Grand Theft Auto III


Take Two Interactive

I was prepared to dislike this game. The hype scorned it as a sprawling, amoral celebration of senseless violence and human disfunction in the tawdry mileau of an imagined New York City. That's exactly correct, and in addition it's the most fun of any console game I've played this year.

I can't over-emphasize how amoral the game is. Even now that I've gotten into the game a bit, I still wince every time I kill a pedestrian (and you will kill pedestrians). The fundamental play mechanic of the game is to go carjack a new vehicle when your current one is too banged up to continue. Your 'work' involves various errands for the underworld. But as a game, it's genius. It's the best job anyone's done yet of building a game world that you can just hang out in. I found myself zoning out about what my objective in the game actually was, and just riding around, exploring the city, listening to the radio, occasionally jacking myself some new wheels, and yes, finding a little comfort with a hired friend in a back alley. Is that so wrong? Oh, so who was it I'm supposed to shoot again?

Another huge time sink are the mini-games. While your main objective is to work your way up the Mafia thug ladder, many of the cars you jack come with their own thematic mini-game. Taxis? Sure, pick up some fares and whisk 'em to their destination. Ambulances? Well, you can try and earn back some of your karma (and generate some cash) by rushing victims to the hospital. And, another aspect of the living city around you is that there's plenty of victims -- the automated traffic generates accidents and run-down pedestrians all by itself, independent of what you're up to.

The radio alone is worth playing the game for. In the various cars you'll cruise around in, the stereo is always functional. You can surf through a selection of various musical genres -- each with their own thoughtfully typecast DJ -- as well as the real treats, the talk radio channels. Big-city talk radio is clearly a genre that has been absorbed and re-emitted.

The city is truly large. A look at the city map in the box suggests it's not so large -- but one-way streets, dead ends, and alleys mean that it will be some time in the game before you've truly learned your way around. Although there are plenty of generic apartment blocks in there, there's also a huge variety of individually modeled and named businesses, and while they're often used for the missions -- at least as a pickup point for your next accomplice -- there's also plenty of pure thoughtful delight.

While this game may have picked up a lot of hype, in this case that helps call attention to a worthwhile effort. If you have the least interest in interactive entertainment or game design, you should check out Grand Theft Auto III. Whether you want to let your kids play it...