Monday, September 18, 2017

Grand Theft Auto III (PS2)


Grand Theft Auto III is the first GTA game on the PS2, making the jump to the next generation console hardware at the time.  It converted to using a 3D environment with a third-person camera.  The game tries out a lot of new concepts at the time, and while it was no doubt ambitious when it was first released, with nothing like it and being a pioneer in 3D open world games, however, it has not aged too well with clunky gameplay and frustrating missions.  There are more than a few annoyances but nothing that breaks the game, such as low health, low durability of vehicles, free camera rotation only available in first-person view and poor aiming mechanics.  The game takes place in Liberty City, a fictional city comprised of three islands, which gradually unlocks as you play through the game.  There is no in-game full map but the minimap usually more than suffices and the city is small enough such that you'll be able to recognise the landmarks.

Grand Theft Auto III gives you heaps of freedom and the ability to carry on with the story at your own pace.  The story is told via a mission based structure, you will head to the starting point, a cutscene will play and your objective spelt out, then you would go and do it.  If you fail the mission, you have to repeat the mission from the beginning, including travelling back to the starting point, which can get tedious.  The mission variety is low and they generally involve driving or shooting.  Some of the missions will have a time limit, while others don't.  The addition of the time limits in most of the missions is arbitrary and creates artificial difficulty, which is frustrating.  On missions with a time limit, the time given are tight which doesn't help when vehicles control like they're made of feathers, flipping over all the time, being unstable even at low speed and downright not fun to control.

What makes vehicular control worse is that some missions are reliant on luck and you have to keep repeating until the vehicles on the road spawn in such a way that it doesn't obstruct you and waste your time.  Be prepared to keep repeating missions again and again for muscle memory before you pass, and of course, trek over half the city to accept the mission again (worse are the ones where the mission start at one island but the whole mission actually happens on another island).  This makes the game frustrating and unfair because it feels cheap.  It's not because you're not good, it's because the terrible and clunky controls are rubbish.  One of the worst offenders is the mission where you are given a short time limit but expect you to complete the mission by no hitting your car anywhere and have to angle the car just right in the garage.  These terrible mission designs are tedious, repetitive and a lot of the time, not fun.

The game utilizes an auto-aim for most of the weapons where you hold down the shoulder button and it'll target the enemy in front of you.  Other weapons such as the sniper rifle and the rocket launcher have a more traditional target screen for precise aiming.  In terms of story, you control the main character, who is unnamed and mute, although later games references him as Claude.  At the beginning of the game, he is being transported to prison since he was betrayed by his girlfriend Catalina.  He manages to escape with some help and then proceeds to help out the gangs of Liberty City and builds his reputation.  It is a weak story that boils down to little more than helping out all the gangs, then effectively making enemies of all of them such that they will now shoot on sight while you're exploring, and then escaping to the next island to repeat with those gangs.  Thanks to the mission based structure, it means that the pacing and tightness of the storytelling cannot be maintained.  All the characters act badass and seems to blame a lot of things on Claude when things go wrong, so it doesn't give you a sense that there is any friendship, loyalty, gratefulness or actually, anything that bonds the characters together.

Thankfully, many of the cutscenes can be skipped otherwise repeating missions would be even more of a slog than it already is.  The story missions are only a portion of the game since you're free to explore all what Liberty City has to offer.  Side activities include finding collectables that unlocks useful weapons or vehicles, taxi missions, ambulance missions and fire truck missions, in addition to other side missions, all of which are as difficult as the story missions.  You can steal any vehicle on the street, including police cars.  There are fun variations such as when a car alarm goes off when you steal a parked vehicle and you attract police, or the driver comes back and angrily pulls you from the vehicle.  If you perform a crime in front of police, then your Wanted Level rises.  As your Wanted Level rises, the more resources the police will have to track you down and arrest you.  Once you get to the maximum level of 6 Stars, good luck since tanks and helicopters will be following you, and tough police vehicles will be constantly ramming you.  There is only a relatively small financial penalty if you get caught, although you will lose all your weapons.

The game has a day/night cycle and weather effects such as fog and cloudy days, which is very impressive.  It also means some missions can only be started during certain time frames.  The graphics are decent for an early PS2 game, and for a game that is over 15 years old, it surprisingly still looks passable.  Note that you have to save manually by returning to your safe house.  You cannot save during missions.  Saving also causes time to fast forward a few hours into the day.  If you have a tough time, then the game has cheats such as unlocking all weapons, spawning tanks for you to use and lowering the Wanted Level.  Overall, Grand Theft Auto III is a technical marvel at the time, trying out and succeeding in a lot of things.  Unfortunately, as many games have taken what Grand Theft Auto III has tried and further refined it, the game hasn't aged as well.  With repetitive missions, tough objectives and restrictions and archaic control schemes, be prepared to be frustrated while playing.

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