There was nothing like Grand Theft Auto III before Grand Theft Auto III. Maybe the notion of an open world game started thanks to Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls series, but GTAIII appeared on consoles before any other open world game of such scale. Further, unlike high fantasy, there was an ounce of realism to the experience. Liberty City is a clear take on New York City, and police are central. Most who experienced the game fondly remember being enemies of state, holding a range of guns, grenades, and a rocket launcher, and trying to make a six-star Wanted Level, the hardest to undo. Interesting that many guides for the game simply teach you how to cause better mayhem. You have to look around to find a guide that takes you through the missions.
Now that I ‘m older, the missions are exactly what I wanted to tackle. There is a lot to see and do, and the voice acting is spot-on. You are a silent protagonist named Claude who works for a very Italian Mafia. Later in the game, you work for the Yakuza and the Colombian Drug Cartel. Though character models are simple, the voice-acting is Hollywood caliber, and done by real people. In GTA: Vice City, the direct sequel, and in subsequent games as well, your character actually speaks. Both Vice City and San Andreas followed the same formula as GTAIII, as did Liberty City Stories and Vice City Stories, former PlayStation Portable exclusives that were later brought to PlayStation 2. This was all before we saw the actual Grand Theft Auto IV. The fourth numbered entry was on a brand new game engine and is my personal favorite.
Yes, police are a big deal, but you can get away with a bit much. Being over the speed limit isn’t cause for arrest. Driving in the oncoming lane and even running red lights isn’t an offense to this police department. Once you cause damage to someone else’s car, the police notice you. It’s a downhill spiral from there, with running over innocent pedestrians and more illegal acts. There was a lot of negativity over the massive amount of mayhem you could cause in the game, but a lot of time has passed and the dust has settled. Though still capable of being hyper-violent, Grand Theft Auto III is from the new millennium, after the industry agreed to use an age-based rating system.
I kept the radio off most of the time. This is a new philosophy in my life. I just don’t listen to music very much. Though I should say the radio in GTAIII is a lot of fun. There’s an all talk radio station brimming with jokes, a strange station of alternative reggae… the well gets deeper and deeper. When Vice City was announced, we learned the game is set in the ’80s, and we got the most wonderful soundtrack: A Flock of Seagulls, Phil Collins (in a “live” performance!), and even a fictional ’80s band “Love Fist” with hair and makeup to match.
There is no better way to play Grand Theft Auto III today than on a PC. There is a strong modding community which has done excellent work. I played with the mod “Xbox Version, PC Conversion,” which ripped the high-resolution textures from the Xbox version and put them in the PC title. There were also changes to lighting, and the result is so-so. I learned from watching a video about game lighting that lighting can be made to look very real, even beyond the capabilities of the current obsession “ray tracing.” In this mod, there are realistic shadows, and traffic lights light up the road a little, but when shadows and light intersect, the result isn’t great. Again, I’ll put faith in the mod community. Even after all these years, Grand Theft Auto III is a gem. Here the open-world game arrives to the masses, and we’re still enjoying the genre and the offshoots today.