Welcome back to part II of my retrospective look at the GTA franchise where I cover the 2nd generation of the GTA franchise.
GTA III: Released in 2001 came the full sequel to GTA 2. Only this time, the 2D top down sprite based graphics and environment that seemed to annoy many gamers and reviewers had been dropped and DMA design turned the GTA world 3D for the first time with GTA III.
Reusing the New York inspired city of Liberty City from the original GTA. GTA III gave us an whole new and 3D environment for us to explore and raise hell in. Also of note, we had a “proper” story to follow and real fleshed out characters to interact with…GTA was growing up and this is the first title in the series that really showed there was more to this franchise then just mindless violence.
You played as a unmanned (at the time) character that was betrayed, shot and left for dead by your girlfriend: Catalina while robbing a bank. You recover from your wounds and are sentenced to 10 years in prison, but while being transported to prison you are inadvertently set free along with a fellow criminal called 8-Ball. This is where the game picks up with you having nothing to your name other than a few low level criminal contacts and wanting to extract vengeance on Catalina.
The plot was simple, but it worked.
While we only now had 1 map with GTA III in Liberty City, it was such a beautifully created, detailed and diverse map. Liberty City had various areas from suburbs, docks, an airport, Chinatown and even a high-end uptown area, plus many others. Each area had it’s own unique style and tone and even vehicles.
There was so much detail and diversity it was almost unreal at the time.
Other details included a day to night cycle, dynamic rain. Pedestrians and traffic with impressive AI. Not all the details were visual however as a welcome return was the radio when in a vehicle. Not only did we have fully licensed music (including a station that played the Scarface soundtrack) but the radio also featured chat shows which would include funny adverts and dialogue and also even plot/story and character elements. This all added to the “realism” of the game’s world and was very impressive at the time.
GTA III offered a world that was not only big, but also interesting and would reward the player for exploration and experimentation. Giving you many gameplay options if you felt like leaving the story for a while, you had an entire playground to play in. Including the ability to be a taxi driver, ambulance driver, fireman, stuntman and other distractions…or you could just go on a killing rampage with a variety of weapons and vehicles.
There was so much game packed into this title everything similar released afterwards was labeled a “GTA III clone” and clones there were aplenty of as GTA III opened the floodgates to other developers to try and cash in on GTA III’s success.
GTA III’s release was delayed from September to October of 2001. The reason for the slight delay? The game was set in a fictional New York and set in 2001…
As the developers themselves said at the time: “Grand Theft Auto III, has been delayed slightly. This decision is based on two factors, firstly it has been a little difficult to get work done in downtown Manhattan in the last week since basic communications infrastructure has been intermittent at best, and secondly we felt that a full content review of all our titles was absolutely necessary for us in light of the horrifying event we all witnessed in NYC last week. As for Grand Theft Auto III, since the game is so huge the review is no short process. So far we have come across certain small contextual references that we were no longer comfortable with, as well as a couple of very rare game play instances that no longer felt appropriate to us. We apologize to you and all the people waiting for this game to ship for the delays that have now ensued, but I’m sure you can understand our reasoning.”
So what changes were made to GTA III post-9/11?
Darkel was to be an in-game NPC. Mentioned in several early video game publications and websites, Darkel was to be a revolutionary “terrorist” who vowed to bring down the city’s economy. One mission involved stealing an ice cream van, using it to attract pedestrians, then blowing it and them up up. Darkel was also originally expected to give out the rampage missions and also had his voice recorded for these missions. Rockstar later decided that they would return to the original system of giving out rampages via tokens you pick up as featured in GTA and GTA 2. Although Darkel and his missions were removed from the game, the character remains listed in the manual’s credits, as well as having a character texture retained in the game’s data files.
One other change made shortly after 9/11 were the police cars paint scheme. The old color scheme of blue with white stripes (seen in previews and the manual map) specifically resembled and referenced that of the NYPD. The new colour scheme of the in game police is modelled in a generic black-and-white design instead.
There were also slight dialogue changes from some of the pedestrians as well as from the radio.
Overall it had been reported only about 1% of the game’s total had been altered post-9/11.
One of the biggest changes was to the original box art (see images above) which took on the now iconic GTA cover art still used for all games from that point on up to today. Though the European original release maintained the original artwork.
GTA III met with huge critical praise, won several gaming awards and broke sales records. GTA III became the game that really put the franchise on the map.
Being hugely impressed by GTA and how it’s “matured” as a series over GTA and GTA 2. We could not wait to see where GTA would go in the “future”…
GTA: Vice City: in 2002 we found out where the “future” of GTA lay…in the past. GTA: Vice City was set in 1986 making this “sequel” in fact a prequel. DMA Design finally became Rockstar North making this game the first officially developed Rockstar GTA title.
GTA: Vice City took inspiration from 80’s TV and movies including Miami Vice and Scarface plus many others.
This time the setting was Vice City, a map inspired by Miami.
With you controlling Tommy Vercetti (a Tony Montana wannabe voiced by Ray Liotta). Tommy was a former member of the Forelli “family” having been recently released from prison after serving 15 years for murder.
Sonny Forelli (Tommy’s old boss) feels Tommy being in Liberty City will heighten tensions between the other Liberty City families and bring unwanted attention to Sonny’s organisation and criminal activities. Sonny decides to promote Tommy to “Capo” and then sends Tommy to Vice City to work with a crooked lawyer and Sonny’s contact, Ken Rosenberg. Ken acts as a buyer for a series of cocaine deals for Sonny, whose intent is to expand his family activities and to overrun the Liberty drug market with the high-end cocaine from Vice City. Wanting to create a monopoly on the Liberty City drug ring to establish the Forelli Crime Family on the top.
Tommy is met at the Vice City Airport by Ken, who gives Tommy info about the coke deal and takes him to the docks, where they are awaited by the Vance Crime Family, prominent drug kingpins of Vice City led by Victor Vance. As they settle the deal, they are ambushed by several armed and masked men, who kill Victor and Tommy’s bodyguards. Tommy narrowly flees the docks with Ken, and as a result, he ultimately loses both Forelli’s money and the cocaine in the process.
Tommy informs Sonny of the ambush, when Sonny loses his temper and threatens Tommy with the consequences of attempting to cheat the Mafia. Tommy promises to retrieve the money and the cocaine and kill whoever was responsible for the ambush.
And there’s the plot for GTA: Vice City.
Being set in the 1980’s, GTA: Vice City gave us a great soundtrack (probably the best in GTA yet), plenty of in-jokes and references and an amazing setting. The game also featured a typical 80’s “greed is good” message.
GTA: Vice City added so much more content over GTA III while still maintaining that classic GTA style gameplay.
Great new features included the ability to buy property and earn cash from those properties, being able to buy and change clothing, over two and a half times as many vehicles than in GTA III, 40 weapons (GTA III had 11). Plus a few minor tweaks that added to the world and gameplay like: shooting glass and car tires, the ability to kneel behind cover, fire weapons forward when in vehicle, and many other minor tweaks that improved the major as well as the minor…but you still could not swim.
Additional vehicles included: motorbikes, boats and even helicopters and a flyable seaplane.
Returning where the many distractions from GTA III. But along with the return of taxi, ambulance, fireman, vigilante missions. Pizza delivery and even driving a bus picking up passengers were added. Just more fun to be had and more things to do.
The map felt even more “alive” than in GTA III with it’s attention to detail and improved AI. Pedestrians no longer just walked around the streets…they had their own lives. They would read a newspaper, sit on a beach interact with other pedestrians, rollerblade, fight with each other and even commit crimes. So many details to spot that added to the overall feel of the game. There were also several buildings you could enter for the first time in GTA and even added the ability to rob stores.
So many little details and gameplay options, plus many references and jokes to 80’s TV and film made this the best GTA title yet (and still my personal favourite in the franchise). It was the best Scarface game we had…until the release of the official Scarface game that is.
GTA: Vice City was released it met with plenty of controversy including;
Being labelled as “violent” and “explicit”, by many special interest groups, some of whom even suggested that parental supervision is necessary when children play the game, despite the fact that children were never the game’s intended audience to begin with and the game was given a mature rating.
Cuban-American and Haitian-American civil rights organisations in Florida (Vice City is based on Miami, Florida) publicly criticised the title, contending that the game essentially invited people to harm immigrants from those two nations. The groups claimed racism and incitement to genocide attracted a good deal of public attention towards GTA: Vice City.
The GTA series has and will always be attached to “controversy” as we’ll find out later…
Still, GTA: Vice City was still praised by reviewers noting that GTA: Vice City is more than just a quick makeover/update of GTA III. Many reviewers praised the game’s gameplay and open world, plus the details and feeling of “living” it portrayed.
GTA just seemed to keep on getting better and better, so what was next?
GTA: San Andreas: 2004 came around and what was next, we didn’t quite anticipate. While previous GTA titles gave us great, open world cities to explore. Each game only had 1 city each and we could only explore 1 city at any one time. Even though the original GTA “technically” had 3 cities, we still could only be on 1 city map at any time as they were all separate maps.
What GTA: San Andreas brought was not just 1 city, not even just 2 cities…nope not even just 3 cities. But this title gave us 3 cities fully explorable in that GTA style, but also featured several smaller rural townlets to be found out in the explorable countryside…yes countryside including rolling hills and even a mountain to climb plus even a desert area with it’s own unique secrets to find. All that combines into 1 huge map to fully explore.
This was most definitely the biggest and most ambitious GTA game to date.
The cities were: Los Santos GTAs version of Los Angeles, San Fierro inspired by San Francisco, and finally Las Venturas which was the Las Vegas of the GTA world. Plus the rural countryside including Mount Chiliad based on Mount Diablo and a desert area inspired by the Nevada desert.
This time the game was set in 1992 where you play as Carl Johnson (CJ).
CJ returned to San Andreas after spending 5 years in Liberty City due to receiving a phone call from his brother; Sean “Sweet” Johnson to inform CJ of their mother’s murder.
Shortly after CJ arrives at San Andreas airport, he is picked up by a group of corrupt LSPD officers led by Frank Tenpenny (voiced by Samuel L Jackson). Frank has his cohorts consisting of two other officers; Eddie Pulaski (Chris Penn) and Jimmy Hernandez. Frank Tenpenny implicates CJ in the murder of a police officer Pendlebury, that Tenpenny himself committed. Tenpenny threatens to frame CJ for murder if he does not co-operate with them.
There’s your plot for GTA: San Andreas. CJ trying to find the killers of his mother while being blackmailed by corrupt police officers.
GTA: San Andreas, like GTA: Vice City before it, took its inspiration from TV and movies. Especially those “gangsta” movies of the early 90’s like; Boyz n The Hood, South Central, Menace II Society and many others.
This game still maintained that classic GTA gameplay style established with the original and carried through the whole franchise. But now, GTA: San Andreas brought some new ideas to the table…
You could upgrade and customize cars for the first time, even adding hydraulics or nitrous. You could also recruit up to a three-homie gang to help out with missions, drive-bys and general chaos. Plus it was even possible to respond to the comments of passing pedestrians in a positive or negative way.
There was also the option of taking over rival gang areas in “turf wars”. You could go dancing, gambling, commit burglaries, play pool, enter sports events, bet on horses plus so much more.
Also of note was were the light RPG elements that meant you could customize your CJ.
From eating too much fatty, fast food leading to you gaining weight. To woking off all that fat and turning it to muscle in the gym. You could get haircuts and even have different colour hair styles.
Want to get some ink and apply a tattoo or seven, well you can. Along with the massive customisable wardrobe you could make your CJ look as fat, as thin, as fit, as styled, as well dressed (or not) as you like.
But it was not just cosmetics as the effects had an…well an effect. For instance; if you were too fat, you’d find you could not run as fast or as far as if you were fit. If you gained muscle then your melee hits would pack more punch, etc.
But there were other RPG elements that make an effect as each type of weapon (handgun, shotgun, rifle, etc) had an organic experience style to them, meaning the more you used them the better you got with the gun. With upgrades such as faster reloading, more damage and even dual wielding.
Then there were other RPG elements that were applied to CJ himself from stamina that meant you could run faster and further, lungs which lead to you being able to hold your breath underwater longer…oh yes you can swim finally. Even learn new fighting styles.
So you could develop and create your own unique CJ.
There was also the addition of girlfriends who you would have to impress in various way. Some girls like you being fat, some like you being slim, some like you being full of muscles and so on. So you’s had to meet the right requirement to please each of the girls. Then if/when you do start dating them and you made them happy by taking them to places they enjoy, you’d be rewarded with an in game bonus such as special vehicles and clothing.
The vehicle count was upped once again over GTA: Vice City, all while adding things like BMX & mountain bikes, several different planes and even a jetpack…yes a jetpack. You could even go to the airport of the city you were in and catch a commercial flight to any of the other 2 cities. Hell, you could even use the train that ran through the entire map and sit down for a nice relaxing train journey…or even steal the train yourself.
GTA: San Andreas again had a great sense of humor, plenty of jokes and references not only to films but also to other games in the GTA series as there is one particular part that directly ties into the events GTA III.
GTA: San Andreas was big…maybe even “too big”?
But again the newer GTA release was not without its controversy…
GTA: San Andreas was often accused of blatant racism and stereotyping. Jack Thompson labeling San Andreas a “cop-killer simulator”…oh yeah and there was that whole “hot coffee” thing too…
GTA: San Andreas when released again met with favourable reviews with an average review score of 95%, according to Metacritic. Plus it went on to be the best selling game on the Playstation 2…ever.
There was still more to come in this generation of the GTA franchise with the spin offs: GTA: Liberty City Stories and GTA: Vice City Stories.
GTA: Liberty City Stories: Released in 2005, this was Rockstar’s first of two spin offs and offered a chance to play GTA on the go as it was originally released for the PSP and later ported to the Playstation 2.
In the game you played as Toni Cipriani. Having been forced into living abroad after killing a made man on the orders of Salvatore Leone, Toni decides to return to Liberty City. Upon arrival Toni is greeted by Salvatore and a member of the Leone family, Vincenzo “Lucky Vinnie” Cilli, who rose to prominence during Toni’s absence. Vincenzo is instructed by Salvatore to set Toni up with an apartment and job in Liberty City.
GTA: Liberty City Stories, while brought us back to Liberty City…again (most used city in the franchise so far) also added new features over GTA III including: motorbikes, indoor areas and clothing changes. the game also brought a far better camera system over GTA III. While this was the same map from GTA III, GTA: Liberty City Stories still managed to feel fresh with it’s new additions.
Also of note, this was the first GTA game to offer online multiplayer up to six players featuring; deathmatches, objective-specific battles, races and more.
GTA: Liberty City Stories met with good reviews for the PSP version, but the Playstation 2 version scored lower due to some the removal of certain features.
There was one more GTA stories to come…
GTA: Vice City Stories: Hit the market in 2006 and took us back to Vice City.
With you playing the role of Vic Vance, a corporal in the U.S Army. Vic is a man who came from a poor family, with his brother suffering from asthma and another lazy brother, all he is doing is trying to make money for his dysfunctional family. Vic just arrived in Vice City in 1984 and he is now stationed at Fort Baxter. He arrives at the office of his supervisor, Sergeant Jerry Martinez, a corrupt soldier of the Army who is also a drug smuggler. Jerry instructs Vic to manage a drug deal. Vic arrives on the buyer’s yacht, but they are ambushed by unknown assailants who blow up the boat, leaving only Vic alive.
As with GTA: Liberty City Stories over GTA III, GTA: Vice City Stories made slight improvements over GTA: Vice City. There was even a cameo from musician Phil Collins. Seeing as Phil made cameos in the TV show Miami Vice and GTA: Vice City is inspired by Miami Vice, the cameo actually made some sense.
Again, this was also eventually ported to the Playstation 2, but unlike the last port of their stories spin off with GTA: Liberty City Stories where some elements were removed. The Playstation 2 port actually added new features with the port like new side activities, new jobs and other additions.
GTA: Vice City Stories scored an 86% on Metacritic and met with mostly favourable reviews.
But to be honest, these spin offs were getting a little tiresome and us fans were eagerly awaiting a true sequel and “proper” GTA title.
So with that, let’s get ready for the lastest and newest generation of GTA in part III…