For many gamers, the Grand Theft Auto (GTA) series started with Grand Theft Auto 3. Yes, it is the third game in a series, but it throws out a lot of what was done in the first two Grand Theft Auto games and starts almost from scratch. The first two GTA games were modest successes, praised for their non-linear game play and overall fun factor, but they simply aren’t as memorable as the third game in the series. Grand Theft Auto 3 is arguably the most influential game in the GTA series and perhaps one of the most influential games of all time. One can easily categorize it with Super Mario Bros., Legend of Zelda or Street Fighter 2, games that changed the face of gaming itself and spawned countless imitators.
So, what is it about Grand Theft Auto 3 that makes it so special, and what kind of legacy does it leave behind? Let’s take a look.
One of the hallmarks of the Grand Theft Auto series has always been the ability for the player to go anywhere and do anything within the world of the game, regardless of any goals that need to be accomplished. Programmers and gamers have called games like these “sandbox” games, because they essentially drop players in the middle of a virtual sandbox and let them do whatever they want.
This wasn’t a new concept by the time GTA 3 came out; the free-roaming concept is a major part of the appeal of the first two games in the series, and adventure and role-playing games had been using the concept for years. However, the one element of GTA 3 that really sells the concept is that the game’s world is so detailed. The game is set in the fictional Liberty City, but the streets feel like they belong in any big city in the United States, populated with people who have distinct looks, voices and personalities. It feels like a real city, and as players create mayhem, they really feel like they are affecting the world around them.
Violence and Controversy
Video game violence has always been an issue with concerned parents and watchdog groups, and there is plenty to talk about in Grand Theft Auto 3. One could argue that the first two GTA games are a little worse, because they don’t have goals beyond stealing cars and killing people to advance to the next part of the game. GTA 3 at least has something of a story, but video game violence is much more shocking when it takes place in a realistic world. When that violence is combined with the ability to have sex with prostitutes to regain health, strong language and occasional drug references, it becomes clear that Grand Theft Auto 3 is not for kids.
The extreme content of Grand Theft Auto 3 is shocking to many who don’t realize how dark and mature video games have become, but it has redeeming qualities. First of all, the storyline missions are spent doing horrible things, but players are doing them to gangsters, pimps and other dangerous criminals. The “hero” is a bad guy, but so is just about everyone else. The game also has a healthy dose of humor. Crude, often dark humor, but it gives the game a satirical feel that reminds players not to take everything so seriously.
Sequels and Imitators
Like just about every groundbreaking video game, Grand Theft Auto 3 has its fair share of imitators, sequels and spin-offs. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas are essentially meant to be Grand Theft Auto 3 in different settings with different characters, and they improve on nearly everything that works in Grand Theft Auto 3. The graphics are better; the game worlds are bigger and more detailed; the stories are better written. These games have many of their own spin-offs and sequels, but the main GTA series wasn’t continued until 2008, when Grand Theft Auto 4 was released for the XBox 360 and the Playstation 3.
As for imitators, the market is practically flooded with them. Most have taken the sandbox game play of GTA 3 and applied it to their own game worlds, and many have tried to imitate the violence and questionable morals of the franchise to limited success. Many of these games lack the humor, story and characters required to make the more mature content work. Designers seem to think gamers just have fun playing the bad guy and don’t think much further about it.
With the upcoming release of Grand Theft Auto 5, the GTA franchise is showing no signs of slowing down. The series may not have technically started with Grand Theft Auto 3, but it’s the entry that sucked many gamers into the franchise’s twisted yet engaging world.
Patrick Pilkington is a freelance writer focusing on video games, board games, music trivia, entertainment and popular culture, card games, puzzles and other kindred topics; to learn more about gaming visit card kingdom.