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The Grand Theft Auto series began with this 1997 release. Developed by DMA Design, later to become Rockstar North, this adult game cast the player in the role of a criminal and challenged them to steal and murder their way to the top of the underworld. The original game featured basic graphics with an overhead view of the 2D action and the sandbox nature of the huge city environment made this an instant hit. The player was given a relatively free choice about how to progress although the central mission structure involved performing various dirty deeds for the top criminal figures in the city. This was a comical and extremely violent game which spawned one of the most successful videogame franchises ever created.
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The accessible game-play provided a great deal of variety for players. After choosing a character and entering your name you were dumped straight into the game and told that you could pick up jobs from the payphones in the park. Your aim to pass each stage of the game was to accumulate a points total but it was up to you how to go about it. You could accept missions via the payphones, act on tips received on your pager, steal cars and sell them or even just cause general chaos by running over pedestrians and blowing up cars.
The range of missions was vast and dragged the player into drug deals, assassinations and of course theft. The controls were simple and the variety of vehicles you could steal was astounding. Each vehicle handled completely differently and you could hop into parked cars or just turf the driver out of an occupied vehicle and drive away.
The game featured a number of pick ups which were placed around the city environment and grabbing a weapon and some armor was the most important first step. You could also find power-ups, extra lives and even get out of jail free cards. Some of the pick ups could be found just lying around on the street but most were hidden within crates which you had to smash to access. Some of the crates contained kill frenzies which would challenge you to cause as much damage as possible within a short time limit to hit a target score.
The city maps were vast and each was split into two levels which were unlocked as you progressed. Liberty City, San Andreas and Vice City were the destinations you would rampage through and each formed a basic grid map with subtle graphical differences. The lack of an in game map made learning the layout vital although the game did come with a paper fold out map which proved very useful.
Your wanted level was displayed by angry cop heads on the HUD and running people over or firing a gun would get their attention. You could go to a garage and have your car re-sprayed to escape or alternatively completing your current mission or kill frenzy would often throw them off. As your wanted level went up the number and ferocity of the cops coming after you would also increase.
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This was never the most attractive game and the garish city maps and people were textured in a basic fashion. The top down view on the 2D action worked well in terms of game-play but visually it limited what you could see and the range of 2D animations was very simple - just enough to create the intended illusion.
Between levels there were a number of crudely realised cut scenes which served to set the scene. The cartoon nature of the graphics helped to reduce the impact of the violence which was gory and extreme but the game was played largely for laughs and not intended as a serious depiction of the criminal underworld.
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The sound design in the game was excellent and in addition to the various sound effects of weapons and vehicles there were some comedy splats as you ran over pedestrians. You could also gain the bonus “Gouranga!" shout by running over a complete line of orange clad religious nuts. The best facet of the sound was the various radio stations which were linked to specific types of cars, so different cars would play a short loop of a mock radio station with original music recorded for the game. This clever touch really added to the immersion and made the GTA world come to life.
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This is an old title and it was basic in terms of system requirements even when it was released. The minimum specs are extremely low but I would recommend you go for at least 166MHz processor, 16MD RAM, 2MB VESA compatible SVGA graphics card, Soundblaster compatible sound card and 80MB of hard drive space. Your main problem nowadays will probably be getting it to run on a modern operating system as it was released for Windows 95 or 98.
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Grand Theft Auto was a terrific game and the open ended nature which gave the player freedom to plot their own course through the game was a stroke of genius. The subject matter also allowed people to engage their gangster fantasies and the touches of comedy were very nicely handled. What it lacked visually it more than made up for with clever and addictive game-play and it is no surprise that this title spawned such a successful series.
The good news is Rockstar have made the original Grand Theft Auto game available as a completely free and legal download. All you have to do is register on their website. So why not have a look at where it all began?