hikers over to a cult and rampaging through the desert as Trevor. The three main protagonists all bounced off each other well and the games tone isn’t as grim as GTA IV. Hopefully the next numbered entry will see us head back to the lush beaches of Vice City but it may be a while off yet with how successful GTA V has been. What was your favourite GTA? Do you have any fun memories of the series? Are you hyped for the Grand Theft Auto Trilogy Remaster?