Grand Theft Auto (PC, PS)
Read The Review!
The original Grand Theft Auto was released on the PC in early 1998. Even for those days, the game's top-down, 2D graphics were relatively primitive. Your character and other people walking around the levels animated awkwardly. The bullets you fired from the guns were represented as fast-moving dots, much like a first-generation shooter on an 8-bit Nintendo. The dead would fall to the ground and bleed, but they resembled squashed insects more than deceased human beings. There was no speech in the game either. The characters you met and talked to spoke in a Sims-like gibberish that sounded like an audio tape or vinyl record being played back at high speed.
There were some nice details included in the game, though. A variety of different cars and trucks were included, each with their own speed and handling characteristics. Some of the faster sports cars could easily reach speeds four or five times faster than the slowest trucks, making control an adventure, to say the least. Backing up a large truck or bus resulted in a familiar beeping, which is an almost sarcastic detail to include, as the safety of nearby pedestrians was never a paramount concern. Different cars would also play different types of music on the radio by default. Jack someone's pickup truck and you'd hear country music.
The people who played and enjoyed the original Grand Theft Auto didn't play it for its production values, which were budget level. Instead, it was the game's irreverent style and open-ended gameplay design that made the game a cult hit among game players. Grand Theft Auto offered two different levels in each of the three large cities: Liberty City, Vice City, and San Andreas. Scattered throughout each city were special buildings, like spray shops, which would allow you to repaint your car in order to confuse police that might be tailing you. There were also loading cranes at the docks, where you could dump stolen cars for cash. As you started each level, your character was directed to a pay phone where you'd get the first in a series of criminal missions. The game was exceedingly difficult because you'd have to spend hours accumulating hundreds of thousands of points to advance to the next level. Since there was no save system, this required a ton of patience.
These missions would take you all over each city, and they varied from simple taxi-style jobs to assassinations to car-theft rings. There were getaway driving missions where you'd need to pick up mobsters escaping a bank heist, and even missions where you'd drive a bomb truck up to police stations to blow them up. You didn't have to participate in the pay phone missions, though. A big part of the fun was exploring each city and finding secret missions to do, or just causing general mayhem and eluding police while using weapons such as machine guns, rocket launchers, and flamethrowers. To aficionados of the original Grand Theft Auto, the funniest part of the game was finding a line of Hare Krishna-like chanters walking around clad in peach-colored robes. Running them all over in a line would result in a special chime and the exclamation, "Gouranga!" displayed onscreen.
Doomed to Stagnation?
Grand Theft Auto: London 1969 (PC, PS)
Read The Review!
Grand Theft Auto eventually found its way onto the original Sony PlayStation, and an expansion pack called London 1969 was released. As the title suggests, Grand Theft Auto: London 1969 took the series into a different time period and setting. But as far as the gameplay went, not a lot changed, aside from driving on the left side of the road. The top-down graphics were the same, you still ran errands for big crime bosses in order to climb up the proverbial ladder, and you still couldn't save your game in the midst of a level.
Grand Theft Auto 2 (PC, PS, DC)
Read The Review!
The sequel, Grand Theft Auto 2, at least made a token attempt at advancing the series. That game included a near-future setting with the addition of several rival gangs thrown into the mix. By completing missions for one gang, you increased your sway with them and unlocked additional missions, but at the same time, you would anger one or more of the other gangs and lose favor with them. Head into the territory of a hostile gang and you could expect to see shots fired your way. Your standing with each of the game's gangs was represented in the top left corner via a series of slider bars.
Later in the game, you were able to pay for weapon upgrades and other tweaks for your cars, including machine guns and oil slicks, respectively. The effect was not unlike playing Spy Hunter, but the fragility of the cars made weapon upgrades a dubious value in the game. Aside from these minor tweaks, everything pretty much remained the same between Grand Theft Auto and its sequel--the top-down, 2D presentation and the tedious manner in which you had to accumulate points to unlock later levels both remained.
Players would have to wait until Grand Theft Auto III for changes that revolutionized the franchise, and many would argue they were changes that revolutionized gaming in general