GTA enters into a 3D world with GTA III, Vice City and San Andreas
Grand Theft Auto III (2001)
Released in October 2001 Grand Theft Auto III served as a breakthrough for the franchise, bringing the already critically acclaimed series to new heights with a game that will forever be remembered as a revolution in its genre.
Grand Theft Auto III first broke the series formula by moving away from a top-down perspective and giving the player full control, a third person camera view, in a fully-fledged 3D space. Suddenly the world of Liberty City, one of the three cities first encountered in the original Grand Theft Auto, had come to life with a bustling population and a detail yet experienced in an open-world sandbox game of its nature.
Whilst the graphics and view perspective had certainly leapt the series into the next-generation with style, there was a great deal of change to the game’s formula itself. A lot of features that we have come to expect from today’s Grand Theft Auto games originated here, from the simple to use world map and GPS system, to the mission-lead story structure that progresses the overarching story whilst opening up more of the game world.
The story in particular had evolved a great deal from the prior humble offerings, now providing a wealth of voice acting and in-game cut scene segments to tell the tale of an unknown protagonist that we later learn is Claude.
From a gameplay perspective much of what made the prior games such a blast remains, only this time around with more immersion and options that is provided by the new perspective, change to 3D and advanced AI. A great example of this is the introduction of a day and night cycle, along with bouts of weather such as a rain downpour too.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (2002)
Rockstar North, as they were now to be known, followed up the critical success of Grand Theft Auto III with a personal favourite of mine – Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Drawing much inspiration from 1980s American culture the game was set in a 1986 version of Vice City, another of one of the three original cities from the original Grand Theft Auto, loosely resembling Miami.
You play as Mafia hitman Tommy Vercetti, whom recently released from prison after a drug deal gone wrong, seeks out those responsible whilst building a criminal empire as he goes along. Where Grand Theft Auto III slingshots the series into a new generation of gameplay, Vice City evolves prior attempts at story telling in the series with a fantastic story and incredible cast told through the same mission-based system used in Grand Theft Auto III.
The voice talent in particular is stellar with the likes of Ray Liotta playing protagonist Tommy Vercetti, supported by Tom Sizemore, William Fichtner, Dennis Hopper and even the much talented Jenna Jameson. Additionally, whilst Vice City is set in a time before Grand Theft Auto III, it is the first title in the series to reference prior games in the series, such as particular radio hosts and a handful of characters present throughout Grand Theft Auto III.
New additions in gameplay came in the form of new vehicles to play with (114 types in total!) from motorcycles to planes and even helicopters. Police would now be more intelligent with SWAT rappelling from helicopters and spike traps being deployed in car chases. The biggest new addition to the series however is the ability to purchase property around the city, including several businesses and homes. Once all missions for a particular residence was completed the building will begin generating income, provide additional benefits such as helicopter pads and even spawn health and weapons unlocked by obtaining various collectables.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (2004)
San Andreas took the series into a 1992 reimagination of the city from the original game, resembling sections of California and Nevada. Compromising three areas split across Los Santos (Los Angeles), San Fierro (San Francisco) and Las Venturas (Las Vegas), the breadth of the world is staggering. There’s even an Area 69 (Area 51) and the famous Vinewood (Hollywood) sign if you run out of things to see.
Continuing to build on the foundation already established by both Grand Theft Auto III and Vice City, San Andreas focused intestinally on wealth of content, increasing and expanding the game in all areas. The first large new addition came in the form of RPG elements in character development allowing you, for the first time in the series, to alter the main protagonist CJ. This could be anything from simple systems such as changing his clothes, haircut and adding tattoos, to more advanced systems such as needing to feed CJ to stay healthy and be able to adjust your physical appearance and performance by exercising and practicing hand-to-hand combat.
Another large addition was the inclusion of gang wars, allowing you to fight over control of areas on the world map. From time-to-time areas you have previously taken over will become contested once again, requiring you to quickly return to defend your prize. There’s also a wealth of new mini-games, from being able to partake in basketball, pool or even a handful of videogames. And if that wasn’t enough, there’s car modification options for over 200 vehicles and a controversial burglary mini-game that lets you perform home invasions for money.
The largest and most impressive change however came in the form of the world itself, vastly out scaling all that has been shown before it and the vast majority of open world games since. It’s still a spectacle to this day with no loading in exterior locations, vast country sides and great variety between neighbouring towns.
It’s hard to decide which of the three had the most impact, or to this day remain the most influential for the series going forward, but it’s easy to agree the significance and grandeur that all three games shared. If you’ve been unfortunate to miss out on any of these three classic instalments in the Grand Theft Auto series you owe yourself to remedy this. In the meantime however please use the comments below to highlight your favourite of the three, and why.
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