Anthony's Film Review

Grand Theft Auto III
(Video Game, 2001)

Grand Theft Auto III is a landmark video game, in terms of both gameplay and controversy...

In 1997, a UK-based video game company called DMA Design developed and released Grand Theft Auto, a game that would set the stage for one of the most controversial yet popular video game series ever. This is a game where the player takes on the role of a violent street criminal who steals cars to get around and participates in crime missions for cash. Missions involve a variety of tasks, such as killing specified human targets, transporting goods, stealing specific vehicles, tailing suspicious characters, and destroying targets with car bombs. The thrill of the game comes from doing missions with the risk of getting arrested ("Busted") or killed ("Wasted") and, in some cases, with constraints such as time limits. The best part is that missions usually have multiple ways to accomplish them, and you the player have the freedom to choose the method.

The big controversy of this game stems from the fact that the player's freedom also allows one to kill pedestrians and cops, accidentally or intentionally, by using weapons or running over them with vehicles. In fact, the game rewards extra points for doing any of these things. Still, the controversy wasn't too widespread because this game was created mainly for the PC, a smaller market than that of a game console system. And with the success of GTA, the game would be followed up with two expansion packs allowing the game to take place in 1960s London as well as the sequel Grand Theft Auto 2.

Pretty soon, DMA Design was renamed Rockstar North and became part of a multinational game development company called Rockstar Games. It is this company that released Grand Theft Auto III in 2001. This game is the first in the GTA series to be design in a three-dimensional format with the player character viewed from behind, rather than a top-down two-dimensional perspective as with the earlier GTA games. It's also the first GTA game, I believe, to be marketed first for a console system (PlayStation 2) before the PC. Both of these factors are the reason why GTA III was highly controversial upon release, not just more so than the earlier GTA games but also more than most other video games released up until that point. That's because the act of killing pedestrians and cops now looks far more realistic and graphic in this 3D format, and you have a much larger population of people playing this game, including (sadly) teenagers.

Think about it. The earlier GTA games feature people as small figures viewed from above, so the act of killing, while appearing violent on screen, has less shock value. In GTA III, the player is much more immersed in the act of killing because of the 3D perspective. Never before has any video game allowed people to virtually participate in seriously violent crimes. From this point on, the notion that video games are relatively safe for kids without influential content is essentially over. And here's another bit of controversy to fuel the flames. GTA III, unlike earlier games, allows the player to pick up a prostitute in a vehicle, drive her to a secluded area for sex, and even kill her afterwards to take her money if one chooses to do so.

The reason I discuss all of this is not because I'm giving this game a negative rating. Rather, I am pointing out that the controversy is perhaps what has made this game so popular and entertaining. When this game first came out, I avoided it. Years later, I would learn to put aside my biases and give it a try, and I'm surprised to learn that I, a law-abiding citizen, can comfortably enjoy this game. With that, let me move on to the gameplay itself.

GTA III has the same basic features of the earlier GTA games I mentioned earlier, like completing crime missions and evading cops. It also gives the player the same freedom as before, such that one can explore the game world in between missions and participate in the missions when he or she chooses. With GTA III, exploration allows the player to discover some fun optional side games, such as performing vehicle stunt jumps at particular ramp surfaces, finding hidden packages placed throughout the game world, performing vigilante missions while driving a stolen police car, and making extra money as a taxi or ambulance driver. Of course, if the player wishes to stick with the game's main content, he or she would just focus on the main crime missions, which, unlike earlier GTA games, follow a story line.

Speaking of the story, it begins with a bank robbery in Liberty City (a fictionalized version of New York). The nameless protagonist that you play is one of the bank robbers, but one of the others, who is your girlfriend named Catalina, shoots you and leaves you to die. Later, after being treated at a hospital, you are transported in a prisoner truck that gets broken into, giving you your freedom. From there, you spend time doing jobs for various criminals in Liberty City, including members of the Italian Mafia, the Yakuza, and a corrupt cop, and you may face trouble with Chinese Triads, Colombian thugs, and Jamaican gangsters. All of this leads up to a final encounter with Catalina, which may be your one and only chance to get revenge.

Let me point out some other cool things about GTA III. Like the previous GTA games, you can listen to the radio while driving any vehicle, and the music featured includes tracks originally produced for the game as well as existing music, mostly lesser known by the mainstream, for which Rockstar paid licensing fees. Also, the radio features entertaining fictional DJs and humorous fake commercials to lighten the mood of the game. Aside from that, you must be careful not to get busted or wasted, or else your weapons are taken away (and, unlike the previous GTA games, you pay a little money to bribe cops for freedom or pay for hospital bills). Otherwise, have fun exploring and uncovering secrets you may not have found otherwise.

I'm not one of those people who played GTA III when it first came out, but I can definitely imagine what that amazement must've felt like for players who enjoyed this game in the months following its release. There is pleasure in being able to choose what you want to do next, and whatever it is you want to do, it's fun no matter what. Overall, GTA III takes video gaming to the next level. No longer is the player confined to a single series of levels to complete in a specific linear order. That's a good thing, because the purpose of a video game is to entertain the player. If players have the freedom to choose from a wide variety of actions to perform, why not let them run loose?

Anthony's Rating:

For more information about Grand Theft Auto III, visit the Internet Movie Database and Moby Games.


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