Review by SaP

"Good job on the facelift, but it's not enough to turn it around."

Whenever a game successfully pioneers a genre or a radically new concept, the players tend to be forgiving of its flaws. When the original GTA came out on the PC, everybody (but not their mothers, who were busy being appalled by the the overblown controversy) was pulling jobs and running over pedestrians in stolen cars, and had a blast with it despite its many flaws. Encouraged by the generally positive vibe, I bought a PlayStation version of the game some years later, and I was sorely disappointed. I hated nearly everything about the game: the garish graphics, the grating sound effects, the bland music (I liked the concept of radio stations, though), and the utterly inane gameplay. Generally, I don't have a problem with violence in video games: I loved Doom, I loved Resident Evil, and I loved Tenchu. I do feel, however, that violence for the sake of violence tends to prove unsatisfying even in the short run, and considering this is one of the pillars of the gameplay in GTA, I didn't care much for it at all.

In spite of all its problems, there was no denying the game's potential, and when the London: 1969 stand-alone expansion pack was released, it did catch my attention. Being European and a big London fan, I expected to be more receptive of the game's atmosphere, which left me cold in the original. I also assumed the developers to have had by then ironed out most of GTA's bugs and gameplay annoyances in the meantime. Rockstar indeed succeeded both in making the game less of a chore to play and infusing some of the much needed character into it; consequently, London: 1969 is a presentable little game, which is something that couldn't really be said about the foundation it's built on. Still, you can only do so much by only tinkering with the visuals (and audials - the voice acting is enjoyable, if overdone), and ultimately, the single-minded gameplay still brings the game down in the end.

It might sound preposterous, but as far as I'm concerned, the "freedom of gameplay" mantra that no mention of GTA can ever go without is overly flattering to say the least. There are exactly two things you can do outside of the career mode: you can steal cars and you can kill people. Doing so earns you cash that can't be spent and increases your notoriety level that doesn't count for anything, so eventually, you'll either get bored, or killed and bored a little later. To be fair, cruising through London is considerably more fun than any of the three cities in the original GTA and the missions are more varied this time around, but then there are so few that the game's over almost before you've properly warmed up: the career mode will last you a couple of days at the most (make that an afternoon if you're a GTA veteran). Most reviewers would naturally have you believe that the game features almost infinite replay value, but if you're at all with me on the freedom argument, you're likely to find this to be a gross exaggeration, as well.

I realise many people enjoy GTA for what it is and if you're among them, good for you. I still maintain, however, that in its initial incarnation, this is an interesting but undercooked effort that required not one but two console generations to properly mature. 3D graphics alone - 2D may be cute, but it's also terribly impractical, even with the smart zooming - made the crucial difference, not to mention the gameplay that deepened by several orders of magnitude. These days, series-1 GTA (which includes GTA 2) underperforms even in the cheap thrills department, so if you haven't played it "back then", you've got no reason to bother now.

Reviewer's Rating:   2.0 - Poor

Originally Posted: 11/10/06

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