This review originally appeared in E105, Christmas 2001.
Nothing burns as pleasingly as the hoi polloi of a city and so, with no review code forthcoming, it’s with both regret and anticipation that Edge is forced to purloin a copy of GTA3 from the shelves of its local gaming emporium. The air of studied gangster cool that surrounds Take 2’s latest – caricatures more than characters; theatrics more than cinematics – is almost as clichéd as the flea-bitten leather jacket sported by the game’s moody, taciturn lead. However, early play quickly dispels such concerns – the shift to 3D is a shrewd and rewarding step for the GTA universe.
For those unaware of GTA’s criminal record, both previous titles saw the player take the role of a wannabe crook, rapidly rising in villainous stature by completing short ‘get A, destroy B, kill C’ missions for cartoon bosses. GTA 3 is equally amoral, and essentially a 3D facsimile, although the extra dimension creates more than a corresponding increase in flair, scale and aesthetic. Most heists rely on the holy trinity of planning, execution and a little bit of luck, but executing a tricky gangland hit through an adroit scheme of your own provides its own definitively visceral satisfaction.
The considered and burgeoning topography of Liberty City feels both intricate and robust. It’s a place that sprawls but doesn’t bustle, and the sparse ambient effects which accompany your on-foot travails are testament to this. In-vehicle, however, it’s a different story. In true GTA fashion, there’s an entire spectrum of radio stations to flick through, veering from the sardonic to the satirical.
The one jarring flaw is the spurious nature of up-close combat – it’s an awkward system that stymies play during hectic hails of gangland warfare, and is doubly infuriating at the end of a protracted campaign. It feels even more unfair when juxtaposed with the wonderfully laissez-faire attitude of the cruising patrol cars. There’s a lamentable lack of freedom for your own criminal genius, too. You’re still boxed in by the whims of your current overlords – any schemes of your own ruthless devising are restricted to trivial pursuits for petty cash.
While the coherent and emergent behaviour of the city is limited to a local scale, GTA3 definitely gets one crucial thing right: it’s all about owning the streets, strutting your territory and walking tall.