Review by johnnyfogg
"Demanding, but rewarding, old-school game"
Grand Theft Auto is a classic playstation game revolving around the world's unluckiest criminal as he pursues his one goal: early retirement. This game brought three main gifts to the gaming world: First, the over the top Tarantino-style black humor (even darker than modern GTA sequels!); secondly, the blend of 2d sprites with 3d textured maps; and finally, sandbox-style fun without the Sim City "edu-tainment" angle.
You begin in Liberty City, working for an weirdly-named mafia boss, Bubby, against his underworld enemy Sonnetti. Due to a series of mishaps, you are forced to relocate to the west coast, then back east. The only characters we see up-close are your various bosses, my personal fave being the world's worst cop, Deever, whose colorful expletives fill every single line of dialog. The crimes you are asked to perform, like rescuing your boss' dog from a kidnapper, or blowing up a hospital with the First Lady inside it (Deever is angry because he wrote her a fan letter, but never heard back) are so over-the-top and violent that it's hard to take offense at any controversy, given how outlandish it is. But at the time, no one knew how to react since it was unheard of in a video game.
It will be apparent to any next-gen gamer who's never played this game before that it is UGLY. The textures are blocky (especially zoomed in), the colors are glaring, and even your main character is wearing a stupid mustard-yellow shirt. It will definitely take time, but if you adjust to the graphics, you might start to appreciate the little details in each of the three cities. It looks about as crude as the original Twisted metal, and has similar touches like the pointless yellow school buses rolling around that you can hijack (What was it about the late 90s where everybody thought it'd be cool to wreak havoc in a school bus or ice cream van?).
The layouts of the cities (Liberty City, San Andreas, Vice City) are faithful to their real life counterparts and really give a sense of navigating around a real town. Liberty City probably has the most elegant map, with its scattered boroughs, "New Guernsey" shoreline, and island city in the center. However, San Andreas has a definite "uphill" feel to its slopes and fenced-in suburbs (there's even a Golden Gate bridge), and Vice City has a nice variety of bright hotels and grimy neighborhoods with clotheslines between buildings. Sadly, it makes little difference what city you're in when it comes to vehicles. A few cars are city-specific, but most are just palette swaps of ones from previous missions. Even so, a varied color scheme is better than nothing.
The gunshot and ricochet noises are as good as any 3D GTA sequel. The radio stations in your car consist of a bunch of no-name bands and an incredibly annoying country music parody. Most people assume that R* recorded this music for their early games themselves, but it's not actually true. Because the music doesn't change WHATSOEVER between levels (unlike GTA2), it quickly gets repetitive. Luckily, most of it isn't too bad. The majority of the songs are fast-paced pop tunes that get it you in the mood for racing, which is obviously what you're doing most of the time. A select few are a bit more atmospheric.
At its core, the main goal of the game is to earn points (money). You have to earn a certain amount of cash before you can advance to the next level. The most basic method of doing this is to walking up to a payphone and completing the job you're given. Usually, this routine involves following arrows on the screen, performing crimes, and then finishing by driving into a garage somewhere the map, causing your car to disappear and you to magically pop up outside the building. Ka-ching. Mission Complete!
At the start, you are given a "Multiplier" of x1. So for instance, upping your Multiplier to 2x will double your earnings, x3 will triple them, and so on. Your only hope of success is to jack this number up as high as possible -- that is, complete missions. Each mission success awards you another Multiplier point. Fail a mission, and your Multiplier stays where it is. Get arrested, and it goes down by a point. There's usually a few hidden items which increase your Multiplier by a point, if you know how to find them. But, by and large, there's NO room for error. Unlike future games in the series, you only get ONE shot at completing each job, win or fail.
The interesting thing about most missions is that they occur in strings. If you fail a job, the game skips over to the next part of the larger mission. If you exhaust all the phones, the game basically dumps you all by yourself, and you have to earn money by other means, not an easy thing to do with a low Multiplier. You can take cars to designated crushing machines for bonuses, or just destroy things to increase your money. You can also supplement your income by touching Kill Frenzies (aka "Rampages") and dishing out enough carnage within the set time limit, but like everything else, the cash prizes are dependent on how high your Multiplier is.
Anyone who's played any GTA game knows the basics; Spray Shops disguise your car and get the cops off your back (this gets REALLY expensive in later levels); getting killed takes you to the hospital; getting arrested takes you to the police station. In the latter two cases, you'll lose all your guns but a pistol power-up is usually lying nearby, just so you aren't totally defenseless (or maybe saving you for more tortures? This game gets pretty sadistic...). Killing too many people causes your Wanted Level to go up, followed by increased police pursuit. At higher Wanted Levels, the cops bust out the machine guns and set up roadblocks. Even without guns, the police can arrest you by simply getting close enough, even if you're in a car.
Your little gangster is pathetically weak and dies in 1 hit. Body armor increases this number to 5. Explosions -- if caught in the blast radius -- will kill you instantly. Water is also fatal. Enemies in this game are ridiculously tough and will eat through your armor so fast, it's insane. Don't even think of running them over GTA3-style... They will rip through your car like tinfoil. Lose all your lives, and it's game over.
You ABSOLUTELY need to consult the map when playing this game. You might be able to get by without it in Liberty City, and maybe even San Andreas, but by the time you get to Vice City the game throws up so many overhead bridges an winding streets that you don't have a prayer of out-racing the clock unless you have a planned route. If you don't have the map on-hand, then my 2nd best of piece of advice is to stick to four-lane roads.
Anyone who's played GTA3 remembers the cameo by Tanner, hero of the "Driver" games. Asuka has only nine words for him: "He's more or less useless outside of his car." The developers at R* should be the first to admit that it takes, as they say, one to know one. The most heinous parts of GTA1 are the parts that force you to ditch your car and continue on-foot. The movements your main character makes are very sensitive, meaning that you can quickly circle around if you need to make a quick getaway. Unfortunately, it also means that your aim is incredibly poor, even at close range. Have fun watching your bullets whiz by your enemies harmlessly. Probably the worst example of this is a mission which requires you to shoot a witness after he gets out of his car...but before he makes it to the pay phone ten feet away. Huh? You missed? Oh well, MISSION FAIL. The geography of certain cities (Vice City, in particular) is such that often your target is on an elevated ledge, and you need to find a catwalk to climb up. The stairs are never in an obvious place, either; in one mission, you have to drive across a bridge, in the EXACT OPPOSITE direction of the target on the other side of the river(!), get out of your car, then run across a foot-bridge to reach them. This is a guaranteed mission fail during your first time out.
Unlike the crappy on-foot controls, cars have a good amount of maneuverability, allowing you to handbrake and fishtail as much as you like. The only problem is the top-down camera, which never wants to stay put. In bumper-to-bumper traffic, it zooms in and out like its has ADD. The framerate is also not the best I've seen, but slowdown usually occurs during high-speed car chases, and at that point, it's beneficial to you anyway.
Not helping matters are the bugs, a few of them game-breaking. My personal fave (or not) is the one I like to call Krazy-Glue Cops: If your wanted level gets high, a cop cruiser will drop out of warp behind you (out of freakin' nowhere, I might add) and ram into the back of your car. If you're lucky, it will just bounce off. If you're unlucky, the car will fuse to your bumper and ratchet up a high number of collisions, causing you to explode instantly. Other glitches occur when you knock a car or person into the ocean (even if it's scripted), causing a "sploosh" sound effect which lasts...well, FOREVER. This ear-molesting roar will continue in that area, for as long as you're playing the level. Aside from the sticky cop cars, none of these bugs are too common.
Replay Value: 10/10
Due to GTA1's demanding challenge, this is not a game which is easy to master, and therefore will probably not wear out. A huge deciding factor in whether you win or lose is how well you memorize the placement of items and roads. Since this is not easy to do, you might revisit the game later on and realize that it still feels fresh. I personally have the most fun blazing around the city streets with music blasting like in a movie chase scene.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 07/15/09
Game Release: Grand Theft Auto (US, 06/30/98)
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