Grand Theft Auto III

Rockstar's greatest achievement is an over-the-top, thug-emulating, crime-littered romp spectacular

Grand Theft Auto III review

Rockstar and DMA take the cake when it comes to depicting the world as it really is via a perspective that is both darkly hilarious and rough and tumble. There’s no doubt that there’s far too much corruption, crime, prostitution, drug peddling, brutality, etc., in the globe. These are the kinds of things that we can at least learn about in the news and maybe even experience in our own lives. These things are unpleasant. So, can a game be built from these components? When did rescue penguins, putting together cute puzzles, and getting a kiss from a princess become such a chore?

Grand Theft Auto III

It seems that in the last four years, both players and developers have matured and come to expect more from their gaming experiences. Grand Theft Auto III, Rockstar’s fourth effort on PlayStation 2 (after Midnight Club, Smuggler’s Run, and Oni), is the culmination of the studio’s efforts to develop a “proper game” since Take-Two’s establishment of the fledgling game division in 1998. The game gives players the ability to act out the part of an ambitious, low-life criminal. The game’s many highlights include a compelling rags-to-riches Mafioso narrative, excellent music, engaging cutscenes, and a massive, bristling, immensely complicated environment.

While recognizable gameplay features may be found in Grand Theft Auto III thanks to its massive scale, the experience as a whole, the enormous breadth and scope of the game, delivers more than the sum of its parts. Taking use of the PS2’s new capabilities, the developers of Grand Theft Auto III were able to realize their full vision, resulting in a groundbreaking videogame experience.

Containing Doubtful Material? Perhaps for Grandma… One thing is clear: this is not a game for the faint of heart. You won’t find any fluffy dragon chasing or double buttbumping for gold pieces here. Nah. As a game about criminals and their activities, Grand Theft Auto III focuses on knocking people off. Shooting a gang member with a basic 9 will cause them to disintegrate into a puddle of blood, as would running them over with a car (followed by a humorous squish sound). The experience is intensely physical. Innocent bystanders like the homeless, businesspeople, shoppers (without children), and bag ladies are fair game as well. In terms of videogame substance, it’s about as different as you can get from Super Mario 64.

Because of its adult rating (M), parents who keep tabs on what their children are exposed to in video games should think twice before purchasing it for their children. It’s important to remember that this is just a game; it’s meant to be fun. Such as in theaters, comic books, or television. It’s intended for and features an adult demographic. You’re under no obligation to buy it if you don’t want to. Millions of copies of Grand Theft Auto have been sold throughout the world by Rockstar Games and Take-Two Interactive, providing undeniable proof that fans of the series are hungry for more. You can count me among them. Insanely good, in my opinion. The videogame industry is thriving, boasting a wide variety of game types, with a sizable subset of games with mature themes. One such game is Grand Theft Auto III, which I highly recommend.

Grand Theft Auto III

Last but not least (and now I’ll get off my high horse) is this: This endeavor stands out from the rest because of its unique sense of comedy. Definitely a dark joke, but a joke nevertheless. At their heart, the personalities you encounter, the AI you encounter on the street, and the missions you’re given all hint at the absurdity, irony, and humor to be found in life’s darkest corners. This is not a realistic simulation of murder (in fact, I can’t think of a single videogame that is), but rather a piece of art that provides a welcome diversion from everyday life.


Despite the fact that probably 99.9% of the readers here already agree with me, I still feel like I need to clarify that part every time. However, the gameplay is the most crucial aspect of Grand Theft Auto III. Those unfamiliar with the franchise (GTA1 and GTA 2 on PC and PlayStation) should know that Grand Theft Auto III is a role-playing game that also has driving, shooting, and exploring.

Players assume the role of an unnamed thug who, during a bank heist, is betrayed by his lover, shot, and left for dead. A mystery high-level hit-and-run allows you to evade the law and start over with the help of your friend 8-Ball and the Italian Mafia as the “kid,” “friend,” or whatever your latest employer decides to call you. From there, players are immersed in a non-linear mission chain for various criminal organizations, from the Italian to the Japanese mafia and beyond. Liberty City’s 3D environment is epic in scope, with separate industrial, commercial, and suburban districts, each with their own distinct architecture, landscapes, and aggressive artificial intelligence.

Grand Theft Auto III

The enormous number of playable characters, cutscenes, and story embedded in practically every mission, no matter how large or tiny, sets Grand Theft Auto III apart from its predecessors. Players will notice that the voice acting in their missions is top notch, with many of the characters sounding far more lifelike than their cartoonish appearance would suggest. The game does in fact start, progress, and conclude. Players can still choose tasks from telephones or be paged, but the story is typically driven by a few key individuals whose missions double as narrative devices. So, despite the plethora of side quests and the vastness of the world that must be explored, the game’s ultimate goal is always waiting for the player when they’re ready to tackle it.

To give you an idea, I spent the first three hours of Grand Theft Auto III picking out some main missions, but I kept getting sidetracked by other missions, side activities, and just plain exploration. For me, the point was just to seek out and put the cars through their paces on the various stunning and insane stunt jump sequences. As soon as I had consumed enough, I resumed playing the story in a more conventional method. Play can be as fast and methodical as the player’s abilities allow, or as erratic as the player prefers. Like never before, Grand Theft Auto III gives players unprecedented agency, non-linear gameplay, and options.

Size and Proportion

The vast expanse of Grand Theft Auto III’s world and the shear number of available missions are both impressive. Hundreds of quests can be completed. Each city is dozens of miles away from the others, and you’ll start to see more of them as you make your way through and as the bridges are “fixed.” After the city’s bridges and subways have been “repaired,” players are free to go by any means of transportation they choose to any part of the city. The game gives the player an impression of boundless independence by letting them freely roam vast virtual landscapes such as streets, beaches, subways, buildings, and more. Unlike the prior two games in the series, this one allows players to freely explore and interact with buildings, including access to balconies, apartment rooms, and rooftops, from which they can fall to their deaths or take potshots at passing helicopters.

The fact that practically all of it is explorable adds to the overwhelming sense of scale. The most inaccessible locations can contain the most surprising treasures. Throughout Liberty City, one can find 100 “secret packages” containing various items such as slowdown tablets, frenzy icons, health icons, cop stars, secret instant stunt jumps, and tons of weapons. There are secret passages and hidden areas tucked away in every corner and cranny of the game world, from the rooftops of buildings to the alleys below. The sheer scale and sense of freedom in GTA3 is mind-boggling, and I simply don’t have the vocabulary to give it justice.

Grand Theft Auto III

There is both an immediate and a gradual learning curve. When I first started playing, I had to figure out how to drive a car, manage the weapons (particularly the automatic weapons’ aiming system), and figure out where everything was. That’s the range of challenges, in a nutshell. Two or three hours of that time was spent with me just driving about aimlessly. Vehicles range in speed, handling, and other characteristics, but all are simple to operate. Get in and use X to speed up, Square to slow down, R1 to powerslide (great and vital element of driving), L1 to change the station, R2 and L2 to pull off a drive-by shooting, and Triangle to rob a car.

Finding the locations of the secrets presents the greatest challenge. It takes time to find and remember things like health power-ups, guns, and paint-and-spray garages, as well as things like Cop Stars (which remove stars from the Wanted Meter). A small circular map/radar with colored icons to distinguish important areas, such as Save Places, Mission Hubs, etc., and a Compass are available in Grand Theft Auto III. Four of these perspectives are available on foot, while the remaining five are available while driving.

Vehicles and Arms

In Grand Theft Auto 3, you spend most of your time in a car and only a small fraction of the time on foot. It’s another factor that gets overlooked by first-time GTA3 viewers. It’s not just a matter of stature, but of capability as well. The game gives players a fantastically unrestricted feeling of freedom of movement, and the number and variety of commands available to them (the input list) is enormous. While the game’s focus is on vehicular action (carjacking, escaping a burning vehicle, steering, accelerating, braking, power sliding, etc.), players also have a wide range of options when on foot. One can go throughout the city on foot, run, sprint, jump, steer a boat, use eleven weapons, unlock doors, and carjack any of the city’s eighty-one vehicles. Everything is handled using a straightforward interface that’s both quick to learn and satisfying to use.

Those automobiles are incredible. They all respond differently to shocks, have different turning radii and top speeds, and much more. The slow ones, such dump trucks (“dust trucks”), military vehicles, and police vans, are sluggish and awkward, but they can take a lot of abuse before breaking down. The vast majority of the game’s automobiles are midsize. And they just keep on coming, it seems. If you’re anything like me, though, after you’ve driven the fastest one you’ll want to drive only those from then on. As the city becomes more accessible, newer, quicker cars become available for carjacking. After driving a Yakuza Stinger, Cheetah, or similar, you’ll realize that cars like the Mafia Sentinel or the Sentinel, which looks like a Mercedes, are just toys. When it happens, the pace of the game increases dramatically.

You have the ability to perform incredible feats when in the air. As long as you land your jump correctly, your vehicle can be flipped, twisted, spun, rolled, or otherwise moved in a way that almost always produces insane outcomes (thus the name “Insane Stunt Jumps”). In addition, DMA offers a wonderful cinematic still photo of your vehicle soaring through the air and touching down on the ground. This is an extremely entertaining activity.

In case you were wondering, every vehicle is fully and joyfully destructible. Each vehicle has around 17 moving or removable components that can be damaged in an accident. And you won’t believe how quickly a single car can be destroyed. Usually, the front of an automobile is destroyed first. The next step is the hood coming away and landing squarely in your face, followed by the doors flailing open on their own accord. After your fenders and windows have been crushed and beaten and your engine has begun to take damage, it may be broken off. A little steam at first, then a deeper, more offensive gout of smoke, and finally flames; that’s it, buddy. Get out of the car now before it explodes and shakes everything to bits.

There are a plethora of weapons at your disposal, the most basic of which are your bare fists. It only takes a few well-placed punches, kicks, and headbutts to start a fight with any of the game’s characters. Once you’ve located your safe haven, you’ll be given a bat. Soon later, several firearms become available. Melee combat, a bat, a Colt Pistol, an Uzi, an AK-47, an M16, a sniper rifle, a shotgun, a rocket launcher, a Molotov cocktail, grenades, and a flamethrower make up the full arsenal.

In a drive-by situation only, I enjoy using a sniper rifle, a Molotov cocktail, and an Uzi. The Molotov Cocktail is a risky weapon because it can quickly backfire and set the user on fire. The blaze quickly expands, resulting in extensive bystander casualties; it is nice and violent, and it kills very fast. The sniper rifle performs admirably. You may easily zoom in or out without losing any precision. Even though DMA isn’t known for making FPS games, the fact that they managed to nail the sniper rifle is impressive. You can shift it fast, cover a wide area, and shift even the smallest distances without causing any disruptions or messing up your work and having to start again. Furthermore, it feels natural, like many things in Grand Theft Auto III. The arms are excellent.

Diversity Mission

While I’ve been gushing over GTA3’s massive scale and plethora of extras, which are all well deserving of praise, I haven’t yet mentioned the game’s impressive array of missions. Initial tasks include players collecting up floozies and delivering them to a predetermined location. The hundreds of missions increase in difficulty as you go through them; some are of the “try and die” variety, while others reward promptness, driving skill, or a combination of location-based hits and gunmanship. The sniper operation where an 8-ball helped me take out numerous members of the Columbian Cartel at the dock was my favorite. The mini-missions were great, too; my favorites involved city races reminiscent of Midnight Club that featured ridiculous AI for hostile vehicles.

While Grand Theft Auto III’s try-and-die gameplay has its downsides, the game places a heavy emphasis on player skill and offers a wide variety of missions that are easier or less rigorous in their design. If a player is having trouble with a particular mission, they can easily complete several others before returning to the challenging one they sucked at. The game features as many as five missions lined up at once, from different characters, phone booths, or by the use of simple icons.

Last but not least, players can skip through the introductory quests if they like. You can go on a joyride and see what unfolds if you so choose. The game is also prepared for players who want to participate in some way but aren’t quite ready to tackle the tutorial objectives. Do you recall that I mentioned that any vehicle in the game could be carjacked? That includes cabs, fire engines, ambulances, and police cruisers. That’s true; you may drive a taxi, an ambulance, a police car, or a fire engine and make money transporting passengers to their destinations, apprehending criminals, and putting out fires, respectively. Each assignment, no matter how minor, is incredibly cool, and it’s all a part of the game.


The games’ perspective largely masked any sense of scale in Grand Theft Auto 1 and 2. You’re up close and personal now, a part of the action. Players have the option of playing from either the standard top-down view seen in the prior two games, or from a closer, over-the-shoulder perspective. Being so physically near to someone makes one’s feelings for them much more powerful and immediate. While both the original two games and GTA3 featured vast worlds, the latter appears even more massive than it actually is due to the game’s perspective. So, even in this one regard, the game has improved greatly.

Grand Theft Auto III combines several graphic elements to generate a wide variety of styled appearances. The game’s graphic style is distinct, consisting largely of cartoonish depictions of the game’s protagonists and supporting characters. The artwork is rendered with thick lines, and its subjects are realistic in many ways: they are hefty, balding, square-jawed, and square-headed (in some cases), and they all exude an urban chic, heaviness, exhaustion, or even despair. The artwork that appears throughout cutscenes and during loading periods is interesting, albeit I didn’t care for it. The combination of the dirty, corrupt cast of characters moving around in a 3D world and the artwork that surrounds them works in a strange way. Cutscenes featuring in-game characters with lip sync done well are a lovely touch, as are the models’ ability to blink and move around with what pass for human-like animations.

Ask any of the few developers that have used streaming to supply the game’s core, and they will tell you how challenging it is. DMA has developed a game that is both visually stunning and technically impressive thanks to the use of streaming techniques and the assistance of RenderWare. The day/night cycle provides a dynamic, ever-changing sequence of activities. The first time nighttime rolls around, you’ll get to witness a magnificent moon that appears to fill up about half of the sky. At that time, you’ll also see a shift in the demographics of the people you see on the streets.

The game features a plethora of dynamic weather conditions. At moments, the city is shrouded in thick fog, and at others, it appears to be raining heavily. The smoke and fire effects are also well done, with much of the action centering on the vehicles. There are plenty of moving objects, lens flares, and excellent texturing to make up for any lack of depth. The characters themselves are attractive, in their own offbeat, mildly grotesque (in the literary sense) way. Great attention was paid to the textures of the main character’s clothing, which includes details like pocket flaps and zippers, and the faces, which contain beards, wrinkles, and blinking eyelids.

Grand Theft Auto III

If there is a weak point in Grand Theft Auto III, the graphics would be it. They aren’t flawless, and they aren’t the most striking visuals available on the system. Fade-in and pop-in are present in the game, and they become more apparent while you’re moving quickly (it appears that you’re moving quicker than the game can draw the textures). Using the behind-the-vehicle perspective, driving up into any multi-story car garage reveals a notable level of texture clipping, and there are also some less than stellar collision detection difficulties. After staring at them for more than 35 hours, I have almost stopped caring. The evaluation was the sole reason I could recall it. You may see what appears like miles and miles of Liberty City at any given time in the game because of the way the camera pans around the city. That’s really outstanding, man.


The audio in GTA3 is astounding in its quality and execution. One of the game’s many strengths is its excellent audio. Unbelievably, a huge number of groups, songs, and individuals contributed to the game’s soundtrack. Each vehicle you steal includes a radio with a unique station preset, just like in the other games in the series. There may be an elderly couple in a car listening to a classical station, while a group of young men in another vehicle may be jamming out to a house, reggae, or oldies station.

The L1 button allows the player to swiftly and simply choose between the game’s nine radio stations. The range of stations is fantastic, offering more than 3.5 hours of CD-quality music, and the sound quality is, to put it mildly, excellent. There are a wide variety of genres represented on these stations, from commercial pop on Head Radio and Lips to true classical music on Double Clef, hip-hop on Game Radio, talk radio on Chatterbox, reggae and dub on K-Jah, drum & bass on MSX, trance on Rise FM, and retro ’80s hits on Flashback.

For the most hilarious parody of the endless stream of radio discussion shows that we Americans have to listen to, I recommend Chatterbox. It’s completely original, entertaining, and adorable from the host’s chip on his shoulder to the ludicrously cheesy advertising ( “delivering little bundles of love directly to your door”) to the incredibly stupid callers.

Not only does it include some of the best music I’ve ever heard in a video game, but the voice acting is also top-notch. Unofficially (Rockstar will neither confirm nor reject the participation of any of these people), the following individuals have been added to the cast: Michael Madsen (Reservoir Dogs 1992, Donnie Brasco, Wyatt Earp), Kyle MacLachan (Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks, Showgirls, Dune), Michael Rapaport (Men of Honor, Deep Blue Sea, Dr. Dolittle 2, Bamboozled), and Debbi Mazar, Frank Vincent, and Guru.

The sound was designed with a cinematic mentality in mind, with a dynamic 3D audio system that scales and references sounds based on the player’s position in the game. Everything from in-car radio stations to in-game dialogue to weapon and weather effects was meticulously researched and incorporated. I’d go so far as to say the score outshines the film itself in terms of emotional impact.


Finally, I’ll give you my thoughts, which are the focus of this ridiculously lengthy review. My thoughts exactly. What’s that, GTA III? It’s OK. Ha ha. Humor intended. Even if Rockstar had never been so kind as to allow us exclusive coverage of its game, I still wouldn’t feel any differently about it than I do now. The game is one of the best releases of the year for the PlayStation 2 or any other platform, and it is amazingly good. It seems like I’ve been repeating that a lot this year (Devil May Cry, Twisted Metal Black, Silent Hill 2), and that’s because it’s true. It is an undeniable fact.
I was never a fan of the top-down perspective, and my focus on the game’s intricate mechanics prevented me from enjoying Grand Theft Auto 1 and 2. However, after seeing what DMA has done to this game, I find it difficult to find fault with it. And guess what, DMA repaired even the tiniest small disturbance I had with GTA1 and GTA2 (being locked in a car in a corner, only being able to get in or out from one side), among many other problems it fixed for this final effort. Players may expect to spend more than 50 hours on their first playthrough thanks to the game’s size, depth, and variety. And that doesn’t even account for leaving nothing out. For that, I’d estimate a 60-70 hour playthrough time for the game.

Even though it can be insanely challenging, Grand Theft Auto III’s huge scale operation only improves the more time players put into it. The truth is, despite the game’s difficulty, there are so many reasons to keep playing that only sleep and my lovely wife prevent me from staying up for an overnighter (or four) with Grand Theft Auto III.