Remember when you first saw or heard something so outrageously violent, offensive, or sexual in a form of media that was not known for that style and it simply left your jaw on the floor? For example, violent cartoons with crude language on network television – “South Park”. Explicitly sexual lyrics on a record – 2 Live Crew. Brutally violent with curse words in a video game – “Grand Theft Auto 3”. Rockstar Game’s groundbreaking 3D open world action adventure title, released in the fall of 2001, was a game many would cite as crossing that line for mainstream video games. “Grand Theft Auto 3” took excessively brutal and sometimes unnecessary violence, which had been a part of video games from the beginning, and explicit language and adult themes, which hadn’t exactly been commonplace in video games prior and integrated them into a whole new genre. The open world adventure game was something that most gamers wanted since “The Legend of Zelda” and “Metroid” but the technology wasn’t up to the task. Even the previous two GTA entries in the series, released on the PlayStation, couldn’t compare to “GTA3” in terms of style and gameplay when it finally came out.
For me, “Grand Theft Auto 3” came as something of a surprise. I had no awareness of the first two entries on the PlayStation and hadn’t been following the hype surrounding this game, which included the release delay due to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the game’s fictional Liberty City similarities to NYC. Then all of the sudden, sometime in late 2001/early 2002, my younger brother was telling me about how he had been playing “GTA3” on his roommate’s PS2 and I needed to check it out. By 2002, the game was a phenomenon and I wanted in on the experience. Boy was I hooked! The storyline, linear missions, non-linear side missions, as well as the general mayhem that you could cause (armed robbery, car jackings, hit and runs, oh my!) all while exploring the seemingly infinite expanse of Liberty City and it’s boroughs. The game was a masterpiece by giving a player just enough freedom to really feel like they are living inside this virtual world, while holding back access to certain areas until specific missions have been completed. This is an age old gaming trope meant to create suspense while maintaining a game’s shelf life. “Grand Theft Auto 3” is a game whose side missions and exploration through strong arming vehicles and driving aimlessly around town can be as fun as the main game itself. This is a clear sign of a very well designed game. I had never played a game that felt as large as “Grand Theft Auto 3” before and it was spectacular, even if it was jaw droppingly violent.
Since “GTA3” was such an enormous success, it made sense for Rockstar to release a follow up as fast as possible and that game was “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City”. “GTA: Vice City”, released in 2002, provided more of the same mayhem and violence but instead of present day, it was set in the 80s in the city called Vice City, modeled after Miami. The word “vice” in “Vice City” instantly takes you back to the pastel chic of “Miami Vice”, the 80s cops and drugs show that was a pop culture phenomenon. “GTA: Vice City” is mostly remembered for its 80s style & music but it is equally as impressive as “GTA3” and in many ways surpasses it in terms of visuals and overall gameplay. This is another must own if you’re a fan of the genre and the series.
“Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” is the third and final GTA title released on the PS2 and it takes the criminal simulation series to the west coast, California to be exact. San Andreas’ time period appears to be the early 90s, to coincide with the west coast gangsta rap scene that was blowing up in the mainstream at the time. The soundtrack reflects this era as well, as it includes late 80s/early 90s hip hop classics. “GTA: San Andreas” is even larger in scope, as if that were even possible, as the game allows your character to traverse several west coast cities modeled after Los Angeles, Las Vegas and San Francisco. “GTA: San Andreas” also ups the sex, violence and swearing and is notorious for the “hot coffee” mod that allowed you to unlock a sex scene starring your character. The plot is straight out of the gang banging, crack slangin’ handbook and as a result, “GTA: San Andreas” has the grittiest feel of all three games, which is saying a lot.
“Bully”, Rockstar Games next foray in realistic open world 3D adventures for the PS2, takes place in private high school where you play as a student trying to rise the social ranks while keeping the peace. In this particular adventure, your character isn’t the titular “bully” or the one causing mayhem but instead you act as a sort of peacemaker, trying to make Bullworth Academy a better place for all students, but especially yourself.
Currently in my collection:
Grand Theft Auto 3 – game, manual, case A
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City – game, manual, case A
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas – game, manual, case A-
Bully – game, manual, case