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September 17th, 2003 is a day that many will regard as a great day in gaming. That is the day Grand Theft Auto V was released on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. I could not have cared less. I tried, but it was impossible. The game was not on my radar or care meter. The reason is because in two months time the PlayStation 4 would be released and with it, surely a new-gen version of GTAV right? Well yes, but not until a year later and even longer for the PC release. But even then I didn’t pick it up, at least not yet. I was Grand Theft Auto’d out.
Eventually I did and rediscovered why this series is still successful. Much like war, GTA never changes. The same core gameplay you know and love is present in each and every game making any version easy to pick up and play. It’s the extra stuff they do that make each new version what it is. This is not a review of all the titles in the series or even an in-depth look. It’s just a written account of my history and thoughts of the series.
My adventures with GTA started years ago, 1999 to be exact with GTA2, I never played the original. I picked the game up on the day it released. That was purely by accident, I knew nothing about the game but my local game store had a display and I happened to wander in. Either way I bought the game, went home and installed in on my PC. I remember being a bit disappointed to find it was a top down game. I didn’t know when I bought it. I was young and the guy behind the counter was super enthusiastic so it seemed like a must buy for me.
But once I saw the level of freedom I had to wander the city, steal cars and beatup random people I was hooked. I never played more than a handful of missions. To this day I have no idea what the game was about. I would spend hours doing the same thing over and over. Running over people, beating them up, shooting and listening to the radio. It was great fun but after about two weeks I had grown tired of it and that was the last I would ever touch Grand Theft Auto 2.
Fast forward to 2002. At this time I did not have a Playstation 2 but had been hearing a lot of great things about Grand Theft Auto 3. I had not seen any video footage of the game but I was told it was a 3D version of Grand Theft Auto. I imagined what it would be like, to actually walk the streets and get a 3rd person view of the game. There is no way that was possible. Couldn’t be. Well I bought a copy for my PC as I was primarily a PC guy at that time. I installed the game and prepared myself for a better looking GTA2. But what I saw blew me away. It was a true 3rd person, 3D GTA. I had full control and could roam free causing all sorts of mayhem and destruction. In the first few minutes I knew the next several weeks, if not months, were just accounted for. It took the vision I had in my head, which I had deemed impossible, and obliterated it. It was so much better than I could have imagined at that time.
My mind was blown again when I realized that the game’s radio stations actually featured real, licensed music and fully voice acted DJs and a talk radio station. I spent hours just driving around and listening to the radio because at the time it was an amazing accomplishment.
Just like GTA2 I never completed the story for GTA3, I played several missions but got to a point where just driving and causing destruction was more fun so that took over for weeks.
Fast forward again, this time to December 2002. I finally got my hands on a PlayStation 2 and picked up Final Fantasy X and Grand Theft Auto Vice City. GTA:VC had just been released in October and hype was still going strong in December for it. However I elected to play FFX instead and didn’t touch Vice City until around February or March of 2003. When I did I felt an immense embarrassment for not playing it sooner. It was a much better, much more stylized and polished version of GTA 3 in my opinion. Everything about it was better and still remains my favorite in the series so far.
I was determined to finish this game. It had its claws in me. But it got very, very difficult for me. So as I have done I ended up just driving around causing trouble which was still fun. But a few years passed and San Andreas’ release date was fast approaching. I wanted to finish Vice City before getting the new game so one day I got up at 3am just randomly and said today is the day! I fired up the PS2 and played Vice City straight through. I finished up at about 5pm and was ready to eat and then pass out. I was dead tired, my eyes hurt but I loved every minute of the game. I had logged hours upon hours into those games prior just running around but that was the first time I really put time and effort into the story and I was surprised just how well Rockstar did with it. It made me even more excited for San Andreas.
San Andreas was my very first midnight launch event. I showed up around 11pm and stood in the long line. Gamestop had done it right. They had a line for people to pay for it and a line for people who had already paid for it. I stood in the “paid for” line, showed them my ID and got my game with no hassle and left. This was back when Gamestop knew how to do midnight launches, I’ve yet to attend one since that ran as smoothly. I got home at 12:30am and decided to start it up. I was going to just go to bed and play it the next day after work. I only went to the midnight launch so I would not have to fight crowds after work, I hate fighting crowds. However I said let’s at least see the opening sequence. Two hours later I had to force myself to stop and sleep as I was due at work in three and a half hours.
San Andreas introduced the mechanic of increasing your strength, stamina and even had a weight gain/loss system in it basically encouraging(forcing really) you to dive into the city and explore what it had to offer. I really enjoyed taking CJ to the gym and watching him get stronger and gain stamina which really did help out in the game. I also played with the weight system and got him to eat and eat and eat so he would get hugely fat. That was fun! But just like in real life, getting him to slim back down was not as fun and turned out to be a lot of work. But it was my choice and all part of the game.
San Andreas is still remembered as one of, if not the, best GTA’s in the series and it’s easy to see why. The world it built was fully fleshed out and it had huge rural areas of the map, not just a city giving the player a nice change of scenery. Make no mistake though, the city part of the map is giant and done very well.
Grand Theft Auto IV was released on April 29th, 2008. The world was certainly watching. It sold amazingly well which is not surprising. It’s a major release and had been four years since San Andreas came out. GTA IV made a big impression and won countless awards for its story and voice acting. As has been the case with me, I waited to pick it up. I got it about 8 months after release. Once I popped it in the Xbox 360 I was hooked. The game was fun, looked amazing and was filled with stuff to do around every corner. Ultimately I put in the least amount of hours into GTAIV than any other entries since GTA2. And by that I mean, I put 40 or so hours into GTAIV. What turned me off of the game was the driving physics. I’m not going to beat a dead horse since the topic has been talked about in great length but the driving physics were enough that I just stopped playing. There was a mission I could not pass because they were so bad.
I later started playing it again, years later actually, on the PC as Steam had it on sale for $2.95 one day. Thankfully I found a mod for the game that gave the cars the same physics as GTAV and it made a world of difference. I still ended up not finishing it. In fact, to this day, Vice City remains the only GTA I have ever finished. But that will change soon. GTA IV is a beautiful game and has a certain charm to it that is undeniable thanks to its main protagonist Nico. He just wants to make it in America and you get to watch his rise to fame as he battles with doing bad things for the right reasons, or at least for what he thinks are the right reasons. The story is very well done and worth plaything through, but be aware that the game mechanics are a bit hard to handle in this title. At least I thought so.
I am currently playing GTA V and have about 16 hours into it. Steam had it on sale for $35 so I picked it up on PC. I went back and forth on whether I should get it on PC or PS4 and decided PC since I had not been playing many PC games as of late. I will eventually get it for PS4 I’m sure.
GTA V is a complete refresh of the series and resets the standard for it. You can feel the influence from Red Dead Redemption in terms of the gun fights and the way the characters control. That is a very welcome addition to the game. GTA V is the first game in the series that I have played where the gunplay is actually fun and satisfying to use. Every other GTA has felt very unrefined in that area and I hated gun fights. In GTA V I finally feel like I’m playing a GTA with proper third person shooting controls. I have played a bit with the first person shooter camera and didn’t like it.
I didn’t buy GTA V for a while because, based on my time with the earlier games, I didn’t feel like the game would be a huge leap forward in terms of controls and the fact you play as three different people made me think the game would be overly complicated and cumbersome to play. I ignored the great reviews because it’s GTA and good reviews are pretty much expected. Once I started playing the game I was, as stated above, very pleasantly surprised with how it plays.
You start off playing as Franklin. You spend a few hours as him and really get to know him and become attached to him. The more I played the more I liked his character. I wondered how the game was going to handle switching to a new character for me. I didn’t want to play as anyone else. But after a few hours Michael was introduced. As soon as possible I switched back to Franklin until I was done with his missions and in order to progress I had to play as Michael. My fears were soon put to rest. Almost instantly I liked Michael and the fact Franklin accompanied me on missions helped with the transition to a new character. I also liked that while they have their own motivations and stories, they intertwine together almost seamlessly.
After hours of playing as both characters we get to meet Trevor. I. Love. Trevor. And I fully realize I’m supposed to. He is basically a guilty pleasure character. A complete psychopath. It’s glorious. I love that fact that Rockstar has this character where they can have him really do anything they want and it’s ok because they do such a great job building Trevor up as a complete head case. Just when you get a grasp on him and feel you can predict his next move he goes way out of left field. Also, I need my own Mr. Raspberry Jam. GTA V will probably get the distinction of being the 2nd GTA game I actually finish. Driven largely by the great controls but also by the almost episodic way they tell the story with very interesting characters. Rockstar nailed the story and characters it this one.
Grand Theft Auto has been a large part of my gaming past. I am not mentioning the PSP games here but I have them and have played them. Not until completion yet, but I’m sure I will. Some of the entries have been much better than others thanks to the controls but all of them have their own identity, charm and are worth playing even if it’s just for the thrill of causing mass destruction in the streets. It’s undeniable the amount of fun that can be had just exploring the city. It’s nearly an entire game on its own.
Well that completes my ramblings and my personal history and thoughts on the series. It’s impact on the industry has been huge, filled with great moments and more than it’s share of controversies. I hope you enjoyed this and if you actually read it all then I’m impressed and a bit flattered. Thanks for reading and have a wonderful day.