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Originally released in 1997 and developed by DMA Design and published by ASC Games in North America and Take-Two Interactive in PAL regions and by BMG Interactive for the UK specifically, its Grand Theft Auto...
This review will be based off the PlayStation 1 version of the game, it's also available for the PC and was also later released for the Game Boy Color in 1999. However one thing of interest to note, the game was originally intended to be a Commodore Amiga title. But by the time the project began its life in 1996, the Amiga hardware was getting pretty out of date, so development shifted focus to the PC and newly released PlayStation hardware.
The executives over at BMG Interactive hired two men who previously worked in BMG's music publishing side of the business to look over the project at the time known as “Race N' Chase”
These two brothers both known as Dan and Sam Houser arrived at DMA design and were presented with the original concept and demo of Race N Chase.
Which at its core originally was a racing game with an open world structure, where the player character could steal other vehicles and do missions for the mob and had an open ended mission structure where the player could do essentially whatever they wish and could ignore missions all together if they so desired. In the end both Dan and Sam Houser were absolutely blown away by what they were shown, the project was then renamed simply to “Grand Theft Auto” and they paved the way to help publish the title.
As for the game itself, in Grand Theft Auto you choose your player character, you can also rename them as well, select the city you're given at the start and away you go! Your primary goal is to amass a score of over 1 million points, once you've reached this you can then progress to the next level or city.
The game has three cities, Liberty City, Vice City, and San Andreas... All of which would become pretty ironic in the years to come. Liberty City essentially being a mock-up of New York City, Vice City obviously being Miami, and San Andreas I'm assuming being San Francisco. Each city has two levels, each level is more or less just a different set of missions scattered around for you to do if you so desire, every time you complete a mission you're rewarded with a score multiplier allowing you to gain more points in a quicker succession.
You can find items around the world in these boxes that range from different weapons, to body armor, to extra lives and get out of jail keys which basically let you keep your score multiplier if you're busted by the cops.
But is it any good? Let's find out with,
Easily the best aspect of this game is the vast open world environments themselves, back in 1997 and 1998; few games offered any form of an open world environment like this, let alone gave this level of player freedom. Failed a mission? Who cares, grab a machine gun and start blowing up cars and shooting pedestrians to vent your frustration instead. The game won’t penalize you for failing a mission, it may insult you, but it won’t penalize you.
The only thing you have to worry about is dying or getting arrested, if that happens you lose a life and your multiplier goes back to 1. But that of course brings up probably the best thing about GTA, the absolute mayhem you can cause in this game. Featuring a variety of different weapons at your disposal, from your typical pistol and machine gun, to some more advanced stuff like the flame thrower and missile launcher.
Running around GTA and simply causing havoc never gets old for me personally and has easily become a staple of this franchise for plenty of people, not to mention a hot topic at that for plenty of others. Then throw in some fun cheats to the mayhem you can utilize by simply changing the character name at the start of the game to whatever cheat you want activated and you’re in for a good time and a high score at that once you start building a multiplier then blowing up everything with a missile launcher.
As for the audio and soundtrack side of things, the music in this game is some pretty catchy stuff and notably it’s all in-house produced and not licensed music like future iterations of the franchise.
But despite some fun destruction and catchy tunes, there is always…
Unfortunately despite the juggernaut the GTA franchise is now, the first game in this iconic series hasn’t exactly aged well… The controls for example are extremely clunky and awkward by today’s standards. Everything from basic movement, driving, and weapons all feels and controls pretty terribly in my opinion.
In order to move around the environment or drive for example, you first press down X to actually move and then you basically shift your movement by using the D-pad… So this should give you a rough idea of why the controls are so clunky, then throw in trying to actually shoot someone with this control scheme and you’re better off just spraying praying with the machine gun.
Graphically speaking this game isn’t exactly much to look at, even for 1997. Considering at the time 3d polygonal graphics and worlds were all the rage on the PlayStation 1 and N64, having a top down slightly 2.5d game wasn’t exactly impressive. On top of that, regardless of what character you pick in the selection menu you'll still end up with the same pixelated white dude, despite whomever you pick.
Worse yet, this camera in this game is an absolute nightmare, constantly zooming in and out depending on the speed you’re going in a vehicle, so you’ll continually be smacking into buildings or vehicles ahead of you that you simply can’t see to begin with due to the top down camera perspective. Adding to this frustration, the game also doesn’t have any kind of in-game map system, however the game itself did come with an actual physical map if you wanna try wrap your head around that to navigate, or if you’re playing the digital version you'll have to look it up on the internet instead.
So the only way you can navigate your way around the world during missions is by following this tiny arrow pointing in the general direction you need to go. Now that’s fine and all, but whenever a mission is on another island and you need to cross a bridge to get to it, chances are you’ll end up spending a good couple of minutes driving around the world simply looking for the bridge to cross…
Doesn’t help much when some of them are broken…
For the time it was released in 1997 and early 1998, the open world environments of Grand Theft Auto were a fairly uncommon thing to see in video games, but sadly in my opinion the game hasn’t aged nearly as good as many other iconic games from the era. The clunky controls and horrible camera would more likely scare away most new people and fans looking to see what the roots of their favorite franchise was like… But at the end of the day, for what it’s worth the franchise would continue chugging forward and become one of the most iconic game franchises of all time.