On October 22, 2001 one of the greatest games ever was released. That makes us feel extremely old now but before its release it wasn’t even considered to be a good game, let alone one of the greatest. Grand Theft Auto originally came out on the PC and the PlayStation in October 1997 with a bang. No one cared that it had crap graphics because its gameplay was so amazing and original for the time. 1999 came and gave us Grand Theft Auto 2 and for a variety of reasons from marketing (The game was originally called GTA2 confusing a lot of consumers) to high PC tech specs it failed to live up to the original. Early 2001 gave us the first unimpressive glimpse of Grand Theft Auto 3.
A lonely cop car on an empty street with a low draw distance. Remember this was when the PS2 had first come out with its superior emotion engine and was meant to be able to do Toy Story levels of graphics. Everyone was under whelmed and looking forward to other games on the horizon such as Metal Gear Solid 2 and Gran Turismo 3. Remember this was at a time when a lot of PlayStation titles were making the next gen leap and more often than not, not living up to expectations. More and more screenshots came out and still no one really cared, even previews were lack luster and often read like rewritten press releases rather than someone playing the greatest game of all time, which is probably true. Those that were lucky to play it often cited how much improvement it needed still but the foundations of a good game were there, even if they were very rough.
Launch day came and went like most other launch days. There were no midnight launches, no preorder bonuses, not even a huge advertising campaign. It was just quietly put on the shelves with the RockStar name meaning nothing at this point in time. The developers were quietly hopeful their game would sell, possibly not realising what they had on their hands. Fans of the series bought the game whilst everyone else ignored it as a badly made 3D version of a game they liked years ago. Not only did these fans enjoy it, they loved it. Over the coming weeks of October and November 2001 word of mouth spread about Grand Theft Auto 3. This is what sold the game, not lots of money on billboards in times square, not adverts on the super bowl, but free word of mouth from PS2 gamers. You could pick up hookers, pay them for their services and then run them over after they got out of your car to get your money back! Just saying that sold the game to friends. You could pile up cars and cause huge explosions and fires, so big the fire brigade would come to put out the fire. Well they would put it out if you didn’t steal the fire truck and go round making all the pedestrians wet. There was even a plane you could fly if you were skilled enough.
Word spread throughout the holiday season about this amazing game, only on the PlayStation 2. Finally the PlayStation 2 had its must have title and just in time to with the Xbox and Gamecube hot on its heels. Reviews started coming in months after launch, that’s how under promoted this game was. 93% from Electronic Gaming Monthly Jan 2002, 100% Official PlayStation Magazine Jan 2002, 96% from IGN and hundreds of other publications were saying the same thing except Edge who gave it a 6. A 6? They claim it was an error in the next issue and give it an 8. Even RockStar were taken aback by how popular and successful it was becoming. Now a new RockStar game is considered an instant buy, but back then RockStar as a brand was not even known. This is the game that put the RockStar brand on the map, so much so that when State Of Emergency came out months later it sold on the fact it was a RockStar game, even though it was a steaming pile of rubbish. Adverts started appearing for the game months after release, every Friday the game would come in off the lorries into local video game stores and by saturday morning would be sold out again for another week. Shops had signs proudly proclaiming they had Grand Theft Auto 3 in stock and some stores battled for customers attentions by bundling in copies of the Grand Theft Auto film (unrelated to the game) to get them extra sales. This game couldn’t stay in stock long enough, there was just not enough copies to go around even months after release. Christmas 2001 wasn’t just the year of the PlayStation, it was the year of Grand Theft Auto 3.
Gamers were unprepared for the amount of content and fun this game contained. From the excellent soundtrack featuring remixed tracks from the original Grand Theft Auto to hours of talk radio that spawned its own star in Lazlo, to just ignoring the games missions and making your own fun. GTA3 spawned the sandbox genre, giving you an open world and a few tools to create your own fun. Gamers quickly realised they could use ramps to get to places they shouldn’t, causing all sorts of carnage from piling up cars to bailing out just as a car explodes flying off the train tracks. While the game contained many interesting story based missions, it was the game outside that, which captured most peoples attentions. From collecting hidden packages to finding the one and only plane in the game, this game had a lot to offer. Add in cheat codes that changed wanted levels or gave you flying tanks and you couldn’t ask for more. The Official PS2 Magazine described it as 10 games in one and they were right. You played Grand Theft Auto how you wanted. Follow the story missions and you may have to kill a rival gang member. You could run them over, use a sniper to shoot them or create a cop chase where they accidentally get run over by a swat van. The best things that happened in the game were always the most unintentional. You were never limited to playing the game one way and even during a mission you could often go off and do your own thing as you spot a hidden ramp or an unattended cop car hidden behind a building.
The world itself was full of these little details and more. You’d tell your friends about the time you heard a bum shouting at you for spare change or how you had a cop running after you across a road as a speeding motorist flattened him or that time you stopped that mugger from stealing that poor ladies hand bag. It was these stories that helped to sell Grand Theft Auto 3 to a whole new generation of fans. Its 18 rating wasn’t even a detriment to the game, it helped sell it. Kids 8 years old would ask their parents for the game knowing being 18 rated it meant it must be good in their mind. But it wasn’t long before the news talked about being able to have graphic sex with prostitutes and smash old grannies with a baseball bat around the head, but this only sold the fun of the game more. The ability to do what you want in a virtual world had never been experienced like this before.
Its hard to imagine now a world where a new Grand Theft Auto game isn’t a cause for celebration but there was a time when no one cared, no one even knew a new GTA game had been released. You can now pick up Grand Theft Auto on your iPhone and iPad or pick it up for peanuts on Steam as well as the ageing PS2 and Xbox. If you don’t own it then stop reading this and go and buy a copy. The world isn’t as big as Grand Theft Auto 4, the graphics are showing their age but they still have their charm and the gameplay still holds up more than ever and in our opinion its the most fun 3D Grand Theft Auto out there. If you are a PC owner be sure to check out the graphics mods for new cars as well. Happy Birthday GTA3! Lets celebrate by getting some hookers, bazookas and seeing how long it takes for the Swat vans to arrive.
Oh and whilst we’re celebrating, why not pick up one of these awesome gta inspired t-shirts, cause some mayhem and show off your wanted level. From just $15 in a huge range of sizes, colours and styles.