Grand Theft Auto III (otherwise known as Grand Theft Auto 3, GTA III, or GTA3) is a 2001 sandbox-style action-adventure computer and video game developed by DMA Design (now Rockstar North) in the United Kingdom, and published by Rockstar Games. It is the first 3D title in the Grand Theft Auto series. It was released in October 2001 for the PlayStation 2, May 2002 for Windows, in November 2003 for the Xbox and in November 2010 for Mac OS X. It was made available on Steam on January 4, 2008. The game is preceded by Grand Theft Auto 2 and succeeded by Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.
GTA III is set in modern Liberty City, a fictional metropolitan city based on New York City. The game follows a nameless criminal who was betrayed by his girlfriend in a bank heist and is required to work his way up the crime ladder of the city before confronting her. GTA III is composed of elements from driving games and third-person shooters.
The game's concept and gameplay, coupled with the use of a 3D game engine for the first time in the series, contributed to Grand Theft Auto III's positive reception upon its release; it became 2001's top selling video game and is cited as a landmark in video games for its far-reaching influence within the industry. GTA III's success was a significant factor in the series' subsequent popularity; as of 2008, five GTA prequels set before events in GTA III have been released, particularly Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories which revisits GTA III's setting a few years prior. GTA III's violent and sexual content has also been the source of public concern and controversy. According to Metacritic, GTA III holds an average critic score of 97/100, making it the highest-rated PlayStation 2 game.
Grand Theft Auto III takes place in Liberty City, a city on the East Coast, which is loosely based on New York City, but also incorporates elements of other American cities. GTA III's Liberty City has also been used for Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories, Grand Theft Auto Advance and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (only for one mission in San Andreas), and is one of four renditions of "Liberty Cities" featured throughout the series; the other three are present in Grand Theft Auto (GTA1), Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, and Grand Theft Auto IV (GTA IV). GTAIII is set around the autumn of 2001, when the game was first released; this was indicated by the Liberty Tree website, which included plot points that connect to events in the beginning of the game in its last existing monthly entry, dated October 18, 2001.
The player character (popularly referred to as Claude) has robbed the Liberty City Bank with his girlfriend, Catalina, and a male accomplice. While running from the scene, Catalina shoots him and leaves him to die in an alley; the accomplice is also seen lying nearby. The player character survives but has been arrested and subsequently found guilty and sentenced to jail. While he is being transferred, an attack on the police convoy aimed at kidnapping an unrelated prisoner sets him free.
With the help of a fellow escaped prisoner(later revealed as 8-Ball), the player character then takes on work as a local thug and rises in power as he works for multiple rival gangs, a corrupt police officer and a media mogul. In the process, Maria, the mistress of a local Mafia boss, begins to take a liking to him. The Mafia leader, Salvatore, grows suspicious and lures the player to a death trap; but Maria saves him, remaining close to him throughout the storyline. He later goes to work for others, including the Liberty City Yakuza and media mogul Donald Love. Eventually, his exploits attract the attention of Catalina, now affiliated with a Colombian drug cartel, resulting in the kidnapping of Maria. This gives him the opportunity to face Catalina once more, which results in a firefight and Catalina's death.
In addition to the exploits of Claude, the storyline, while not as integral to the game as its successors, depicts Claude's development of several non-player individuals and bosses, through cut scenes before the start of each mission, as the player progresses through the game. Most of the characters encountered revolve around corruption, crime and a fictional drug called "Spank," which is a growing menace in the city.
With the success of GTA III and its sequels, several of these characters or their relatives reappear in future GTA titles with major or minor roles, and their personal background expanded, particularly Leone family Don Salvatore Leone, media mogul Donald Love, Phil, the One-Armed Bandit, 8-Ball, Catalina and Toni Cipriani.
The voice cast for the game's characters features several established celebrities. Notable voice actors include: Frank Vincent, Michael Madsen, Michael Rapaport, Joe Pantoliano, Debi Mazar, Kyle MacLachlan, Robert Loggia, Lazlow Jones and late rapper Guru.
Criminal offences, such as carjacking, murder and theft will result in increasing levels of resistance from the authorities. If the player's "wanted" level reaches certain levels, the police, FBI, and army will respond accordingly. When the player character collapses from his injuries or is arrested, he will re-spawn at a local hospital or police station respectively, at the expense of losing all weapons and armor and an amount of money for medical expenses or bribes. While this is similar to previous Grand Theft Auto games, the player character is essentially offered unlimited "lives," as opposed to the limited number of lives in GTA1 and GTA2. This allows the player character to "die" as many times as she/he pleases, and render it impossible to indefinitely lose in the game.
A major feature in GTA III's predecessors that allowed the player to obtain cash by committing petty crimes has been downplayed in GTA III, encompassing only car ramming, vehicle destruction and pedestrian killing. The amount of money in the player's possession is no longer a requirement to unlock new areas in GTA III. There are only two exceptions to this, which require the player to have a certain amount of money. Instead, the completion of missions and unfolding of the game's storyline are now responsible for this role. Additionally, the player is allowed to return to all unlocked areas of the city. However, as new areas open up, access to other, previously available areas becomes more dangerous or difficult, due to hostilities from enemy gangs.
The interface of the game has been significantly overhauled. The player-centered compass is replaced by a separate mini-map that also displays a map of the city and key locations (safe houses and contact points) or targets. Armour and health levels are now indicated in numbers, and a 24-hour clock is added. Gang behavior is no longer dictated by "respect" meters used in GTA2; instead, the player character's progress through the story affects his view in the "eyes" of gang members. As the player completes missions for different gangs, rival gang members will come to recognize the character and subsequently shoot on sight.
Whereas multiplayer modes from previous GTA titles allowed players to connect through a computer network and play the game with others, GTA III was the first computer game title to only ship with a single player game mode. As a result, third-party modifications were developed that re-extended the game with the absent network functionality through manipulation of the game's memory. One of these modifications became known as Multi Theft Auto and was developed alongside this title and future GTA successors.
Missions, non-linearity and narration
A common trait GTA III shares with the rest of the GTA series is the considerably non-linear gameplay within the open world environment of Liberty City. Missions that are offered to the player primarily fall into two categories: storyline-based and side missions. While the game's linear set of storyline-based missions are required to advance the plot and unlock certain areas of the map, the player can choose to complete them at his or her own leisure. Additionally, many of them are not mandatory. Alternatively, it is possible to ignore the main missions and only play side missions. If the player acquires a taxi cab, he can pick up designated non-player characters as fares and drop them off at different parts of the city for cash; obtaining an ambulance allows the player to pick up injured non-player characters and drive them to the hospital for cash. Fire fighting and vigilante police missions are also available. However, if the player wishes, he or she may avoid all missions and instead choose to explore the city, stealing cars, running over pedestrians, and avoiding or opposing the police.
Whereas its predecessors merely featured a short cut scene upon completion of missions in each city, GTA III significantly expanded this feature, triggering cut scenes after the player enters a contact point or during certain missions. The cut scenes serve multiple purposes: as a visual narration of the storyline, as formal directives of a mission, and as a visual assessment of a scene and objective. During gameplay, mission updates and messages are relayed through text-based instructions given in the form of on-screen subtitles, or on a few occasions, the player character's pager, similar to GTA1. GTA III also includes one-time tutorial directives to familiarize the player with the game's controls and features.
The selection of weapons provided in the game consists of firearms and explosives, with the addition of two forms of mêlée attacks (hand to hand combat and baseball bat). The weapons themselves are largely similar to the selection of weapons from GTA1 and GTA2, such as the M1911, the Micro Uzi, an AK-47 and an M16A1, the rocket launcher, and the flamethrower, which are based on similar weapons from GTA1, and the shotgun and thrown weapons (Molotov cocktails and hand grenades) from GTA2. The porting of GTA III into a three dimensional environment also allows access to a first-person view, making the inclusion of the sniper rifle and first-person aiming of the M16A1 and rocket launcher possible. In addition, it becomes possible in the game to perform drive-by shooting using the Micro Uzi, while the inclusion of magazine-based weapons introduces the need to reload weapons after a magazine has been depleted. Additionally, wielding certain weapons restricts movement. Weapons may be purchased from local firearms dealers and businesses, retrieved for free from certain dead gang members, mission-specific characters and law enforcers, or picked up in certain spots in the city.
All versions of GTA III allow the player to auto-aim using a gamepad with the push of a button, holding human targets at gun point using most firearms, with the exception of first-person aiming for the sniper rifle, M16 and rocket launcher, which are aimed using the analog stick or mouse as the player presses the same auto aim button. The Microsoft Windows version includes the additional ability to look around and aim freely with a mouse while on foot; these control differences are seen in the console and Microsoft Windows ports of Vice City and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
Radio stations and other media
One of the game's subtler inclusions was a variety of radio stations. The stations feature music specially written for the game (as well as many songs originating from the first two GTAs), but also includes licensed music, some of which were excerpts of several actual music albums; this combination differs from those of the game's predecessors, which featured entirely original soundtracks. One of the stations is a full-length talk show, and many of the callers are actually characters from the story missions, often demonstrating the same views and eccentricities that become apparent to the player during the missions. Another station "Flashback FM" features music heard throughout scenes in the film Scarface, which had heavy influence on the game's sequel, Vice City.
Additionally, an online format of the fictional Liberty Tree newspaper, dedicated to events that took place within and outside Liberty City between February 2001 and October 2001, was made available months ahead of GTA III's release. The website, working in tandem with the official map-based website and sub-pages, also served to provide a back-story to GTA III, while evoking a sense that the reported events had actually taken place in real time, releasing monthly issues in its nine months of activity. The site also includes articles on criminal activities in the city and city development (i.e. delayed tunnel completion and the growth of Love Media in the city), and various advertising to fictional products. Pre-released screenshots of gameplay, the city's environment and characters were used as photographs for certain news articles.
Various commercials are featured on both the radio stations and the Liberty Tree website. Certain ads often referred to their advertisers' official websites, such as petsovernight.com. All of these sites actually existed; they were set up to tie in with the game. However, although looking very much like genuine online stores, all links to purchase or order the products actually led to rockstargames.com.
Grand Theft Auto III's new RenderWare game engine created by another British games company Criterion Games was a significant departure from its predecessors, most notably because it uses a forward-viewing perspective as the default view, similar to a majority of third-person shooters and driving games, and has much-improved street-level graphics. The game also offers several additional camera modes, including a cinematic view, and the top-down perspective prevalent in GTA III's predecessors (this last was omitted in following titles, making GTA III the last major console title in the series to include the top-down view). In console versions, the game runs in the display resolution dictated by the console, while the Microsoft Windows version permits resolutions of up to 1600 by 1200 pixels.
The in-game environment is displayed through extensive use of level of detail (LOD), allowing areas directly surrounding the player to display objects in higher polygon counts (including vehicles, buildings and terrain) or minor props (e.g. street furniture), while areas far from the player are displayed with fewer polygons and less detail. As such, LODs aid GTA III in displaying a large environment with a further draw distance, while ensuring that the game's performance remains optimum. When traveling within the city, the game constantly swaps models of varied detail as the player moves from one area to another. However, when the player travels to another island, the game is required to load detailed models of the entire destination island, while also loading low-detail models for the island the player is leaving, requiring substantially more processing time; in the process, the game displays a "Welcome to..." screen for a short amount of time, before play resumes.
Like the environment, vehicles and pedestrians are depicted by full three-dimensional models, compared to flat top-down sprites used in previous games. Both vehicles and pedestrians are constructed from individual polygons with a central "core" (the wheels, engine, chassis and body of vehicles, and the torso of pedestrians). The damage system of vehicles represents the minor vehicle parts (doors, frontal quarter panels and bumpers) as undamaged, damaged or missing, based on collisions detected on the vehicle; the core of each vehicle remains visually unchanged despite heavy damage. As pedestrians in GTA III are made out of separate polygon parts (limbs, a head and a torso), it is possible to detach the limbs or head of a pedestrian (by using heavy firearms or explosives).
As the game runs a simulated 24-hour cycle, including changing weather, the game engine is also required to simulate day and night periods, as well as weather effects. This is done by adjusting surrounding visual effects and details in accordance to the weather and time of day. Other minor details are also present, like a rainbow and shiny streets after rain, and the sun moving from the northeast in the morning to the southwest in the evening.
Cuts, changes, and the 9/11 effect
Prior to the 2001 release of the final game, several modifications were made to Grand Theft Auto III. The changes were apparent as several promotional materials had previously displayed features that would be absent in the final version of the game. While cuts and changes are frequent during game development, the changes in GTA III were of note as they were made around the time when the September 11, 2001 attacks occurred; this led some gamers to speculate that at least some of the changes were motivated by the attacks. Although little was disclosed about the types of changes to be made and when they were conducted, Sam Houser, the president of Rockstar Games (based in Manhattan, New York City), was quoted September 19, 2001 saying that a review would be carried out for GTA III, in addition to confirming the delay of the game's release by three weeks (the original, rough release date was suggested by Houser to be on October 2, 2001):
“ ...our biggest games, including Grand Theft Auto [III], have been delayed slightly. This decision is based on two factors, firstly it has been a little difficult to get work done in downtown Manhattan in the last week since basic communications infrastructure has been intermittent at best, and secondly we felt that a full content review of all our titles was absolutely necessary for us in light of the horrifying event we all witnessed in NYC last week. As for Grand Theft Auto [III], since the game is so huge the review is no short process. So far we have come across certain small contextual references that we were no longer comfortable with, as well as a couple of very rare game play instances that no longer felt appropriate to us. We apologize to you and all the people waiting for this game to ship for the delays that have now ensued, but I'm sure you can understand our reasoning. ”
Among the changes made shortly after 9/11 was the police cars' paint scheme. The old color scheme of blue with white stripes (seen in previews and the manual map) specifically resembled that of the NYPD. The new color scheme of the LCPD is modeled in a generic black-and-white design that is common amongst several police departments in the United States such as the LAPD and SFPD. Pre-release screenshots in the game's official website depicting police cars had also undergone modifications, around a week after September 11. Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories and Grand Theft Auto IV saw paint schemes bearing likenesses to those of the NYPD's (past and present) returning, several years after GTA III was released.
Another cut is that of Darkel, an in-game character, for the final version of the game. Mentioned in several early video game publications and websites, Darkel was to be a revolutionary urchin who vowed to bring down the city's economy. One mission involved stealing an ice cream van, using it to attract pedestrians, then blowing it up (this mission would eventually be given by El Burro instead in the final version of game to kill a group of gang members). Darkel was also originally expected to give out Rampage-like missions, and even had his voice recorded for this part. Rockstar later decided that they would like to go back to the original system of giving out rampages as featured in Grand Theft Auto and Grand Theft Auto 2. Although Darkel and his missions were removed indefinitely, the character remains listed in the manual's credits, as well as having a character texture retained in the game's data files. Another reminder of Darkel's existence is an abandoned tunnel in the city, associated with the character in the official website, and includes four homeless people in a group wielding Molotov cocktails. Both the tunnel and the four homeless people are retained in the final version of the game.
The Dodo airplane, the only flyable aircraft in the game, was also a point of discussion; the wings of the vehicle were significantly short, while an uncontrollable full-winged version has been seen flying around the city. However, the plane, for months before 9/11, had a short wingspan, as evidenced from a preview in Game Informer (Issue #95), which indicated that the plane was to be used in a (now abandoned) mission to loft the plane high enough in its brief flight and reach new areas of the city. The Dodo is considerably difficult to control, usually resulting in short flights (although it is possible to fly the plane continuously around Liberty City when properly trained.
Other changes included stopping the selection of certain character models when using cheat codes, removing the aforementioned ability to blow limbs off non-player characters in only the PlayStation 2 version of GTA III, (though this can enabled with a cheat code) elderly pedestrians with walkers, school children as pedestrians (from GameSpot UK's beta preview and a school bus.
Grand Theft Auto III was and remains very controversial because of its violent and sexual content. Frequently cited in the press is the opportunity for players to carjack a vehicle, pick up a prostitute, have (implied) sex with her, and then kill her and steal her money.
It was because of GTA III that the Wal-Mart chain of retail stores announced that, for games rated "M" by the ESRB, its stores would begin checking the identification of purchasers who appeared to be under 17.
After its initial release in Australia, the game was banned for a period and a censored version of the game was to be released in its place. A key reason why this course of action was taken was that Rockstar did not submit GTA III to the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC), the body that, among other things, rates video games according to their content in Australia. Lacking a suitable R18+ rating (the highest rating being MA15+), the game was "Refused Classification" and banned for sale because they felt that the game was unsuitable for minors. The PC version though was reported to be uncut with an MA15+.
While the Australian version of the sequel Grand Theft Auto: Vice City was censored by Rockstar (it was later rerated uncut retaining its MA15+), the next sequel Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was not, despite featuring more "mature" content (although, later, San Andreas was once given a Refused Classification rating amid the "Hot Coffee" controversy but retained its MA15+ once edited worldwide.).
On October 20, 2003, the families of Aaron Hamel and Kimberly Bede, two young people shot by teens William and Josh Buckner (who in statements to investigators claimed their actions were inspired by GTA III) filed a US$246 million lawsuit against publishers Rockstar Games and Take-Two Interactive Software, retailer Wal-Mart, and PlayStation 2 manufacturer Sony Computer Entertainment America. Rockstar and its parent company, Take-Two, filed for dismissal of the lawsuit, stating in U.S. District Court on October 29, 2003 that the "ideas and concepts as well as the 'purported psychological effects' on the Buckners are protected by the First Amendment's free-speech clause." The lawyer of the victims, Jack Thompson, denied that and is attempting to move the lawsuit into a state court and under Tennessee's consumer protection act. The case, however, was dismissed due to the defendant's lack of knowledge regarding firearms.
Ports and remakes
Six months following the initial PlayStation 2 release of Grand Theft Auto III, versions for the Microsoft Windows and Xbox were made available. GTA III is notable for being the first game in the series to be released on a video game console before a PC version was available. Following GTA III, PlayStation 2 GTA games generally followed GTA III release pattern, in which the Microsoft Windows port is released within seven to eight months after the PlayStation 2 versions' release.
The Microsoft Windows version of the game, released on May 21, 2002, has been criticized for performance problems, especially in light of the much smoother performance of Vice City. This was due to technical issues; the game engine rendered everything within the draw distance, even things hidden behind buildings or trees, whereas Vice City only rendered what could actually be seen. The Microsoft Windows version does, however, support higher screen resolutions, has more detailed textures, a customizable player skin, and a custom option for MP3 playback in cars.
The Xbox version was initially supposed to be released in spring 2002 but it was shelved when Sony signed an agreement with Take-Two Interactive (Rockstar Games' parent company), making the GTA series a PlayStation 2 exclusive until November 2004. However, the agreement was amended in 2003 and the Grand Theft Auto: Double Pack containing both GTA III and Vice City was released for PS2 and Xbox in December 2003. The Xbox version of the Double Pack has improved audio, polygon models, and reflections over the Microsoft Windows and PS2 versions of the game. The Double Pack was not released for Microsoft Windows. In November 2005, GTA III was re-released again for the Xbox and PS2, this time bundled with Vice City and San Andreas in a trilogy compilation, dubbed Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy. There were no new changes, though the set retained Double Pack's graphical improvements for GTA III and Vice City. A Nintendo GameCube port of GTA III was also planned to be released alongside the Xbox version, but was cancelled for unknown reasons. The Xbox version, also supports the playback of one's personal music library.
Two handheld titles based on GTA III have also been released. Grand Theft Auto Advance was initially intended as a Game Boy Advance port of GTA III, but has since introduced a new storyline set in Liberty City, roughly one year before the events in GTA III. Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories was released for the PlayStation Portable in 2005 and later ported to the PS2. The game, which is also set in the same location as GTA III, takes place in 1998, three years before the events in GTA III. Liberty City Stories is the last GTA title to feature Liberty City in its GTA III form, as Grand Theft Auto IV (2008) and Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars (2009) are entirely set in a completely redesigned Liberty City.
A Macintosh version, made with Cider, was released on November 12, 2010.