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Grand Theft Auto III was a landmark release in gaming and proved to be hugely popular with critics and gamers across the world. Developed by DMA Design (soon to become Rockstar North) in 2001 it was the best selling videogame of the year by far. Playing as a criminal in a huge city environment this was the first game in the series to be rendered in full 3D and it combined fantastic visuals with inventive open ended game-play. This was the game that made GTA a well known and loved cultural icon combining elements of driving games and third-person shooter action to produce an unforgettable single player adventure.
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The basic idea remained the same as the original Grand Theft Auto with the player taking on the role of a small time hood and working their way up through the criminal underworld by performing various missions. The game retained a sandbox feel which allowed the player to adopt their own approach but this time a developed story line saw them rise through the ranks working for various dodgy organisations to become a well known criminal face in Liberty City.
The game starts with a cut scene intro in which the player is betrayed by his girlfriend and left for dead. After an escape from prison the player is turned loose in a huge fully 3D city environment and must take on jobs for various dodgy gangs. Working for the Mafia, corrupt police, a media mogul, the Yakuza and the Yardies amongst others the player eventually gets a chance to enact revenge on his traitor girlfriend.
The missions are beautifully designed and range from simple to extremely challenging. Tasks include assassination, robbery, drug dealing and of course car theft. Each mission is introduced with a short cut scene featuring in engine animation and great voiceover work. There is a structure to them but the player is free to choose when they perform a mission and to some extent the order they perform them in. It is also not necessary to complete every mission in order to progress through the story and the game is packed with incidental side tasks which help to create the illusion of a living breathing city in the grip of gang warfare.
One of the best things about the game is the fact that just exploring the beautifully realised city environment is enjoyable in itself. Cruising around in one of around fifty cars that are available there are plenty of sights to take in. There are also several opportunities to make cash from driving taxis and ambulances to working as a vigilante cop or a firefighter.
There is a massive choice of weaponry in the game including baseball bats, shotguns, Uzis, rocket launchers, AK-47s, sniper rifles, Molotov cocktails and hand grenades. You can also use the Uzi to perform drive by shootings by smashing out the side window and so you don’t even need to get out of the car to waste targets.
This game is frighteningly immersive and you can easily lose days driving round the streets of Liberty City. Every aspect of the game is highly polished and it plays like you are the central character in an epic gangster movie.
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Using an adapted version of the RenderWare engine the developers were able to realise a huge detailed city environment on a scale never before seen in a videogame. The draw distance was extremely impressive at the time and you can drive around with minimal loads, cleverly masked by bridges between islands. The city looks like a real city, buildings are well modelled and cleverly textured to give the right impression, the addition of a 24 hour clock means you get to see the city at different times of day and night and the weather effects are excellent. The character models are fairly basic but the animations bring them to life and the city is bustling enough that it feels like the genuine article. The various cars are skilfully modelled and the signs of external damage when you crash are detailed and correct. Graphically speaking this game was a triumph and the visual style really adds to the immersion and often makes incidental action look cinematic.
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Once again the developers realised the importance of good sound effects, music and voiceovers. As you travel around Liberty City the traffic buzzes and individual people on the street murmur lines of comical dialogue to themselves. The radio station system has been adopted again and this time there are nine radio stations to choose from with different types of music and loads of comical voiceover work from the DJs. The talk radio station Chatterbox features some great gags but there are also pop stations, reggae, drum and base, classical, trance, hip-hop and retro 80’s pop options. Perhaps the biggest step up in quality is the voiceover work of the principal characters and they hired big name actors such as Frank Vincent, Joe Pantoliano, Michael Madsen, Kyle MacLachlan and Robert Loggia to bring the criminal bosses to life.
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The game was most successful on the Playstation 2 but the PC version offered easier controls and a slightly smoother visual quality. You need a decent machine to do it justice and at the time these specs were demanding. To run GTA 3 you need at least a 450MHz processor, 96MB RAM, a 16MB DirectX 8.1 graphics card, a DirectX 8.1 compatible sound card and around 500MB of hard drive space.
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I spent days of my life pounding the streets of Liberty City and upon completing the game I was ready to start it again. This is one of the most in depth single player experiences ever created and a single play through offers around 40 hours of game-play but due to the freedom afforded the player and the multiple side missions and tasks there is a great deal of replay value. A multiplayer mode was planned but never released. To be honest when the single player is this good no one is going to complain about the lack of a multiplayer option.
Grand Theft Auto III marked the maturing of the videogame industry with a strongly adult theme and there can be no doubt this game was not aimed at kids. It pushed the medium forward in every respect from game-play and quality to visuals and sound. The game remains one of the most popular titles ever made and it fully justifies the success it has enjoyed.