Saturday, 9 August 2008

GTA Retrospective I - Grand Theft Auto

  • Game: Grand Theft Auto
  • Console: PlayStation, PC
  • Developer: DMA Design
  • Publisher: BMG Interactive
  • Released: 1997
The original Grand Theft Auto is the game that started it all. The game that pretty much invented the 'sandbox' style that influenced dozens of clones and quite possibly became the most important game ever made. Developed by DMA Design (which would become Rockstar North), Grand Theft Auto (GTA) - originally named 'Race N Chase' - was released on the PC and PlayStation in 1997. At the time, it was hard to imagine just what this low in tech but high in prospect game would do to the industry and what it would become in 11 years' time.

The game was viewed from a 2D top-down perspective, with your main character appearing as a tiny sprite and cars looking more like toy cars than the authentic looking, thousand plus polygon cars of GTA IV. The game also featured quite a strange control method; 'up' was forward, depending upon whichever way your character or vehicle was facing and consequently to that, left was always left and right was always right. The top-down view allowed the developers to create a massive game world for you to commit any type of crime you could imagine (or, at least any type of crime you could actually do in the game). Pedestrians were bumper fodder as well as cannon fodder. Every vehicle in the game was yours to drive whether it had someone else driving it or not, and each vehicle had its own radio, which would allow you listen to different songs from seven different radio stations. All these features introduced in this first GTA game were incredibly pioneering and became synonymous with the series, improving upon these advances with each game, making each new chapter in the saga of GTA seem more like real-life than the last (if in real-life, you could actually get away with it all).

The guys walking in a line are Buddhists. If you run them all over in quick succession, you get a load of bonus points.

The first GTA also introduced three cities that would all get their very own games; Liberty City from GTA III and GTA Liberty City Stories. Vice City, which was based on Miami, would get GTA Vice City and GTA Vice City Stories. San Andreas, which was based on San Francisco, would get GTA San Andreas. What is notable is that San Andreas in GTA San Andreas is a state, as it housed three cities: Los Santos (Los Angeles), San Fierro (San Francisco) and Las Venturas (Las Vegas), but in this game it was merely a city. In fact, none of the cities' original layouts would survive the transition to 3D. In the original GTA each of these cities were the game's levels, and would serve the player as such. To get from one city (or level) to the next, you had to reach a certain score. To get this score you would have to employ tactics in true GTA style: cause havoc, steal and sell cars, or just do missions. This gave the game a much more arcade type feel than its successors. The game had no story to speak of and you could pick one of eight different characters to play as: Travis, Kat, Mikki, Divine, Bubba, Troy, Kivlov and Ulrika. It didn't detract anything from the game though, as doing anything you wanted, anywhere and anytime, as you see fit, gave the game a lot more freedom than any game before it.

GTA also got an expansion pack in the form of GTA London. Set in the 60s, this was the first game in the series to utilise a licensed soundtrack to add to that authenticity the game deserved.

This was what your character looked like, a million miles away from Niko Bellic and the like.

Even though the game had a lot of violent content, it was all very tongue-in-cheek. You could punch passers-by in the face or merely taunt them by burping or farting. 'Gritty realism' is a something this game would reject in favour of unadulterated, and rather immature, fun. It really goes to show the farcical nature of some of the controversy over this game.

The game also introduced the 'wanted level' system of gameplay. Even though you could do anything you wanted to, it came at a price. Mount up a succession of crimes, be it kicking the crap out of pedestrians, car-jacking, hit and runs etc., and you would release a pack of baying police officers to either haul your ass in to the nearest police station, or 'take you out'.

Despite its humble beginnings, the GTA franchise would practically know no bounds in the years to come, going from strength to strength, city by city. Literally. GTA tore the gaming community a new one with its freeform gameplay and controversial content. The gaming world would never be the same again, and this was just the beginning.

Coming up - we take a look at the next game in the series: GTA II.


Ronan The Librarian said...

Brilliant article :)