Remembering the Classics: Grand Theft Auto

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The video game industry has had its fair share of controversy over the years. With over billions of titles out there ripe for the picking, it’s not a shock that more than a handful are accused of causing real life events. The most notable accusation is that video games cause people to become violent. Despite repeated evidence to the contrary, more and more claims are made every year when people try to make sense of tragic events. People making these claims have pointed to a wide variety of titles over the years, but there has always been one in the spotlight of scorn: Grand Theft Auto. Not only is the title a nod to motor vehicle theft, which is a very heinous but popular crime, the games themselves are riddled with bloody violence and sex. In the course of 5 minutes you can highjack multiple vehicles, run over countless civilians, and shoot down members of law enforcement including police officers and the military. If you get caught your penalty is a fine and nothing more, regardless of what you have done. To put it simply, it’s hardly a surprise certain people look at GTA with such disdain.

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Despite all of the hate, the GTA series is one of the most critically acclaimed franchises of all time. The very reason why people hate the series so much is why it has become such a massive success. While some people look at the senseless violence as a reason to turn their backs, others see the freedom to do whatever you want as groundbreaking. Every game has a set story that the player follows with various story missions to move the plot forward, but whether or not you actually do them is entirely up to you. Linearity is almost completely non-existent is these open-world action-adventures. Every title has brought something new and exciting to the franchise, and the recent gameplay video released on July 9th for Grand Theft Auto V is no exception. Not only is the game much larger and more expansive than past titles, it also focuses on a trio of protagonists as opposed to a single law breaker. There’s even an option for online multiplayer! I have been a huge fan of the GTA series for many years but GTA V looks like it has the potential to be the best of them all. It’s because of this glorious looking new addition that I want to look at the history of GTA, when the series became truly legendary, and why it will always have a prominent spot in video game history.

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Grand Theft Auto first came out in late 1997 for Microsoft Windows computers and on the Sony PlayStation later in 1998. You pick which character to play as, either a male or female with no difference on actual gameplay, and wreck havoc on the sprawling fictional metropolis of Liberty City which is based on New York City. The game featured a top down style of gameplay and the player is free to do whatever they want. It quickly became a best seller in the United Kingdom and abroad which made future titles a guarantee. Grand Theft Auto 2 came out two years later featuring a similar play style and setting but this time bringing gangs into the mix. GTA 2 was well-received and a commercial success despite not bringing too much change to the series as a whole. Both of these games popularized the notion of hijacking cars which quickly became a staple for the entire franchise. Later titles would also allow you to hijack planes, boats, and even trains.

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It wasn’t until 2001 that the GTA series became a must have for gamers around the globe and developer DMA Design, now Rockstar North, became a majorly influential gaming company. Grand Theft Auto III came out on the PlayStation 2 in 2001 boasting 3-D graphics and a completely redone game engine allowing the player to see forward as opposed to the top-down style of previous titles. Nothing has been the same since. The game became a massive success and one of the highest-rated PlayStation 2 games of all time (tied with Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3). It brought the series to mainstream success (the early titles were still considered underground hits) and many publicications praised the improved gameplay, better graphics, and the sheer scope of the Liberty City setting. The game also featured eight-professional grade radio stations that you can listen to in any car which also garnered enormous acclaim for its innovation. GTA III was also a hugely controversial title because it brought the already existing violent and sexual content to a whole new level. Picking up a prostitute and killing her for her money became regular practice and the ability to kill police officers shocked many. It was, for all intents and purposes, a perfect simulator of what it meant to be the worst criminal possible. Many countries across the globe banned the game for its content, but that didn’t stop it from garnering many “Game of the Year” awards.

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For Rockstar North, GTA III was a sign that they had struck gold and they immediately set out profit off its style. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City came out a year later first on the PlayStation 2 and became a massive success in its own right. It brought players to the completely different locale of Vice City, modeled after Miami in the 1980s, and borrowed a lot of elements from the hit movie Scarface. The final battle of Tommy Vercetti in his sprawling mansion is actually a near exact recreation of Tony Montana’s last stand. This time around though Vercetti successfully vanquishes his enemies and becomes the crime kingpin of Miami. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas continued the innovation trend in 2004 by bringing the player to the state of San Andreas which is based on California and Nevada. Gameplay was the same except gangs became a massive focus, the map was larger, girlfriends became a concept (Hot Coffee anyone?), and the protagonist was an African-American named Carl “CJ” Johnson which was a first for the series. The game also brought up the concept of physical stats that can be changed by going to the gym, eating junk food, riding bikes, and running everywhere. You could also change your attire whenever. I could go into immense detail about the masterpiece that was Grand Theft Auto IV which came out in 2008, but for the sake of space and the fact that it only came out a few short years ago, I won’t.

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Like most of the current fans I did not start playing GTA with the original title. My first foray into this crime spree was GTA III and that title changed gaming for me forever. I had never played a more expansive and open world spanning title before. The freedom to do whatever I wanted was incredibly liberating. It was also the perfect form of escapism as I could do in the game what I never would in real life. Would I buy a rocket launcher and blow up a row of cars in real life? Hell no! Are you insane? I would however do it in GTA III and every title following it, much to my enjoyment. The hours I have spent playing GTA: Vice City, GTA: San Andreas, GTA IV, and the many spin offs is immense, but I enjoyed every second. I have been aware of the controversy behind the franchise for years and that just made the games more enjoyable. Rockstar North wasn’t afraid to put in things that made people cringe in disgust and I loved it. I even used my enjoyment of the series to write a very expansive research paper on its portrayals of race, gender, social class, and sexuality. I got a perfect score on the paper and my teacher praised the amount of research I did. Yes…“research.”

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To put it simply, I am extremely excited for GTA V. The bigger scope and beautiful looking gameplay of the title quickly put it as a “must have” for me. I will even make the bold claim that its innovation and size will make it the highest rated GTA game of all time. Considering the wildly successful history of the series, I have no doubt that Rockstar North will deliver a gloriously groundbreaking title unlike anything we have ever seen. I can also guarantee that the game will have its fair share of critics, but that’s to be expected when it comes to GTA. There’s a reason why Rockstar North is so immensely popular and their impressive history with GTA shows that in spades. GTA V is currently sent to come out on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on September 17th, 2013.