It's hard to believe that it's been over ten years since we first experienced the controversial yet game-changing Grand Theft Auto III back on the PlayStation 2. At a time when America was still recovering from the 9/11 attacks, gamers will able to visit the world of Liberty City and wreak havoc however they pleased, whether it was blowing up gang cars with explosive carrying remote control cars or flying a garbage truck off a ramp into awaiting traffic or getting into gun battles with all sorts of folks – including police.
The game became an instant favorite, and a big hit for Rockstar Games, who would follow it with a number of successful sequels, including the 80's romp Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (which is re-releasing for iOS and Android devices this Thursday) and Grand Theft Auto IV, which is the most successful game of this generation with 25 million units sold thus far. And with Grand Theft Auto V set to make a huge dent (literally) on the gaming market next year, Rockstar Games isn't even close to being done yet.
So what is it about the Grand Theft Auto series that really draws us in? Well, it's a number of things, really. Without further ado, here's our love letter to the series, and all the little items that really stand out.
No Shortage of In-Game Content
Seriously, you could go through a Grand Theft Auto game and complete all the main story missions, and you'd really just be scratching the surface of what they have to offer. We're talking side missions that range from driving around an ambulance to picking up people in a taxi to performing acts of derring-do to build – or destroy – your reputation. And that's not even including the various hidden packages that are scattered throughout the city, quite the collectibles in their own right.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas added an even more interesting dynamic, as you could change your appearance – and we don't mean just your clothes. You could gain weight in the game and develop a pot belly in the process, or work it off by doing in-game exercises (sadly, not sex, as that "Hot Coffee" was poured out of later versions of the game). And that STILL doesn't cover the in-game content.
When Grand Theft Auto IV came out, it even gave you the opportunity to improve your…social life? Yes, when you weren't busy blasting police helicopters out of the sky with a rocket launcher or beating up your friends in multiplayer, you could arrange to go out on dates and even partake in sporting activities, including bowling and billiards. Who says a criminal has to stick to the dirty kind of life?
It's too soon to tell what Grand Theft Auto V will offer in that regard, but with three characters to choose from and a huge city to explore, you can bet it'll be packed with lots to do.
Getting In Trouble Is Worth It
With most games, particularly stealth ones, you're encouraged to stay out of trouble, unless you feel like having an army of gun-runners breathing down your neck over the course of the stage. (And some people actually like this, believe it or not.) With Grand Theft Auto games, you actually feel motivated to get in trouble, thanks to the Wanted star system that sits near the corner of the screen. For each criminal activity you take part in – whether it's getting into accidents with squad cars, running over civilians or getting into shootouts – you gain the attention of the police.
One star is pretty much nothing, one guy in pursuit who can be easily lost. However, the more you chain these attacks together, the higher your rating becomes. Pretty soon, you'll be on a five-star level with police helicopters chasing after you and officers doing everything in their power, firing guns like crazy, to bring you down. You can try to calm everything down by making a dash for your "safe house" (your apartment, etc.), but staying in trouble has its own sense of satisfaction to it. And when you can make a getaway – well, that's the best part of all – especially coming off a jump.
Do What You Like
You don't HAVE to automatically get the police involved to have a good time in Grand Theft Auto. There's plenty of other twisted activities you can take part in that are morally questionable, yet somehow hilarious when you pull them off.
For instance, let's look back at Grand Theft Auto III, when you pick up your first prostitute. You can have sex with her in the car (implied on-screen, never shown) and boost your health, and when she gets out of the car, you can run over her, get out of the car, and take the cash back.
Side activities also offer some interesting alternatives to facing an enemy head on. Also in GTA III, there's a van you can climb into that gives you unlimited explosive drones to use. This is particularly entertaining, as you not only get to chase after targets while staying safely hidden, but you can also run wild and blow up other stuff within range – squad cars, city blocks…even yourself, if you're completely insane. (Just remember, you don't benefit from your own death. Just look at your hospital bills.)
Then there are the stunts – and a lot of them are fun to watch. We're talking flying in a plane and forcibly making it crash into the ocean while you leap to safely, doing a bit of base jumping off the tallest building in the city (and then foolishly failing to open the parachute – silly) or motoring around in a boat and running over someone as you come onto land. Again, not something you'd do in real life, but it almost feels like everyday activity in the Grand Theft Auto world.
Grand Theft Auto V really looks like it's going to offer something bigger and better to this degree, from simple bank heists to ramming a train off the tracks and barely escaping with your life. We'll get a better idea of what it has to offer when more details come around next year.
There's a lot to like, and we haven't even mentioned the characters you'll run into, including San Andreas' vicious Officer Frank Tenpenny (convincingly voiced by Samuel L. Jackson) and Vice City's hapless (yet capable) Tommy Vercetti (voiced by Ray Liotta). If you haven't explored this crazy, violent world yet, you won't find a better time.