#357 Grand Theft Auto

Posted: 15th November 2011 by Mulholland in Games
Tags: , , , ,

100th played so far!!!

Genre: Action
Platform: Playstation, PC
Year of Release: 1997
Developer: DMA Design
Publisher: ASC Games

They thought we would never make it this far. They said we were crazy to even start this blog (and by they I mean me) but here we are at Game 100 which means that we have effectively covered 1 in 10 games on the list.

Since this is such a landmark for us it was only apt that we started one of the most successful franchises in gaming history as well as a game which brings back a lot of memories. On a personal level this was the first, and only, game where I was unable to play it because of the 18 rating since no one would buy it from me (and yet I managed to play it on my dad’s Playstation on the rare occasion I saw him).

Whether or not you like the series both this game and subsequent ones changed the face of video games and that is a fact.

Our Thoughts

Peter has already mentioned it, but let me add to this: It’s game 100, a big milestone in our mind, meaning that we’ve done one in 10 games… hopefully representative enough, but we’ll see whether we keep up the same game quality down the line. Starting with this big game franchise, I must say that what we saw in this game was pretty tame. Compared to the realistic death graphics and gore of modern day, today’s gamer is far more used to the idea of stealing cars and driving over a bunch of pixels vaguely resembling a top-down human. At the time I first played this (and saw this played) it was sneakily, making sure our parents couldn’t see, as the furore was great. Not entirely comparable to Carmageddon (a game we’ll sort of be covering down the line), but still the type of game they didn’t want you to play. This, of course, made it even more fun to play, although the gameplay itself was good enough anyway. The joy of this was the thrill of how taboo it was. I mean I only played it when my dad was asleep in the morning or when I was alone in his house. It’s the sort of feeling of when you are reading under the covers with a torch on just so you can stay up passed your bedtime. This strange rush of forbidden endorphins hooked a generation of gamers and secured them for the next 14 years.

What is impressive is that they never rested on their laurels and this marks the first in a series of critically acclaimed games where even spin-offs and expansion packs have been met with positive reviews. Part of this is related to a shift in gameplay between the second and third installments of the series, but it’s teeling that this is one of those series where we will cover pretty much every game in the series.

The game itself is really quite simple. You walk around a fictional city (Liberty City, San Andreas, all the familiar names…), and help out the underworld through stealing cars, performing assassinations and taking care of all sorts of other similar tasks. You can get weapons (including a lovely flamethrower) to carry out these tasks, but the big fun part is what the title implies – stealing cars. Grand Theft Auto indeed. You race around, messing up traffic, running over pedestrians if you want, and generally are a bad boy. Not much sex involved (unlike later games), so no need to worry about any coffee later. They didn’t need that scandal yet. Don’t worry they still have the red light districts we have come to know and love, but it is true that after the turning point that was Grand Theft Auto III it is strange to be playing this, especially since it’s feels so back to basics. In fact I was slightly worried about replaying this because sometimes memories are more liable to be seen as more favourable.

It is true that this has aged but, as we both observed, this is screaming out for a slightly rejigged iOS port for either the iPad or iPhone. The shooting controls would need to be rejigged since they really do make things more difficult than needed (same with Metal Gear Solid to be honest). Shooting is pretty much ‘Hope you’re looking in the right direction and hit the fire button’, which is pretty much what you get at these basic top down games. Luckily you don’t need them as often, making that less important. The main reason you need it is for certain missions, where you can’t get to your target by car, and have to take care of them this way. If you don’t, it’s mission failed, sorry, try again next time.

It is also rather strange that it has an actual scoring system with lives when you consider how later on you have infinite lives. Just one of those many little ways that DMA Design (later Rockstar North) saw fit to improve on an already cracking game. One of the things that’s clear there is that this game came from a traditional background, with a look and feel (scoring included) that goes back to older arcade days, where you’d play to score and would end the game after some time, and you want to beat others. There is a crude save game option, but that only keeps track of the areas and mission groups you’ve unlocked, not how far you did within each. When you restart the game, you need to replay the missions. This doesn’t matter as much, as your final goal isn’t just to finish the missions (which you can’t easily do – if you die you lose the missions), but instead to score enough points to unlock the next area. At first these are just different missions in the same area, with different roads broken up and bridges being build, but later these open up other cities for you to do mayhem in. These cities set a pattern which we would later see repeated again and again (i.e. Liberty City followed by Vice City and San Andreas).  There was also the London expansion pack set in the swinging sixties… but I thought it was kinda pants so we won’t go into that right now.

In the end, however, missions and scores matter little in this game. The real thrill is in the shooting, stealing cars, driving around and, well, getting random pager messages from various exes chasing you.

Final Thoughts

They say that a bridge once crossed should never be revisited… but that is not always the case. Whilst the thrill of the forbidden passion has long since passed it is still one hell of a lot fun and a great way to finish our first 100 games. I hope the next batch are shown to be as entertaining.

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