User’s Articles: GTA Retrospective: Evolution Of A Series

Written by Harris/eaze2009
It has been more than a decade since GTA was first released but did you know that Grand Theft Auto was originally planned to be called “Race N Chase” and it was almost cancelled? Also what is up with the controversy this series has faced over the years? When the series was first started in 1997, there would’ve been a few who would’ve expected it to become a breakthrough and inspiration to modern gaming but seeing where it stands today is absolutely amazing. So, in anticipation for the trailer this Wednesday the 14th, let’s take a brief trip down memory lane and see how GTA has evolved over the decade with its most popular titles and what problems it has faced.
Released first in 1997, GTA was the brainchild of the developers DMA design which are now most popularly known as Rockstar Games and although the game wasn’t the original pioneer of the sandbox genre, it changed the way players would interact with the inhabitants of the settings around them. In GTA I & II you could beat up random citizens, steal cars and drive the cops mad. So it is no surprise that with this much moral freedom, this game was a huge success with gamers at the time and was very bold for its take on violence. The games were top-down viewed and although limited at the time also featured a radio system that played different songs on each station in car, a factor which has become increasingly popular among most open-world games of our time. Furthermore, the aspect that was impressive at the time was the use of gritty sound-effects that really gave the games an extra level of realism. Both the original and its sequel have been dubbed classics, and are available for free through Rockstar Games official website.
2001’s release window was probably a huge challenge for the developers over at Rockstar due to the 9/11 incident that took place before the games release. A game about crime, murder and chaos was the last thing anyone would want to release after the devastation but regardless, the game was released with a few minor changes and it went on to become 2001s top-selling game. Not only that but the game was and still is regarded as a breakthrough title in open-world gaming, with IGN placing it in the top ten most influential games due to its making use of 3d graphics, varied amount of operational vehicles and a radio system that not only contained original but licensed songs by some of the hottest artists at the time. The game also featured a proper story dealing with the interesting subject of betrayal and revenge and unlike the past games where you’d go over to pay phones for mission briefings, this game had you meet up with an interesting range of characters during cutscenes that were all brilliantly voiced and acted. The voice acting combined with the stunning scope and design of Liberty City really showcased the amount of work and high production values that went into this game. The game also had side missions you could do for extra income such as cab driving, paramedic duty and firefighting that really gave the game a wider and non-linear gameplay.

The reference to drugs, violence, and sexual themes were enough to cause controversy for this title. Gamespy even said that counter strike, which was really controversial at the time, was nothing but a large scale cowboy vs. Indians game compared to GTA III, which it also called a “Thug Simulator”.
If you thought GTA III was the pinnacle in open-world story telling then Vice City was the roof above it. It had an ensemble of amazing characters that were voiced by some of the most popular Hollywood actors with Ray Liotta leading as the games no-shit protagonist Tommy Vercetti, who after just being released from a fifteen years sentence in a Liberty City prison is sent to Vice City as a buyer for a series of cocaine deals by his boss, Sonny Forelli, who fears that Tommy will bring unwanted attention and dispute to his organization’s criminal activities. After a while, Tommy makes a name for himself and decides to rise as Vice city’s Kingpin of Crime. This game was the first in the series to feature property management with business assets that you could manage. Each of these assets had a number of missions attached, which after completing ensured the growth in your revenue. Other than that, the side missions such as cab driving, pizza delivery and paramedic duty returned, further enhancing the scope of the game.

Although Vice city is only a fictional recreation of the real world Miami, it still includes many similarities to the real life settings such as the iconic beaches, palm trees, and even some local gangs who are reminiscent of the criminals there with whom you can start a war. This feature had controversy surrounding it, with people blaming it of promoting violence against immigrant Cubans and Haitians, and of featuring anti-Haitian and anti-Cuban phrases.
This best selling PS2 game of all time is regarded as the “king of open world games” by fans and some critics alike who are all impressed with the huge and expansive playable location available to the players that boasts locations inspired by San Francisco, Los Angeles and Las Vegas, all in one semi-fictional setting, “San Andreas”. It has everything from a rural countryside to the urban sprawls and a seemingly never ending dessert mixed with the iconic Grand Canyon. The stuff you can do and the places you can visit are endless (figuratively speaking of course). The vehicle roaster is also huge compromising of helicopters, jets, planes, boats, bikes and cars each unique to different terrain and objective. The game is also the first in the series to feature a black character Carl “CJ” Johnson and a deep role-play like customization available to the players. The most notable additions to the gameplay were Gang Wars, Parachuting, Car Modification, Burglary missions and fun mini-games such as playing basketball and dancing. However, the most interesting aspect of the game was how it improved on the monetary and customization system. So, unlike the past games, you were given a better incentive to earn income as you could then use it to get yourself items such as tattoos, apparel and footwear which you can combine to deeply customize the character CJ to your liking. You also had to make sure that you keep CJ healthy by feeding him regularly and keeping him in shape for a better sex appeal.

Speaking of sex appeal, one of the games most interesting features was its dating mechanic where you could take girls on a date and unlock perks unique to each woman after a 100% relationship rate. However, this feature was a cause for concern when some modders found an exploit that would unlock uncensored sexual intercourse mini-games. This prompted a lot of attention from many politicians who didn’t stop at anything to call the game extremely violent and explicit, too violent that some *Cough* Jack Thompson *Cough* even wanted to ban its sale but fortunately to no avail as the game is still going strong after all the controversy it had to face. Controversy
This was perhaps the most anticipated videogame title in history whose hugely successful launch has earned it a place in Guinness World Record for being the “highest ever entertainment earner within the first 24 hours after release”. The game received positive reviews from critics everywhere and holds a near perfect score of 98 in Metacritic for the console versions. It has been generally praised for having a realistically breathtaking city filled with memorable characters that are highlighted by the games interestingly gritty non-linear story. Furthermore its use of Rockstar’s proprietary engine “Rage” has allowed it to accomplish realistic damage on vehicles, unique A.I behaviors and varied collisions. One of the most loved aspects of the game is how the pedestrians react to damage, falling as people actually would in real life due to the incorporation of Endorphin, a tool that enables adaptive A.I behavior rather than having to use traditional canned animations present in previous games. So that’s the reason why there’s a smug grin on your face whenever you hit a group of innocent pedestrians, you enjoy watching the people fall dramatically to their deaths. The dating mechanic also returned, although not as explicit or deep as San Andreas. In order to date you had to find an internet café from which you can access the dating website. The internet in-game was hilariously designed with some pretty interesting but fictitious websites that are parodies of some real life ones.

One of the best things they implemented in my opinion was the ability to replay missions and rather than driving all the way back to the briefing again after you fail a mission, all you have to do is bring up your phone and click on retry. It made the game a whole less frustrating. In the expansion “The Ballad of Gay Tony”, it was possible to restart at checkpoints during mission and it also brought back the parachuting mechanics that were popular in San Andreas. The mobile phone, although available in San Andreas and vice city as well, played a much more major part in 4 as with it you can either call your friends to hold a gathering or call for services such as the paramedics in case you need help. And instead of inputting cheat codes directly to the game, you had to dial a specific number for each cheat. Best thing about this was that it got saved so that you can easily navigate to it whenever the need be and save yourself from a lot of trouble.

Even after all that, there are still a few groups of people who did not like the realistic direction GTA IV took, they did not like how barebones the game felt when compared with San Andreas. Rather than an evolution, for them it felt like regression due the lack of planes or jets, huge playable terrain, varied side-missions and many role-playing elements such as the deep character customization. One of the likely reasons for this absence was that, since this was GTA’s break into this generation of gaming, there were still many limitations Rockstar might have had to overcome and work around, and even though I really like the cover mechanic that’s been implemented, a lot of people didn’t as they found it buggy. That wasn’t all though as when Rockstar released a PC version, it was a poor port and a lot fans were enraged as they had to wait so long and it wasn’t even worth it. Rockstar did however manage to provide a stellar port for Max Payne 3 after the problems that were faced in the PC version of L.A Noire and GTA IV. So here’s hoping that GTA V will be just as well ported to PC. Still after all this, there is no doubt that the game was and still is highly acclaimed and Rockstar managed to create a milestone in sales and experience for a lot of people nonetheless.
Closing Overview
What began as a top-down arcadish series has now managed to climb the throne of sandbox gaming with its unique no-holds barred subjects that mix with the open-ended gameplay to provide for a unique and controversial experience. GTA has managed to sell a lot in its lifetime and has impacted many open-world games in unique ways. Furthermore, with every release, Rockstar Games has created stellar and memorable experiences that have each managed to create a milestone in their own right. Whether it is in sales or gameplay, you can always expect them to break through the roof. GTA V looks to be on track due to the amount of hype it is receiving and with what is promised, looks like will be the best one yet with a huge playable area bigger than ever, amazing list of vehicles and lastly with the promise of a wide scope of activities, it certainly seems ambitious. Also one of the best rumors at the moment according to Kotaku has to be that Rockstar will provide an original score to this game and knowing their amazingly interesting choices with composers like Shawn Lee to Health, I surely can’t wait. So be sure to check out the new trailer that comes out this Wednesday and be on the lookout for an iOS port of GTA Vice City this fall.


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