Thursday, May 01, 2003

If Crime Didn't Pay There'd Be Very Few Criminals

Since my PC has decided, in its infinite wisdom, to work again, I reinstalled Grand Theft Auto III. I've had it practically since it came out, well over 10 months, yet, I've only probably played it for 10 hours. Perhaps less. With my seeming inability to play a game for more than a week at a time, I never really gave this a fair crack, and since I'm itching to play something new (yet can't afford to buy Delta Force: Black Hawk Down for another month or two) I decided to give it another go.

GTA III is a game you know you're going to love or hate from the very instant the opening credits start. It's a bit like Mechwarrior 2 in that respect - there are very few games that you can happily sit through the opening credits for every time you load the game. MW2 is one, and GTA III is another. GTA III intro has a beautiful balance between clean, stylish visuals and really catchy music, and it just makes you think - I'm really going to love this game.

So why did I never make it off the first island, first time I had the game installed? I don't know - there's lots about the game to like, the 3D engine, the cars, the driving physics, the guns, the AI, the production value of the mission cutscenes, the dialogue, the radio stations - practically everything in the game oozes sheer quality, so why didn't it hold my attention?

Freedom. Normally this would be a good thing in a game, to play the game *exactly* how you want to - but first time around, I found that GTA III gives you far too much freedom - there's no real impetus to drive on the story. If you want to run around the city with an M4 carbine and a LAW rocket launcher blowing up helicopters and SWAT vans, you're free to do exactly that. Sure, that's great fun, for a while, as is cruising around the city, picking up prostitutes for blow jobs (and their associated health bonuses) and beating them up afterwards with a baseball bat to get your money back, but all this freedom doesn't make it a game. It's more of a thug simulator.

I'm sure all this is more due to my failings as a player than GTA III's failings as a game, but perhaps Rockstar North could have thought about implementing a time limit between missions, ensuring that you're always driving the story onwards, and leaving you with a sandbox mode to go around the city doing what you want after you've completed the game. Again, last night, I did a few of the story missions to unlock Joey, but after that, I simply went around trying to find hidden packages, power-ups and stealing fast cars to try out the stunt jumps. And that's not even touching on the vigilante, taxi, fire and paramedic missions. I know I like expansive games with lots of freedom (i.e. things like Star Wars: Supremacy, Deus Ex, Civ III or Baldur's Gate II) but for someone with my woeful attention span, GTA III gives you too much. You don't know where to start, and maybe a slightly firmer guiding hand would be welcome. Or maybe not - perhaps it's perfect the way it is, and I'm the one who's flawed. At any rate, I at least want to unlock all three islands this time around.

Stay tuned to see how I get on.

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