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Grand Theft Auto: Part IV

Here is the final part of my retrospective of the GTA franchise where I offer my own personal views on the main games in the series and share hopes for the franchise in the future.

GTA logo

GTA as a whole has been one amazing and thrilling journey, from playing the original back in 1997 to getting lost (in a good way) in GTA V today. Seeing the evolution of this series has been as rewarding as it has been exciting.

From humble beginnings in the original GTA with it’s simplistic gameplay to today’s efforts and their much deeper and involved stories, characters and style. GTA has had plenty of ups and downs over the years.

Lets start at the beginning…

GTA: Back in 1997 when I first played the original GTA, it was a gaming experience that left a lasting impression on me. The game was very unique for the time with allowing us gamers to be a bad guy. But there was also that open world aspect giving us freedom to do whatever we wanted within the game world. It was not the first open world game…but it was one of the best and most detailed.
I still think GTA has some great gameplay even today and should rightfully be remembered as the game that started a worldwide popular franchise.

GTA 2: This was pretty much more of the same, but with a few bells & whistles. The gameplay remained pretty much untouched as did the (now dated) graphics. GTA 2 never really impressed me as much as GTA did, but I still found it a great game overall.

GTA III: Probably the game that most people will remember playing. When GTA dropped the 2D sprite based graphics and went 3D for the first time, people began sit up and take notice. Not my personal favourite game in the franchise, but it is the one that made the gaming world take notice and set in place the future of open world games from that point on.

GTA: Vice City: Still to this day this my own personal favourite of the franchise so far. It just seemed to have nailed everything. From it’s awesome 80’s soundtrack, timeframe and attitude. To it’s glorious sun kissed city that was a stark antithesis to that of GTA III’s grittier Liberty City. The characters felt like they were right out of a cheesy 80’s TV show. The plot was a simple “rise to the top” inspired by Scarface. GTA: Vice City got it all right out of the box.

GTA: San Andreas: Often cited as the big “fan favourite”, but for me…not the best. This is where Rockstar seemed to have lost their way and just decided to go for a “bigger is best” attitude. While I did enjoy this game, for me it never felt like a true GTA game and more like someone trying to copy Rockstar’s style. I thought the map was too big and often lifeless and the writing was just flat. It was an ambitious idea, but I think the technology just was not there to make GTA: San Andreas the game it deserved to be.

GTA: IV: I recall the backlash from fans when they found out that not only would there be only 1 city after GTA: San Andreas had 3, but also the fact it was going to be Liberty City…again. Even I felt a little “cheated”, not by the 1 city thing as that did not bother me. But more by the fact the game was to be set in Liberty City…again. However, my worries soon disappeared when I played the game. GTA: IV was a work of genius and just what the franchise needed after the overblown GTA: San Andreas. GTA: IV was not only a palate cleanser, but it also grew in terms of writing with a more grounded style after the OTT GTA: San Andreas. Just like GTA III before it, GTA: IV showed the franchise evolve and grow.

GTA: V: There really is not much I can say that has not already been said about GTA: V. If GTA: Vice City is my favorite of the franchise so far, GTA: V is really not too far behind. With it’s immersive and detailed world GTA: V brought the very best gaming environment I have experienced so far. It’s characters were well written, acted and even believable. GTA: V seemed to have merged to more “grounded” elements of GTA: IV with the more fun aspects of GTA: San Andreas and made them work to perfection.

But what is left for the franchise?
After 15 years and 15 games in the series (including spin offs and DLCs), I still think there are plenty of scenarios and characters to explore. GTA always has been such a diverse franchise that Rockstar could delve into.
But I hope they keep to the more “grounded” reality of GTA: IV and GTA: V, and I would really like to see them play around with different timeframes as they used with GTA: Vice City and GTA: San Andreas. I think my biggest complaint about the latest generation of GTA is that they have played it safe and stuck to the modern era. Why not got back to the 80’s again? Maybe even a 60’s set Vegas inspired GTA, or even a 1930’s/40’s classic gangster Chicago concept. The possibilities are endless.
Another notion I enjoyed was the multi character angle from GTA: V and hope to see this return and expanded on in future titles. Or even include and advancing timeline where you play over years within the narrative of the game and see characters and the environment age and alter.

I hope the GTA franchise continues for many years to come, as long as Rockstar keep churning out quality titles as they have done for the last 15 years…I’ll keep on playing.
I simply can not wait to see what the next generation of GTA will bring, but if GTA: V is anything to go by then we are in for a thrilling and interesting 4th generation of GTA.

Thank you for reading my retrospective of the GTA franchise, I know it’s been a long read but I hope you enjoyed it.
Please feel free to send me comments/feedback and hope you’ll join me in my next retrospective soon.

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Grand Theft Auto: Part III

Here we are at the most recent (hopefully not last) generation of GTA.

GTA IV cover

GTA IV: So here we are after having to wait until 2008 we finally got GTA IV…wait IV? The sixth full, proper title in the series (not including expansions/spin offs) is the “fourth” game? Errrrrrr, OK.
Anyway, this was the first GTA title on the the newest generation of game consoles. GTA IV was a long time coming…but was it worth the wait?

After the huge, expansive map from GTA: San Andreas with it’s 3 cities, numerous townlets plus even a countryside and desert area. People we already speculating at how big GTA IV could be, especially on the newer and more powerful machines. What would we get, 6 cities, 12…more?
What we would get was 1 city and just any city but Liberty City…again for the fourth time in the franchise already. However, this was not just a HD update of Liberty City from GTA III. No, this was a whole new city built from the ground up. Liberty City it may be…but it was not like any Liberty City was had experienced before in GTA.

Playing as immigrant Niko Bellic, you come to Liberty City to pursue the “American Dream” after your cousin Roman bragged about all the riches and huge mansion he now owns. Being in Liberty City also allows Niko to search for the man who betrayed his unit in a war fifteen years prior. Upon arrival to Liberty City, Niko discovers that Roman’s tales of riches and luxury were all lies concealing a cover up for his struggles with gambling debts and loan sharks, and you discover that Roman lives in a dirty, flea infested apartment rather than a mansion.

While GTA IV only gave us 1 city over GTA: San Andreas with it’s huge map of 3 cities and more previously. GTA IV offered the most detailed and rich GTA map yet. Using Rockstar’s own new game engine (RAGE) along with the Euphoria animation engine, this allowed the developers to really create a truly amazing gaming environment.
With pedestrians a plenty filling the sidewalks and streets, talking on phones, looking in shop windows, interacting with each other each one seemed to have their own life to lead and felt much more organic than ever before.

Diversity is the word to use when talking about GTA IV. While only 1 city, that city was so beautifully crafted and designed that each and every part of it felt so vastly different. From exploring the dock area where you start, to going to the slums. Even going to GTA’s version of Times Square, Central Park, etc all re-created from New York in that district GTA style.
Everything about this city felt “alive” and it was a huge playground with plenty to see and do. I honestly felt like a tourist the first time I played GTA IV full of wonder and amazement, taking in the sights of the city.

There was plenty to distract you in this new Liberty City. Go bowling at your local alley, play darts in a pub and even play pool. GTA IV also brought the internet into the game with plenty of sites to explore with some being story based and others just there for fun or even use dating sites to get girlfriends. The in game internet could also be used to buy ringtones and wallpapers for your phone and so much more.
You could go to one of your safehouses and watch some TV. If you wanted you could go to a comedy club and watch Ricky Gervais and Katt Williams “live” as it were.
There was just so much to do in GTA IV outside of the story and missions.

GTA IV was more than worth the wait and really showed what could be done with the new generation of consoles.
But as with previous games, GTA IV met with controversy with figures including George Galloway, Jack Thompson and Hillary Clinton have criticised the game before it was even released…yeah thats fair.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) asked ESRB to change the rating of the game from “M” to “AO” due to the player’s ability to drive under the influence of alcohol. But shooting people in the head was perfectly fine?

Six teenagers were arrested in June 2008 after engaging in a crime spree in New Hyde Park, New York, assaulting and robbing several people, and attempting a carjacking. According to police, the teens claimed that they were “inspired” by Grand Theft Auto IV.

GTA IV’s release was met with universal acclaim, Metacritic’s average score was 98 out of 100. Many reviewers commented on the games open world and attention to detail as well as praising the game’s narrative and well written dialogue.

GTA IV certainly was a well made title, but there was still more to come in the form of DLC.

GTA LOTD cover

GTA: The Lost and Damned: Released in 2009 was the first piece of story expansion DLC for GTA IV. While still in Liberty City from GTA IV, we got to see a different side to the city and the game even offered new features.

With the player controlling Jonathan “Johnny” Klebitz, Johnny is the vice-president of The Lost Motorcycle gang, but has been the acting president for a year because the club’s president, Billy Grey, has been in rehab after being arrested for narcotics possession.
As acting leader, Johnny has established The Lost throughout Liberty City by making truces and deals after suffering several financial troubles. Mainly caused by Billy’s poor leadership before being sent to rehab. The most notable truce is with The Lost’s biggest rivals, The Angels of Death. Which has allowed The Lost to operate their drug deals and gun running operations more freely.

Once released from rehab, Billy immediately reverts to a life of crime and tensions quickly grow between Billy and Johnny, who cannot agree in which direction to lead The Lost. Johnny wants to keep the gang running smoothly, deeming war with other gangs as immature and bad for business. But Billy prefers acts of random violence and mayhem. As such, Billy quickly leads the Lost to assault the Angels of Death Clubhouse, breaking the truce set up by Johnny and beginning a gang war against the Angels of Death.

GTA: The Lost and Damned gave the player a chance to revisit missions from GTA IV, but playing them from a new angle. The title also brought a few new additions over GTA IV aside from new weapons and vehicles, GTA: The Lost and Damned also offered the player the ability to call on your gang members to help by providing weapons and armour or even bringing you a new bike.
Also included were gang wars; Once the player has completed 10 gang wars a new weapon would spawn in the clubhouse/safe house. Every subsequent 10 gang war up to 50, a new weapon will spawn. During some missions and gang wars, Johnny is accompanied by a team of bikers. As each biker takes part in more missions, they will gain experience and become better over time.
The game included mid-mission checkpoints for the first time in the GTA series as previously if you failed a mission, you’d have to start from the beginning. This title allowed you to start from the last reached checkpoint.

GTA: The Lost and Damned was a welcome addition and expansion to GTA IV and was well received upon initial release.

With one more piece of DLC, GTA IV was almost at an end.

GTA TBOGT

GTA: The Ballad of Gay Tony: Was the second piece of DLC for GTA IV and released in 2009. Just like GTA: The Lost and Damned before, GTA: The Ballad of Gay Tony was also set in Liberty City from GTA III.

Luis Fernando Lopez is the playable character in this title and after witnessing the heist of the Bank of Liberty (carried out by Niko Bellic and Packie McReary in GTA IV), Luis goes to see his employer, the titular “Gay” Tony Prince. Owner of the successful clubs Maisonette 9 and Hercules, Tony is in serious financial trouble having taken out massive loans from the Ancelotti crime family and Mori Kibbutz in order to keep his clubs running.
Tony asks Luis to work for Mori and Rocco Pelosi, an Ancelotti gangster, in order to satisfy his debts.

The game’s plot intertwined directly with the events and characters of GTA IV.

GTA: The Ballad of Gay Tony brought plenty of new features to GTA IV with new weapons and vehicles, but also the parachute allowing you to base jump and skydive which itself had it’s own set of challenges to complete. The game also introduced a new driving range activity. As well as the ability to visit Tony’s nightclubs, where you could participate in drinking and dancing-based mini games and also manage the club’s security. Players could also enter an underground fighting tournament.

GTA: The Ballad of Gay Tony had metascore of 89 on Metacritic. Plus at the 2009 Spike Video Game Awards, Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad of Gay Tony was awarded the Best DLC award.

Both DLCs were offered separately or even as as a standalone compilation called: Grand Theft Auto: Episodes from Liberty City.

There was an all new GTA title released for the Nintendo DS.

GTA CTW

GTA: Chinatown Wars: Was originally released on the Nintendo DS in 2009 and later ported to the PSP. The title takes place in the Grand Theft Auto IV rendition of Liberty City, with the exception of the Alderney district.

Playing as Huang Lee, the spoiled son of a recently murdered Triad boss. Huang arrives in Liberty City with Yu Jian, a sword that Huang’s father won in a poker game and has decided to use as an heirloom. Huang decides to deliver the sword to the new patriarch of the family, Huang’s uncle Wu “Kenny” Lee.
Shortly after arriving in Liberty City, Huang’s escorts are killed by assassins and he is shot and kidnapped. The assailants steal the sword and, thinking Huang is dead, dump his body in the water. Huang survives and informs Kenny that the Yu Jian sword has been taken. Kenny explains that he had intended to offer the sword to Hsin Jaoming, the ageing Triad boss in Liberty City, as a means of securing a position as his replacement. Kenny is dishonoured and reduced in power due to the loss of Yu Jian, leaving him and Huang working to keep their businesses afloat.

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars took a leaf from the original GTA games and decided to opt for a top down view, but still using a 3D graphical style, and also uses cel-shaded polygons with black outlines to produce a comic book-like aesthetic.

The game brought with it a few new ideas not used in a GTA title before. The player can disable police cars as possible means to escape the police instead of leaving a “wanted zone.” like in previous GTA titles. The more stars the player has, the more police they have to take out for each level. For example, for a six star level, they have to take out six police cars to get down to a five star wanted level, and so on.
There is also a drug dealing sub game which allows players to peddle heroin, acid, ecstasy, marijuana, cocaine and antidepressants around the city. Players can make a profit by recognising market conditions and demands based on geography and plying their wares accordingly making it a trading mini game. Destroying CCTV cameras decreases the chances of being caught while making a drug deal.

The Nintendo DS touchscreen was also utilized well by controlling the PDA, GPS, the radio, access to the people and places on the map or even using Molotov cocktails and grenades. You could also draw tattoos and even using tools to unscrew car panels. Also by whistling into the DS microphone could also hail a taxi.
Stealing a moving vehicle is similar to that of previous GTA games, however Chinatown Wars uses a different system for stealing parked/locked vehicles. Depending on the car, it can be started in one of a few ways. Older cars require a few turns of a screwdriver in the ignition, while other cars require hotwiring. Newer, more expensive cars require the player to “hack” the computerised immobiliser, all done via the touchscreen.

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars received widespread critical acclaim. On GameRankings, it is the highest rated Nintendo DS game ever. The game holds a 93 aggregate score on Metacritic which is the highest score on that site for a DS game.
At the 2009 Spike Video Game Awards, Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars received the Best Handheld Game award. It also won the Best Nintendo DS Game of 2009 Award from GameSpot.

But of course, this is a GTA title so it has to have a bit of controversy attached. Because of a drug dealing mini game that includes heroin and ecstasy. Protesters against the game include Darren Gold of the anti-drug abuse charity Drugsline, who stated: “Anything using drug-dealing as entertainment is sending out the wrong message. Glamorisation doesn’t help our work trying to educate kids of the dangers of substance misuse.”

This generation of GTA was coming to an end, but would it end with a bang or a whimper? We had to wait until 2013 to find out…

GTA V cover

GTA: V: This is the juggernaut of the GTA franchise, the one that broke all those records mentioned in part I, the one that is still selling millions of copies (as of writing) due to the remastered re-release on the Xbox One and PS4 plus of course the long awaited PC version. From 1997-2015 and still going, the GTA franchise shows no signs of slowing down.

This time around you do not control 1 character but 3. All with their own backgrounds and stories that intertwine with each other throughout the main story.
Nine years after a botched robbery in Ludendorff, North Yankton. Former bank robber Michael Townley is living under witness protection with his family in Los Santos, San Andreas, under the alias Michael De Santa.
When Michael discovers his wife Amanda in bed with her tennis coach, he chases the coach to a mansion and destroys it out of anger. The mansion’s owner is Mexican drug lord Martin Madrazo’s girlfriend. Madrazo demands compensation, so Michael and his accomplice Franklin Clinton perform a jewellery shop heist to pay the debt.
Michael’s sole surviving partner in the Ludendorff robbery, Trevor Philips, hears of the jewellery heist and realises that it was Michael’s handiwork. The two reunite after Trevor tracks Michael down in Los Santos.

GTA: V takes us back to San Andreas from GTA: San Andreas, but like GTA: IV over GTA: III. The whole area has been completely redesigned and built from the ground up. This time around, San Andreas was not 3 cities and only 1, but you still had a lot of places to explore from the mountains, to a desert and again smaller towns/villages alongside the main city of Los Santos.
Considering the game was originally released in the twilight of the Xbox 360 and PS3 consoles lifespan, the development team really managed to squeeze out every bit of processing power out of those machines and make a game that was not just simply stunning to look at. But looking a bit closer one would find a 101 tiny little details within the world of GTA V that I’m still seeing new things even today. This was most definitely the most detailed, diverse and rewarding GTA game so far. It was/is a creative masterpiece.

GTA: V’s world was/is so full of life and detail it’s almost unreal and really showed what could be done within an open world environment. From real time reflections in wing mirrors on vehicles and even reflective sunglasses, those little “tink tink” cooling off sounds cars make when the engine is turned off, sweat will seep through clothing if you run or exercise for an extended period of time or don’t change clothing for a while, after being discharged from the hospital, your character will still have cuts and bruises and many, many other details that just make everything feel “real”.

GTA: V was a vast improvement over GTA: IV, not just graphically but also from a character, story and dialogue perspective. The game would also feature plenty of easter eggs to find from returning characters from GTA IV and many references one can miss easily if you do not pay attention.
This was much more than “just a game”, it was an experience and one that rewards you if you played around a bit. With so much to do in terms of minigames and distractions…
You can go to a cinema and watch films, play full games of tennis (with better game physics than most proper tennis games), play golf, buy businesses, play the stock market, use the internet, go skydiving, explore the ocean and seabed in a submarine, go to a strip club, get drunk at a bar, go hunting, find aliens (yes aliens), uncover a murder plot…plus so much more.
You could even bump into people that need help like returning a stolen wallet or giving them a lift somewhere. Some of which would lead to gaining people to help out with future heists…yes you can pull of robberies. While there are the simple “point a gun at a clerk” style robberies. There were also more intricate and detailed full robberies in the story where you would have to hire help, make a plan, etc.

One of GTA: V’s best additions was the aforementioned ability to play as 3 characters. Some missions in the game would allow you to switch to the characters on the fly, giving you the option of playing the same mission differently and see the events from a different perspective. Even better was the ability to switch characters when in free roam where you would jump into the character that goes about their everyday life even if you are not playing. Switch to Michael and he might be sitting poolside enjoying a nice cool drink or just sitting at home watching some TV. Change to Franklin and you could find him washing his car or playing with his dog (yes you get an interactive dog too). Then switch to Trevor and find him waking up on a mountainside in a dress (don’t ask) or in the middle of a police chase.
Each character had their own lives lead by their personalities and events in the game that they would live even if you were not controlling them. Plus another great feature was the ability, when controlling one character, to bump into one of the other 2 and dialogue would start and you could chose to hang out together maybe play a round of golf or go to a bar, etc.

In addition to the pedestrians all over the place which all have even better AI then before, GTA V also brought us wildlife. From birds flying around to mountain lions. There is plenty of animals to admire…and even hunt if you like.

There is just so much to do in GTA: V, I could probably write a whole article on this one game alone.

Returning once again is Rockstar’s polished and well done writing. Whether it be from the script and dialogue or the radio stations, every line seems to have been done just right. The story is even really well done and believable with twists and deceit being weaved into the plot. There is also great use of humor form the radio stations or the characters themselves.

Of course a new GTA title means new controversy.
Australian department store Target pulled the game from their 300 stores following a petition against depictions of violence toward women in the game. (But violence toward men is fine?)
“Actress” Lindsay Lohan filed lawsuits against Rockstar in allegation that a character in the game was based on her likeness.
A mission that requires players to use torture equipment in a hostage interrogation received criticism from politicians and anti-torture charity groups.

GTA: V is an amazing and creative piece of art, so rich in texture and density. Us fans just can not wait to see what Rockstar do with the franchise now the next generation of consoles is here. If they can make a game this diverse and deep now, and on age old hardware at the end of it’s life…what can they do with a proper GTA game on the Xbox One and PS4?

Released at the end of 2013, GTA V is already a year and a half old…but rumors abound say Rockstar are not done with the game yet with the possibility of story some based DLC and the welcome return of Michael, Franklin and Trevor. GTA V could be around for a while yet…

So that is my retrospective on the GTA franchise as it stands as of writing.
Please join me in my final part IV where I do a quick look back on my personal favourite games and parts of the series and share my memories and even hopes of the franchise in the future.

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Grand Theft Auto: Part II

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 original cover

GTA III cover

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”…

Vice City cover

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?

San An cover

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 LCS cover

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 VCS cover

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

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