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2001. Liberty City. The worst place in America…

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    Grand Theft Auto III

    Rating: 4.5 – Outstanding

    2001. Liberty City. The worst place in America…

    Once ¨C long, long ago ¨C I went to visit my cousin. The weather was awful, their shower was full of woodlice, and I caught the flu, but he introduced me to what would become one of the finest games I would ever play. I found myself lost in a grim, smoke-blackened city. A neon-blazed nightmare straight out of the fever dreams of Martin Scorsese. I had just played Grand Theft Auto III.

    You play as a silent killer-for-hire, a jailbird straight out of the big house looking to get revenge on the woman who broke his heart ¨C in more ways than one ¨C when she shot him and left him for dead. In his quest for revenge, this questionable character rubs elbows with the worst elements in the worst city. All voiced impeccably by some of the finest actors in the genre. Don’t believe me? Just look at the cast: Frank Vincent, Michael Madsen, Joe Pantoliano, Robert Loggia. Very rarely in gaming history have characters been so boldly drawn and such a joy to watch.

    This colourful cast – from a paranoid Mafia Don to a silky smooth business tycoon – task you to shoot, mow down and blow up their enemies, placing our hero in the middle of their labyrinthine plots and power-plays and moving him closer and closer towards his ultimate revenge.

    Time, of course, has proven the formula of this game worked, but I cannot overstate just how well everything in Rockstar’s 2001 masterpiece clicks together. Liberty City is a modestly sized open world, one big enough to encourage exploration and small enough to allow players to memorize its winding streets, shortcuts and secrets.

    To younger players, weaned on the sheer wealth of options afforded by newer titles, this setting will doubtlessly feel Spartan, but there still remains a wealth of scallywaggery to entertain you between missions. Want to unlock new weapons? Go and search out the one hundred hidden packages deviously hidden about the city. Need help evading the police? Performing vigilante missions in a police vehicle will give you enough bribes to keep them off your tail. You can even collect vehicles for a docklands impound lot.

    Of course, all of this would mean very little if the gameplay didn’t hold up. Thankfully, Grand Theft Auto III has very few concerns in this area. The car mechanics are smooth and response. And whilst occasionally jittery, the gunplay is functional and especially fun once the player arms themselves with sniper rifles and flamethrowers. The camera, whilst not offering the same freedom of movement as we would see in newer titles in the series, is still perfectly serviceable and rarely gets in the way.

    However, despite all this it would be dishonest to ignore a few of the glaring issues with this game. The glut of timed missions, all growing more and more unforgiving as the game goes on, really push things from merely being challenging to hideously unfair at points. This is made far more infuriating when you consider that there is no map available in the pause menu, no ability to place checkpoints, and everything is reliant on your own memory. Worse, at a perfectly arbitrary point in the game, all the icons for the vehicle repair facilities completely disappear. This is never explained, and does nothing but make things that much harder. If you like a challenge, you’ll love this game. But, for those like myself who are more casual, expect frequent and violent frustration.

    The gangs who stalk the streets present the second biggest problem. With storyline developments turning certain factions irreversibly hostile, huge chunks of the map become no-go areas. In the case of the Mafia, I mean this quite literally, as a wrong turn into their turf will see them kill you in about two seconds. If you’re looking for a gunfight, this can lead to many exciting confrontations. If not? Your only option is to stay away from an entire corner of the city.

    Still, despite these shortcomings, Grand Theft Auto III remains now and forever a dark, disturbing slice of inner city anarchy. A love letter to classic gangster movies and a true pioneer of the entire video game world every bit as important as Mario or Minecraft.

    If you have never played it before, you could do a lot worse than to pick up the remastered version on the cheap, settle in, and enjoy the simple story of a bank robber going through one Hell of a breakup.

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