When Rockstar games released Grand Theft Auto III on the PS2, no one (besides maybe Rockstar) knew how much it would change the status quo of console games.
While the PC already had massive games (Fallout, Everquest, Ultima) consoles had been dominated by linear game-play that was based on completing level after level to get to finish the game. Games like Super Mario World, Crash Bandicoot, and Halo were all driven by that vehicle of just level after level. And that’s fine, but Rockstar decided the standard way of storytelling in console games was pretty goddamn bland, and introduced the idea of sandbox gaming. Essentially taking what PC games like Fallout, and Diablo had, and also what they had done in previous installments of GTA. But put you at ground level.
Video games would never be the same, as “level-based” games became redundant, and small in comparison to the freedom you had in the 3 islands of Liberty City. Pretty much every story mode now had some sort of “open-world” aspect to their game. Even Need For Speed Underground 2 had an open world in-between levels that felt forced.
Rockstar didn’t stop with GTA III. They upped the ante with Vice City which was followed by the crown jewel of the series, San Andreas. And while Vice City was a love note to Scarface (and gamers in general), San Andreas did to GTA what GTA III did to console gaming.
It’s pretty funny to think that a game where the main protagonist doesn’t even say a single word left the most resounding boom with the PS2. The thing that made GTA 3 such a shock to the status quo of console gaming was the vast size of its world and the ways you could accomplish missions. Rockstar’s innovative gameplay combined with solid graphics is ultimately what catapulted Rockstar’s fame and status as one of the premier game developers.
While there was a storyline to the game, if you wanted to just simply do your own thing and wreak havoc in the city, that’s fine. The storyline progression was the only way to unlock other parts of the game (nice reward system, Rockstar), but if you wanted to just drive around jacking cars and picking up hookers, the game wouldn’t stop you. But that’s not the sole reason GTA III was so good. GTA III had silly characters, a sly wit at the advertising of America with the in-game billboards and radio ads, a great soundtrack, and an aesthetic to a single-player game that had never been done before. When Rockstar developed Grand Theft Auto III, they weren’t just making another PS2 game, they were making an entirely new genre.
But everyone knows that if you want to be considered one of the best, you have to consistently prove you’re the best; I mean, imagine the internet memes that would have been made if King James lost the Finals for a third time. But just like Lebron James silenced the haters by balling out, Rockstar proved to everyone in the industry why they’re the best with hit after hit. And if Grand Theft Auto III was the lead-off home run, then Grand Theft Auto: Vice City was the bottom of the 9th, 2-out double that drove in the winning runs. Vice City took everything that GTA III did, and just one-upped it. Not a fan of the dreary and drab Liberty City? What about the sunny beaches and palm fronds of South Beach in Miami? Wished your character talked? Well, Tommy Vercetti had plenty to say. While the graphics stayed the same and the overall feel of the game was similar, Vice City was the Halo 2 to Halo: Combat Evolved. (Okay, the single player of 2 was shit compared to Combat Evolved’s, but Halo 2′s multiplayer literally made Xbox Live what it is today.)
Vice City had improved aiming controls , the ability to actually go inside buildings, boats you could actually drive (and a seaplane too!), and even more inventive yet frustrating ways of accomplishing missions and not dying in the process. And lets not forget the Apache helicopter you could steal (if you were lucky). But just when I thought my hard on for Grand Theft Auto couldn’t get any more stiff, San Andreas made that shit as strong as adamantium.
When Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas came out, I was blown away at the amount of places to explore. Vice City seemed like a sandbox (or a small island for that matter…) compared to the sheer size and variety of San Andreas. In San Andreas, you could drive through the ghetto of Los Santos (LA), the metropolis of San Fierro (San Fran), or the desert city of Las Venturas (Vegas). Players could now fly planes, ride bikes, and even grab a jetpack. The aiming was improved once again so that you could switch between enemies much easier, and instead of just being able to use different guns for different situations, you now had an RPG element of actually leveling up your skill with weapons. For example, when you start out with the MAC-10, you can only use one.
But by the time you level up, you can use two whilst running at the same time. It’s a very small feature to a game that had an immense amount of improvements that truly made San Andreas the crowning achievement of the trilogy (the “grand slam” if you’re still up on the baseball metaphors). As Carl “C.J.” Johnson, you come to the city of Los Santos after your brother informs you of your mother’s murder. Once you arrive at the city, the gang CJ was a part of, Grove Street Families, has lost almost all of its ground and the rival gangs have taken over. The plot is centered around restoring the Grove Street Families’ prominence and finding your mother’s killer while C.J. learns to deal with the demons from his past. It’s a masterpiece of a game, and it finally wooed over the critics hesitating to call Rockstar (makers of Midnight Club in case you forgot) one of the greatest developers on the PS2; which is cemented by the fact that Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is the highest selling PS2 game of all time, by almost 3 million copies.
But whereas San Andreas was the cream of the crop, Grand Theft Auto IV was like the leftovers from Thanksgiving dinner; sure, they’re good, but they’re no fresh turkey dinner.
Honestly, I was disappointed with GTA IV. Whereas San Andreas was the full package that GTA III and Vice City only dreamed of, GTA IV felt like I went to the buffet and came back with too much dessert. It added things like being able to have a girlfriend and do extracurricular activities like bowling and other mini games with your in-game friends. And while I would be fine with just being able to ignore those features for the game, Rockstar seemed to think that realistic social cues were a good thing to increase the realism. And while realism is all fine and good, that level of realism just seems irrelevant and distracting to a video game.
If your friend called you while you were, oh, I don’t know, on a crucial mission to the story, and you didn’t pick up, that friend would be angry that you couldn’t pick up the phone. Okay, is that a realistic feature? You betcha. Is it one I want in my video games? Fuck no. Features like that, combined with driving “realism” that made me feel like every car had wheels made of butter just made the game lackluster to me. This hyper-realism combined with a storyline that after Three games of “You are lowly criminal. Find your way to the top and own the city” just got stale for me. I wasn’t a fan of Niko’s character, and going back to Liberty City didn’t have the same effect on me that I guess it did for people who played more GTA III than Vice City. But I can assure you I am counting the days until Grand Theft Auto V comes out.
But until then, enjoy this trailer for GTA V. The game looks epic. And I do mean “epic” in its dictionary definition: