Games that made a difference is a weekly series on GameBuz about games that, well, made a difference. These games made an impact in one way or another, storytelling, mechanics or real life influences. Stay tuned to your favorite games news site for more.
This week we look at the grandpapa of the series with some of the highest numbers in sales and open world action games altogether. A game from a series so ballsy that you can hear a distant scream from a concerned parent or annoyed politician when you mention it.
So what exactly did GTA III bring to the table?
Helping grandmas across the road, getting kittens off of trees, killing the God of darkness from the 4th plane of pain and teaching kids how to read is all good and well, but why do I always have to be the good guy? I can be nice and do good things in real life, what I can’t do is put a fist-sized hole with a 12 gauge in someone because they almost ran me over. That is where GTA makes a change.
Moral choices and being given an option to do something bad are things we take for granted today. In the old days that was not the case, so a game that begins by your character rightfully arrested after being left for dead by your partner in crime was sure to raise an eyebrow or two.
What really made it good was the fact that it isn’t just senseless violence (even though it can be). The game tells a fascinating story of a betrayed man who climbs the ladder of the criminal world so that he can get revenge. Along the way it references and pays homage to other great works, it has an incredible flavor of satire on top of it all. It has a lot more depth than running over hookers for the 20 bucks you paid them.
It showed that gamers were ready for more mature and serious stories, that they wanted shades of gray instead of a black and white world.
There isn’t a game in the series in which I didn’t adore the radio. GTA III really showed how important music is for a game and how it’s possible to make it natural.
Throughout the nine radio stations you have pop, rock, hip hop, house, reggae and even classical music playing. There’s another talk station where the most recurring character in the series, Lazlow Jones, first appears.
Music is usually used in games to push a certain feeling, to get you hyped and your blood pumping as the action picks up or to bring you down and make you realize the severity of a situation. In GTA III it was done differently and it’s a small design choice that made a big difference. You can hear a radio station if you happen to be near a radio. Simple as that.
This made driving around the city feel a lot more immersive and the game never actually pushed it onto you. In case you didn’t like the music, on Xbox and PC, you could add your own music to a custom station.
I know what you’re thinking, wrong series, this is the one about games. So, I’ll make it quick.
GTA III brought something interesting to modders, an open world. You could rebuild the entire game with a brand new world, new weapons, characters, and vehicles. This also did its fair share of popularizing mods.
A big sandbox to play in
GTA III wasn’t the first open world game out there, but it gave the player a lot of freedom. It was easy to get into, unlike some of the other ones available back then. That's because there weren’t many penalties for your mistakes. It was a mix of different game types, it let you play it however you want.
On the topic of letting you play however you want, the game gave you a lot of options for getting around the map. The hint is in the name of the game.
The game seamlessly connects vehicle and on-foot gameplay, unlike many games in which those were two different parts of gameplay. Any vehicle you saw was yours for the taking. There were SUVs, sports cars, boats, a tank, something for everyone.
Besides giving you a lot of options for getting around the map, they could also be used for a tactical advantage. A bigger tougher vehicle could be great cover, a plane for getting from one side of the map to the other quickly, sports cars for missions where speed was important, tanks… Do I really need to explain why a TANK is a tactical advantage?
One of the things that an open world allowed was shooting at the police and random passersby. It was also a rather brave, not necessarily smart, move to allow the player to shoot at EMS workers in what is essentially New York, a month after 9/11. So that was another controversy that had to be dealt with. The release was postponed a few weeks and some changes were made, police uniforms were changed to not look like the NYPD ones, the big plane at the airport had its hitbox removed so you can't shoot at it and skyscrappers were removed to avoid looking like the trade centre was in the game.
That explains most of the lawsuits Rockstar had to deal with, but by fighting them all, they did something great for games. They showed that a developer has every right to defend their work, that games should be allowed to talk about and show darker and more mature content while still being taken seriously.
GTA III was quickly overshadowed by GTA Vice City and because of that, a lot of people forgot about it. It was the first 3D GTA and it paved the way for the rest of the series and games like Just Cause, L.A. Noire, Mafia, Yakuza, Red Dead Redemption, Watch Dogs, Saints Row, Sleeping Dogs and last but not least, The Simpsons: Hit and Run.