GTA2 (PS1) Review

I always like taking a look back at GTA2 (which it’s always referred to as on the cover and in the game, though obviously it stands for Grand Theft Auto 2…) as it still has the original top down view and gameplay but adds in a bunch of stuff that will become staples of future titles and a really fun gang reputation system that has never reappeared. Its setting is also unique, being set in an unspecific time period with a “retrofuturistic” aesthetic. Intrigued? I was back in 99! Let’s have a closer look…

Background:

The arrows can get confusing if you’re on good terms with all the gangs…

GTA2 was released worldwide on October 22nd 1999 for PlayStation and PC, with a Dreamcast version appearing in May 2000 in the US and July that same year for the PAL territories. A Gameboy Colour “port” was released in December 2000 though to says it’s a downgrade is an understatement, but given the hardware difference that should go without saying!

Unlike its predecessor there was no expansion packs or anything for this one. Rockstar went right on to Grand Theft Auto III and the rest, as they say, is history…

Gameplay:

I was never sure quite what these cars were supposed to look like. Very thin with lifty doors, I guess?

The gameplay at its core is still very similar to the first game. It’s top down with a zooming camera (though this time the zooming is much smoother and with far less pixelization) and you can still run, punch, shoot and explode things with admittedly often awkward aiming controls. You can steal cars and motorbikes and drive them around / kill people as well as outfit them with bombs or get them resprayed to avoid the police. That part is the same, though there is a better selection of weaponry including silenced guns, dual pistols and an “Electrogun” thanks to its setting allowing for a bit more sci-fi. Vehicles can also be fitted with weapons like machine guns, oil slicks and mines for that extra Bond-like touch. Once again you start off in a section of city, in this case “Anywhere, USA”, and you have to make a certain amount of money to progress to the next one, and you make money by committing crimes, doing side missions and doing main missions, the latter is where things change for this game.

What GTA2 does differently, and differently to all games that come after it as well, is the Respect system. You see each of the three maps have three gangs operating in it, one is the Zaibatsu Corporation (legit business that also takes part in illegal activity… like, all of them), and then in the first area, the Downtown District, you have the Loonies (bunch of crazy people working together vaguely) and the Yakuza (self-explanatory), in the Residential District are the SRS Scientists (underground scientists performing off-the-record experiments) and the Rednecks (… just some rednecks with pickup trucks and guns…), and finally in the Industrial District is Russian Mafia (self-explanatory) and the Hare Krishnas (peaceful religious people… who kill). As you do more and more missions for one faction you unlock more missions with higher pay-outs but you also start gaining a negative rep for the other gangs in the area, let it get too low and they’ll shoot you on sight should you wander near their territory. It was great fun “picking a side” and then having to motor through the SRS area avoid flamethrower-wielding clone people (don’t ask) or other such issues. It’s all helpfully indicated on the top left of the HUD and definitely the thing I always remember about the game.

GTA2 also debuted several things that would become staples of nearly all GTA games that came after it. First off is a Six Star Wanted Level system, complete with FBI and Swat vans at 5 and the army being called in at level six ,which was quite the difference from the four level of not-much-difference we got in the original game (that I may have forgot to mention…) Then we get side quests that include collecting specific cars and selling them (at a place called “Wang Cars”, got to love the Britishness that sneaks into GTA games all the time…) and Kill Frenzies, both from the original, but now also include missions for when you take over taxis and emergency vehicles, another future staple of the series. We also see the debut of hidden collectables, though in this case its hidden GTA2 logos rather than Hidden Packages like in future titles. The principle is the same though!

Lastly and possibly most importantly is the introduction of save points. In the last game you got a password to skip straight to a city / part of London and pick up from there but here there are actual save spots in the middle of the three maps, though they’re churches (with the name “Jesus Saves”… I don’t get it.) rather than places you own and you have to pay a certain amount of your points each time to save, but again, it’s that little bit of future GTA-ness sneaking in the final 2D game, though admittedly the move away from levels and into an open world would’ve made save points mandatory anyway, but hey… still worth mentioning…

Overall GTA2 has a lot of great ideas and is fun to play, with the exception of the actual controls and gameplay… Rather paradoxical, that…

Graphics and Sound:

Claude and a cop have a very awkward top-down fist fight!

The graphics are improved over the original game and its expansion. Most things are rendered in 3D which helps when the camera zooms in and out, and they added a few lighting effects for fire and the like, though the constant daytime does make it feel less of a dramatic leap from the original. The PC and Dreamcast versions have different times of day to choose from including night-time where street lamps and car headlight bounce off the environment and other clever stuff, but that’s the PS1’s technical limitation for you. Still an improvement though!

Sound is good too, more cartoony sound effects and such, and we have a good selection of radio stations this time, featuring a wide variety of music genres plus some GTA classic crazy DJs thrown in. Admittedly nothing played is as memorable as the soundtracks of GTA games to come (or GTA London, for that matter) but it’s still varied and impressively large for a PS1 disc.

Story:

This is the closest we get to a cutscene in the game!

There isn’t much in the way of story this time, and you no choice in protagonist either. You play as Claude Speed (yes, the same name they reused for GTAIII’s protagonist) in Anywhere, USA “at some point in the near future” and you take missions from gangs in each area until you earn enough to move on. The only real constant in the story is the Zaibatsu corp. that you eventually take down or takeover, but beyond that it’s pretty much up to you which factions you favour, eventually killing the leader/s of other factions if you reach the last mission of certain gang’s mission trees.

I’ll also mention that the opening / only cutscene is a live action “mini-movie” filmed in New York that thanks to that doesn’t match the aesthetic of the actual game, but hey-ho, I’m sure it was fun to film…

Thoughts Then:

Grrrrrand Theft- oh no, wait, Hiiiiiiit and Run! That’s the one.

I remember GTA2 not being on my radar at all because I was sort of “over-played” on the original and its London spin-off and from the few screenshots I saw it didn’t look much different. Then I heard some good things about the gangs and stuff so put it on my Christmas list and I eventually got really into it. Me and my friend would play for hours, not just the missions but messing around and pissing off gangs, just having a free roaming laugh on a GTA game, a.k.a. what they do best. It didn’t get as constantly played as the original GTA, but it was good for a while. Once I got my PS2 with GTAIII that was it for 2D GTA games, mind you… (beyond things like this blog, obviously…)

Thoughts Now:

Firing rockets at cars for the sake of a Kill Frenzy challenge… It may be the future, but some things never change!

GTA2 was fun to play for a while here, I forgot just how much fun the gang respect system was and the unique graphics and setting were good too, plus some of the missions had an excellent sense of humour to them, as per usual with Rockstar. It does have to be pointed out though that again the controls aren’t great. Thinking about it I didn’t get the analogue controller until late in the PS1’s life so I can only imagine what these games were like with a D-Pad… I guess you can get used to anything if you don’t know any alternative! Anyway, it’s fun for a while and I liked picking up certain things that become staples in the PS2 era, but overall it’s not really worth sticking on now unless you’re feeling a bit nostalgic.

Now, coming up in a month or two (or possibly more, I don’t know) Grand Theft Auto III, both the PS2 original and the released-tomorrow PS4 Definitive Edition! (Unless it turns out they’re somehow crap, then I’ll skip the PS4 version. Fingers crossed though!)

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