With long game series’ like GTA (Resident Evil, Metal Gear and Dragon Ball games are the other three that spring to mind) I will be starting at the earliest entry in the series I played (in most cases it’s the first one) and moving up in order, but not every other review like the wrestling game countdown. With that out the way, let’s get started on the original GTA for the PS1! (NOTE: I was unable to find a working ROM, or ISO, of this game for screenshot purposes, so I’ve had to borrow some from GameFAQs. I hope to grab my own screens in the future, be it with a working ISO or via some sort of screen capture software, if I ever make it to that kind of professionalism!)
“Grrrrrrand Theft Auto!”
Grand Theft Auto was released in the US in October 1997 for the PC, then ported to the Playstation and released on December 14th 1997 in the UK, a full six months before the PS1 port arrived in the states. The game was originally known as Race n’ Chase while in development, and had a more 3D rendered look to it, with the idea “to produce a fun, addictive and fast multi-player car racing and crashing game which uses a novel graphics method”. They later added in police chasing, then someone said “who wants to play as the cop? It’s far more fun to play as the robber”, or words to those effect, and it spiralled from there. The future billion dollar company Rockstar, then known as DMA design, released the game amid a small bit of controversy (no where near as much as later in the series’ life!) due to the simple fact that this was among the first, if not THE first game where you controlled a bad guy, a criminal, and you objective was to simply make cash anyway you wanted.
You wait around for ages to shoot a bus, and then two come along at once…
The game is presented in a top down POV, your character is a head and shoulders, with arms and legs appearing as you shoot or walk, respectively. The screen pans out when you, say, drive really fast, but even then you’ll often crash into things due to not being able to see what’s coming up next. Aiming the gun is pressing the fire button while holding the direction you want to shoot in. It can be quite awkward.
There are three cities, Liberty City (New York based), Vice City (Miami based) and San Andreas (California based), and each city has two levels, with a total of six (MATHS!), and the objective of each level is to make a certain amount of cash. Shooting a cop, stealing his cop car and then running over various pedestrians while crashing into police road blocks could all happen by the player’s choice, even if it wasn’t scripted into the game. This was a major reason for its success. The freedom. The first true sandbox game, at least to my knowledge…
Technically you can do this to make your money, but given you have a limited amount of lives you’ll want to make money fast, and you can do this by accepting missions from various cartoony and exaggerated characters via telephone boxes. These missions will add a multiplier, which will up your gain from sandbox activities, and once you reach a million dollars you unlock the next level. Given you die to one bullet if your not wearing body armour means you’ll be restarting the level quickly if all you do is get into police chases, especially as they get progressively more difficult the higher a wanted level you get.
You can choose between four characters, Travis, Troy, Bubba and Kivlov, four less than the PC version that offers four female characters as well. You can rename the characters, and renaming them to certain names can gain you access to cheats.
Graphics and Sound:
The 2D sprites look bright and colourful still, and the sound effects, especially the bullet firing and hitting sounds, are great. There are seven radio stations, each with a small number of tracks, though each car only has access to two of them. There is also a police band that plays when you’re in a police car or just in general when you’ve got a wanted level.
Final Thoughts (Then):
At the time, this game was amazing. I remember seeing it in a shop, and looking at the date the game was released it must have been very near Christmas ’97, and saying out loud to my brother and parents that it was “the game that they’re trying to ban, it looks really cool though!”. As we walked out, my Dad slipped back into the shop and brought a copy, which I then unwrapped a few days later, much to my surprise and delight. It was the idea that I could just wander around and do as a please, getting into police chases and mowing down pedestrians that was just amazing to me. There was no time limit, no penalty for not doing the story missions. Me and my friends played it for months, mostly using cheat codes to get to the later levels, and just taking turns doing funny things in the sandbox. Great times. The game was a lot of fun.
Final Thoughts (Now):
I’d trust this guy in fight, in a prison shower on the other hand…
Now, in 2015, the first GTA is obviously flawed. It goes without saying that it’s unfair to compare it to its newer siblings, but just looking at it in the “is it fun to play now” way that this section exists for, I have to say no. The controls are awkward and fiddly in both shooting and driving, and POV is distracting and makes it hard to see where you’re going. Nostalgia glasses took me through my first hour of replaying it, but once those glasses came off, there wasn’t a lot to keep me invested. Unless you’re a collector, I see no reason for you to track this down.