As part of my look at video games of years past (yesterday, I spoke on San Andreas for DefineARevolution.com), I figured that, today, I'd look at the game which changed the GTA series from violent top-down shooter to a worldwide phenomenon. GTA III is one of the grandfathers of what we know as the open-world game. It's not the grandfather, because the system was in place for other games, such as Shenmue (an incredibly underrated game) and even, to an extent, Super Mario 64. However, what GTA III did was take the concept, ramp it up to about fifteen, add some masochistic mayhem in, and let it loose upon the world.
Released in 2001, the game was the first time many players stepped into a world where there were no real rules to how you went about completing the missions. Except, of course, when it came to missions that opened up the rest of the city. I'll admit: it's a cheap trick (even San Andreas uses it). But, it gives you a reason to play the game other than just blow everything up to unholy heaven. But, with all that in mind, can one consider Grand Theft Auto III to be an "overrated" game?
Condensed Argument for Yes:
While GTA III doesn't feature memorable characters or, truthfully, a memorable story, it was a game that allowed its players to do what they wanted, when they wanted. However, there was a limit to this. Claude (Speed?) couldn't swim, which made this open world more like the equivalent of playing Sonic underwater without an air bubble. Additionally, Claude, possibly because of the fact that people were still playing around with the PS2's hardware at the time (remember: III released only a year or so after the PS2), couldn't exactly enter buildings. Thirdly, while you could, in theory, do what you wanted, to do so took a lot of work.
Try sniping in GTA III. I don't mean pulling out a sniper rifle and shooting peoples' heads off. I mean, finding a perch, posting up, and then pulling out a sniper rifle and shooting peoples' heads off. Then, try sniping in practically every other GTA since. It's clunky and, oddly enough, worse than the early GTA sniper modes.
Graphically, Liberty City is ugly. I don't mean ugly as in a "film noir" sense. I mean that it's so drab and actually ugly. The filters employed on the game make everything run incredibly slowly. Not only that, they give the city a washed out feel that almost makes you want to toss the game aside. Now, graphics aren't everything. But, if I can't stand to look at a game, I'm probably going to not want to play it over and over.
Finally, the game just isn't as fun as its successors. Playing through it felt like a chore. Characters were practically interchangeable with one another, aside from a different accent. Nothing felt...real or original. And in an open world game, originality and a realistic representation of life (even in an unrealistic game world) are paramount to a great game.
GTA III is a game which changed open world games forever. But, it's a game that's incredibly overrated and doesn't stand the test of time. Why? It was a clunky, ugly game which wasn't that open and, at the end of the whole shebang, wasn't that fun.
Condensed Argument for No:
When GTA III came about, game companies and gamers weren't taking many risks on consoles. It was practically "buy Madden in the summer, Final Fantasy in the winter, random Sony game in the spring, repeat" (or y'know, something similar for Sega and Nintendo). GTA III changed that. It gave gamers a look into the more "mature" games of PC, the games with film-esque stories that allowed for free reign. See, you had film-esque games such as Metal Gear Solid. But, they were restrictive in many ways.
The game isn't perfect, not by a mile. It probably should've been out on the original Xbox first, only because the Xbox was a superior system compared to the PS2 (Put your Console Wars bull aside, it's technically true. How many people did you see playing games online for PS2? Exactly). However, what it lacked in perfection (or even polish), it made up in heart. The characters, while stereotypes of gangs and movie characters, had their moments of humor. Plus, Catalina, in her limited screen time, stole the show (why else would she randomly appear in San Andreas),
The ugliness of the city is done so because, well, crime and death is an ugly thing. One could argue that the settings of Vice City and San Andreas are almost reveling in their violence. III almost makes you, through the grit of the city, contemplate "hey, should I really be doing this? Why can't I just say 'screw trying to kill everyone. I'm gonna go to Vice City and sit out on the beach?'" One can even begin to feel sorry for Claude and his build, since this silent killer is being pulled in so many directions, by so many people, therefore making the ugly city a necessary plot device.
All in all, GTA III is the reason why we have San Andreas or Saint's Row or (shudder) True Crime. Because of that, flaws and all, it deserves every ounce of praise gamers heap upon it. Plus, the cover! Without that cover, we wouldn't have the iconic covers and/or fonts of the GTA series.
I have presented two arguments for the game. I do think the game is a bit overrated. However, as displayed above, I can see why people would say it's not (or even that it's underrated). Now, it's your turn. Feel free to tell me what you think via Twitter at @SpeedontheBeat. So, until next time.