September 26th, 2022
Title: Grand Theft Auto III
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Release Date: 10/23/2001
Format: PS4 (via PS2 emulation)
Grand Theft Auto III is cited as being the grandfather of the 3D open world crime genre, though other games do predate it (notably Driver 2.) The prior two Grand Theft Auto games were 2D overhead games that were quite frankly...not very good, but GTA III elevated the series to mainstream popularity in the 3D era. It's graphic violence, gratuitous language and ability to solicit...services, from certain ladies, elicited controversy that few games could ever match. Politicians and parents lobbied for stricter censorship and outright bans of the game, which continues to this day (though, luckily, controversial attorney Jack Thompson would be disbarred for his excessive lawsuits.) It also didn't help that the game was released about a month after 9/11, requiring Rockstar to make some minor changes out of common decency (such as changing the police car colors from NYPD style blue and white cars to black and white.) While GTAIII seems fairly tame compared to modern iterations, it made a huge splash in the video game scene in both good and bad ways.
To preface, while I understand that some features of the game were introduced before in other games, they are nowhere near as famous or notable. Driver 2 had open world elements and is a crime-drama, but I wouldn't consider it anywhere near as notable and critically acclaimed as GTAIII. For the majority of gamers, this was the first time that you could carjack, murder first responders, pick up prostitutes and cause general urban chaos. It utilizes a "star" system depending on the severity of your crimes, increasing law enforcement response up to utilizing the national guard. There are various missions you can take on from different crime syndicates, which can be seen on a GPS style mini-map. While some freedom is given at the beginning of the game, you do need to progress via missions to explore other places on the game map, unlock weapons and increase your star level. Liberty City is loosely based on New York City, but the "realistic" 3D graphics don't really do the city justice. I view it as being a unique city, as the series wouldn't do a realistic interpretation until Grand Theft Auto IV.
But this isn't a review- how has the game held up? Not very well. At this point it is a relic of early PS2-era gaming; emerging from the PS1/N64 polygonal graphics and retaining a lot of irritating features that would be further refined or removed in later entries. I am not going to talk about things that couldn't be helped, like the camera controls (which for the time were decent but are atrocious now,) but rather some of the gameplay elements that have thankfully aged out. Aiming, for example, is a frustrating experience where you will likely miss your targets and get gunned down by your enemies. If you're beaten down by a police officer, you're immediately "Busted." If you're killed during a mission, you must go back to the starting location from the hospital- it doesn't matter how far you get into the mission, you will have to backtrack significantly in order to replay the mission. Furthermore, the difficulty level is uneven throughout the game- you'll have an easy mission, then one that seems incredibly difficult a quarter or half way through the game. I found the experience to be infuriating- getting to nearly the end of a mission, and getting capped because I can't aim worth anything has lead to some swearing and hair pulling. This is a great example of an older game that is not forgiving whatsoever, and for no apparent reason. There are also several mini-games such as vigilante mode (taking a police car and going after criminals,) taxi missions and a cargo ship where you deliver stolen vehicles to.
Now, I am not saying the game isn't bad. There is a lot of good in it- the ability to freely explore the city and take on missions at different intervals feels refreshing. The driving feels organic and authentic- I would even say the best part of the game is the vehicle selection and handling. The voice acting utilizes real actors, and the radio stations are funny with real DJ's and music that is carefully curated (anyone remember "Push it to the Limit?") It also jump started the entire Grand Theft Auto series, which would put out superior sequels and other series such as Red Dead Redemption. However, if you haven't played this game yet or have any sort of nostalgic connection, it is not worth revisiting. You'll either be sorely disappointed or frustrated, as the game plays nothing at all like newer games in the series. If you want a stylish but not much better game, you can try out GTA: Vice City- if you want superior gameplay, GTA: San Andreas is where the series really starts to come into it's own. For younger gamers though, I'd still recommend starting with GTAIV as it has more in common with GTAV and gives you an earlier glimpse into the series.
My final judgement is: No, the game does not hold up well and is not worth replaying outside of nostalgic reasons.