When Grand Theft Auto III first hit consoles back in 2001, you might never have imagined you’d be able to play it on your phone someday. A stripped-down, 2D, monochromatic version of it perhaps, but the full game? No way!
To some of us, the very prospect of playing a gorgeous 3D free-roaming mayhemathon on our phones might have seemed like the stuff of science-fiction. Today, though, we know better. You can download the mighty GTA III (and its sequels) on almost any smartphone for around a tenth of its original price.
In the years since GTA III first came along, the series has evolved in a big way. In many respects, this game feels pretty darn basic, and the graphics are massively inferior to those in the latest instalment. Still, GTA III revolutionised not just the entire series, but games in general – there had been open-world games before, including the top-down 2D original GTA titles, but nothing quite like this.
In just a couple of months, GTA III will celebrate its 15th birthday. The years have been kind to it, though, and there’s still plenty of reasons to love it. Join us as we look at 5 of them …
# 1: The Mute But Charismatic Lead
When Vice City came along in 2002, players were treated to a fully fleshed-out character who wore ever-changing natty clothes and spoke with Ray Liotta’s voice. Grand Theft Auto III, though, featured a totally mute leading man, with a basic fixed outfit … but he’s still massively engaging.
Perhaps being mute helped to make Claude even more charismatic than he would be with a voice. Without his being able to drop one-liners and foul-mouthed quips as he ploughs through pedestrians in a bus, we never know what he’s thinking. Is he cackling internally, filled with macabre glee? Is he conflicted, aware that he’s totally immoral but unable to help himself? We never get to find out, but can apply our own ideas to the character, making for an immersive experience.
# 2: It’s The First GTA World With A Truly Organic Feel
The first top-down Grand Theft Auto games had open-world designs and plenty of bystanders to harass, but GTA III was a mind-bending experience in 2001. Even today, it’s still impressive just how much Rockstar achieved.
Being able to just watch people amble along the street, speaking to themselves or others, shows the genius of the game’s construction. Sure, you see the same character models repeated often, but Liberty City feels alive, filled with opportunity. You can jump in a car and enjoy a leisurely drive, or you can go to the roof of a multi-storey car park and pick pedestrians off with a sniper rifle. Who can forget the thrill of beating someone with a baseball bat, watching the paramedics resuscitate them … and then beating them again? The simple fact that ambulances often arrive to help injured NPC’s demonstrates GTA III’s organic depth brilliantly.
GTA III’s sandbox is still a blast to play in, despite its limitations – and that’s not just nostalgia talking. Even today, you might be able to find one or two secrets by exploring the right places.
# 3: The Addictive Mini-Games
The ability to hijack a cab and start earning money is a tiny feature in Grand Theft Auto III, but it has the power to keep you hooked.
While Crazy Taxi is a game based entirely around the concept of rushing to one location after another as fast as possible, no matter who gets in your way, GTA III includes this as an optional side-feature. If you need a break between icing people or climbing the underworld’s ladder, you can tap into your entrepreneurial side instead. This freedom is integral to the GTA experience, and the third game nails it in grand style.
As well as the cab missions, the Vigilante mode’s another genius touch. Whether you’re stealing a cop car just for the hell of it or on the run after blowing its driver away, using the vehicle to embark on a criminal-killing spree is an easy way to lose hours of your life. Liberty City is filled with bad guys, and Vigilante mode is your way to play on the side of the angels for a change.
Of course, GTA III also allows you to climb into an ambulance and rush people to hospital, saving lives rather than taking them. You can also commandeer a fire truck and protect Liberty City’s lives and property, blasting your hose this way and that. These missions are a terrific distraction from the main game, and help to ease the conscience for those of us who feel guilty after doing some very bad things to those virtual townsfolk.
# 4: The Awesome Soundtrack
The first Grand Theft Auto game had a great soundtrack, but it was original music, with no recognisable tunes.
When GTA III came along, though, all of that changed. We were graced with real tunes, a diverse range of radio stations, and a host of charismatic DJ’s. Take a look at Flashback 95.6 FM, with the sultry Toni introducing tracks like a pro; this station plays songs taken from the Scarface soundtrack, a nod to one of the most iconic gangster movies ever, and is filled with 80s goodness.
Chatterbox FM, on the other hand, is a hilarious talk-radio station. Various characters call in to discuss numerous topics, with funny, satirical conversations running on and on. Being able to drive around Liberty City is much more engaging and exciting with real music and in-game chatter to listen to; it even makes playing through those harder missions again and again more bearable!
This is one of the most innovative elements of GTA III, and Rockstar built on this beautifully in subsequent games.
# 5: The Stellar Cast
Along with the awesome music, Grand Theft Auto III also features a terrific voice cast. The mighty Joe Pantoliano, Kyle MacLachlan, Michael Rappaport, Debi Mazar, Michael Madsen, Robert Loggia (that dude who joins Tom Hanks in Big’s iconic keyboard-dancing scene) and Frank Vincent all appear.
Having recognisable voices in the game helps to make GTA III feel more like a highly-interactive film, and really helps to bring the characters to life. With the likes of Madsen, Pantoliano, and Vincent involved, none of whom are strangers to the crime/gangster genre, this feels like a solid crime story fit for the big screen, and is enough to satisfy fans of the genre.
Well, that’s just five reasons we still love Grand Theft Auto III! We could go on and on, but we’ll leave it there … for now.
What do you think of Grand Theft Auto III today? Let us know!