If there is one series that has made a stir in the gaming world over the past years, it would have to be the Grand Theft Auto series from Rockstar. Not only does it allow for car theft, innocent killings and police bashing, it encourages it!
However this was less effective back in the days of GTA 1 and 2, because everything in the game basically looked like ants, due to the fully 'bird's eye' camera view given with 2D rendering. All this is changed now, as for GTA3 and onwards, the killing is in total 3D baby! Although this inevitably sparks some conflict between general society and the gaming industry, it also sparks some serious fun for gamers.
The game starts you right off into the heart of the action, Liberty City. After an escape, both you and a buddy are required to get into some street clothes and hit the town. Almost straight away the whole gangster theme begins, with job offerings and tasks a plenty.
The job offerings are not required, infact you go about them in your own free will, but if you want to make any meaningful progress in the game your best choice is to complete them. The basic rundown is this: you meet a leader of some sort who needs something done which usually requires cars and guns (which is fine by us :)). Once the task is done, he pays you and your off to find more fun and games.
Most tasks are essentially the same, so the experience can become repetitive and tedious at times, but just as you decide this is enough you are given a unique task that is to good to pass (e.g. drive a rigged car to a location and watch it blow). Tasks like these help the overall gameplay quite a bit.
The story line is pretty basic, but it fits well into the game. You don't have much choice about your outcome, which is quite different to the earlier GTA games, where you could chose which gang you allied with and only perform their tasks. In GTA3 it seems you have a heavily following for the local Italian Mafia, which makes for a linear, but still fun, experience.
There is no hiding the fact GTA3 is a whole heap of fun, I don't think anyone could raise a serious argument going against that. Even if the tasks get boring there is no stopping you going out and expressing your creative and devious side. At first there really is a unlimited amount of things to try, as the in-game environment is simply so rich in possibility.
The three islands are an extension of each other, meaning that the only thing in your way from going to one from another in any direction is time. However they also act as levels, so the second island isn't open for use until a job comes up which allows you to go over there. Once the island is unlocked then you may go back and forth via a conventional freeway or boat. The fact that some tasks actually require you to go back to the last island makes for some very hectic and chaotic gameplay, racing through the busy streets in an almost certain low time period. This adds a "Crazy Taxi" element to the gameplay, which balances very nicely with the overall game.
The AI in GTA3 is usually strong, but some aspects could use improving. Driving is a little buggy, where at times you see cars aimlessly crash and drift across the roads (but then again I have never been to Liberty City :)). The pedestrians seem to be frightened of your car no matter how well you drive, sometimes even managing to dive into your way causing them to be run over, which in turn usually sparks attention from a near by copper. Another problem I found with the AI is the fact that the police are solely after you. If a gang war brakes our that you have had nothing to do with, the cops will walk by like a day in the park, but if as so much as punch someone in the gang war they will be all over you.
So, wrapping up, GTA3 really does play in a league of its own when concerning gameplay, the fun and sheer enjoyment had is unmatched across the board.
With options maxed out, the detail given to pretty much every aspect of the city environment is fantastic. Buildings are unique, plants and sculptures are sharp and lifelike, not to mention the precise textures. It is amazing how you can actually see 3D buildings and landmarks from ages away on the horizon, instead of some backdrop. The cars and fellow city dwellers are also rendered quite nicely, with lifelike motions and animations supplementing that.
However detail like this comes at a cost, and I can assure you the cost here is rather hefty. For all details to be top notch you will need nothing short of atleast 256mb RAM, a modern CPU with preferably something in the vicinity of a Geforce3. Although that probably isn't an issue for some gamers, the rest who don't possess beasty PC's will find that even on low detail settings and a low resolution, you can expect sub-par performance.
The audio is without a doubt the weakest area of GTA3. Although most of the times it really is unnoticeable, the audio generally comes off muffled and low detailed. The player is given the option of numerous radio stations to listen to in cars, which is a nice addition, but due to this audio problem most of the songs are high pitched tunes with little to no bass at all.
However one great aspect about the audio is that the majority of it is in MP3 format, which is a space saver. Although you aren't actually required to copy the audio over to your drive (it runs off the CD), it is a nice addition nonetheless.
Controlling all the wonderful possibilities in GTA 3 actually came off surprisingly easy. There are quite a few buttons to master, so on a keyboard it will take a few practice runs to get it going naturally, however if you can connect a gamepad up then it becomes much easier.
We found that the gamepad option left unchanged actually does not work to well, as you can't seem to spin around when walking, instead you side step which is bad for hand to hand (or firearm) combat. This can be fixed by setting the control scheme to "classic" in the settings section of the game. Once this is done, it controls just like the Playstation 2 version.
This is really another game where I feel a control pad is pretty much a necessity if you want to totally wipe out the troubles of control. Although I am sure many find the keyboard just fine, essentially the gamepad is better.
The Grand Theft Auto series is known to be brutal, chaotic and down right fun, but as far as I'm concerned, I don't think anyone who played GTA2 could have expected such an indepth and innovative redesign. Not only can you relive all your past time favorite activities like car theft, assassinations, car chases, police bashing and so forth, but you can do it all in total 3D. What more could a man ask for