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Grand Theft Auto III

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Imagine a world without boundaries, without rules, where you are free to take what you want and do what you see fit. Such a place cannot exist in the real world but Grand Theft Auto 3 offers us the chance to experience this place, a third place?

Where do you want to go today? I strolled out into the pouring rain, fired off a few salvos at passing cars, beat up a passing jogger, smacked an old granny around the block before jumping into a nice motor. This is Liberty City. This is your life. This is Grand Theft Auto 3 – the best game for the Playstation 2 to date.

You are a small time crook determined to hit the big time however you fail badly as during a bank job your partner double crosses you. On your way to the Liberty City Jail you are busted out, well, someone else in the transporter is, never one to miss out on an opportunity you make a dash for freedom. Not stopping to wonder who the other prisoner was and why such devastating force was used. Once you have established a safe house thanks to another escapee, you start working for the local Mafia. Where you go from here is up to you, as you show your skills through several daring missions other gangs will take notice of the new boy in town. The early missions are well thought out, explaining the controls, skills and knowledge you will need to succeed. Unfortunately the Liberty City Police Department are known for their ruthless attitude. In previous versions of Grand Theft Auto, the police would try to arrest you; here they will gun you down without hesitation. When you become a bigger target more than just the police will be sent out after you. Expect the FBI, Army and SWAT teams all to take an interest in your capture.

The beauty of Grand Theft Auto 3 is the open-ended nature of it all. Many of the great games of recent years have had this; Zelda Ocarina of Time included plenty of other tasks and games to keep you distracted, as did Phantasy Star Online and Skies of Arcadia. You can offer your services to a variety of gangs who will gladly pay once the mission is completed. Alternatively you may prefer to cause complete and utter carnage in Liberty City, there are certainly enough cars and pedestrians to do so. Each mission is preceded by an FMV introduction, continuing the story and your rise to infamy. Various cars and vans are parked throughout the city; these will offer you unique jobs or games such as Mafia Massacre – here you guide remote controlled cars of death trying to kill as many of your mafia buddies as possible within a time limit. More opportunities exist in the form of taxis, police cars, fire engines and ambulances, that all offer you the chance to earn extra cash by a spot of moonlighting. Tired of being chased by the police? Why not become one yourself and arrest that criminal using lethal force of course. You can be rewarded for insane stunts; striving for perfection is never easy but the variety of ramps and jumps available to you make practice fun indeed.

Liberty City is a large sprawling metropolis full of life, crime and law enforcement. There are three sections of the city and you start life on Portland Island. The layout is typically American and the city is based on New York with bridges and tunnels being the only way to reach the Shoresidevale or Staunton areas. Whereas before you could only travel by foot or car here you can take the train, subway, boat or surf on top of passing cars as perfected by Dark Swirl whilst gunning down passers by. As before, you open up new areas by achieving success or massive massacres, the choice is yours. Helping the hard work ahead of you is the varied nature of the missions, different gangs, and different objectives. Jobs are never the same and range from the straightforward to the more complex and skilful. I thought by now that DMA would have run out of original ideas for this series but those missions keep on coming. Of course the game initially is about stealing cars and there are over 50 such vehicles on offer. Most cars differ in the way they handle, damage levels and top speed – it is important in later missions that you select the correct vehicle. The handling is excellent whether you are driving or on foot, the dual shock controller and control system sit nicely in your hands and the whole thing feels natural.

The city is very much alive; graphically the game is excellent with little pop-up or the limited draw distance that plagues many other titles. The amount of traffic on the street, size of the areas and pedestrians will have you hooked and the game runs at a smooth and playable rate. The little touches also impress, planes in the sky overhead, steam coming from vents and trees moving in the wind. If you have a wide screen television then this is the game for you. The jump from 2D to 3D is better than anyone could have anticipated. It works so well. The variety of camera angles on offer will satisfy every fan, old or new – even the top down view is here.

The game is based around a clock system where a second in our time is a minute in game time. As mentioned in our previous some missions depend on you being at a certain point at a given time. GTA3 includes a full-weather eco-system that includes rain, fog, thunder and lightning, which affect handling and fog reduces visibility. The lighting effects in the game are good enough, in particular when it begins to rain and you headlights pierce through the night sky. There are the odd graphics glitches and clashes, perhaps the collision detection could have been improved but overall these are minor quibbles and do not spoil your illegal enjoyment of it all. Rushed out for Christmas? Perhaps but I’d take this version over most PS2 titles currently out on the shelves.

The great graphics are easily matched by the superb sound effects and music that the game produces. A city has to sound alive, and the work that the team have put into the noises and characters pulls off the desired effect. Just by walking around you can hear the conversations of others and traffic passing you by. The radios again are here in force and much improved – if you ever thought that was possible. Sometimes it was enjoyable just to pull off the road, sit back and listen to what was going through the radio. Plenty of choice for fans of classical, jazz, rock, raps, country or any other musical form. Such a shame that the game does not feature a Dolby Digital or Dolby Pro-Logic facility that would have brought the experience to a new level.

Overall Grand Theft Auto 3 is a superb game with of course controversial content that you will either love or hate. Ignoring the issues that the title will no doubt raise with the mainstream press and its readers this is an essential PS2 purchase. The range of missions and bonuses on offer, excluding the open-ended gameplay will have you occupied for months. We rarely give out high scores at Gamestyle mainly because (like you) we demand the best and rarely receive it. Grand Theft Auto 3 certainly is. Self-destruction is the answer, go enjoy it.