It's simply nuts that it's been ten years since Rockstar unleashed GTA III on an unsuspecting public back in 2001. One decade into the lifespan of the open world version of the franchise and there have been numerous spinoffs across consoles and handheld platforms, lawsuits, write-ups, scholarly discussions, millions of copies sold, awards, merchandise, ubiquitous street team marketing programs, and most importantly, fond memories for millions of gamers worldwide.
The beauty of the GTA games from the first third-person crime spree in the fictional Liberty City onward is that no two play experiences could be exactly alike. These most open of open world games allowed us to completely go wild in the 1001 ways to roam and wreak mayhem in the universes Rockstar created. And after a decade of memories, (and in advance of the premiere of the big trailer for GTA V tomorrow) take a look at five of our big firsts with the franchise.
5. Stole our first fire engine: GTA III
Okay, this first one is probably the entry that got the still young franchise back in trouble right off the bat way back when. Being able to drag one of the citizens of Liberty City out of their car and jack their ride isn't exactly what you'd call upstanding behavior, and as soon as concerned parents discovered via cable news what kind of havoc you could wreak in the game, the moral panic was on.
But stealing cars in GTA III wasn't just how you got around the city (and it wasn't new, simply a holdover from the top-down incarnation of the series), it was an expression of the anarchic spirit Rockstar was building with the series. With GTA III, you were a bad man in a bad world, doing some bad things, and it was the ultimate expression of acting out in a game.
The best part of all this, though: ten years later, and there hasn't been a spike in carjacking sociopaths or murder hungry monsters.
4. Performed a drive-by while listening to Toto's "Africa": Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
Okay, look, I'm not going to focus on all of the terrible, horrible things I've done in GTA games past, but this is a relevant example. What did you think the first time you popped in Vice City and heard the swell of the 80's classic "Sister Christian?" Or "Gold" by Spandau Ballet? Anyone else but me really, really love the franchise's first real foray into licensed music?
Vice City and San Andreas both had pretty extensive soundtracks filled out with period-appropriate music acts on you car's radio stations. Rockstar even went a little crazy and released a boxset for Vice City in a gorgeously-produced collector's set around the time of the game's release. Now, the running patter of the DJ's was one of the cleverer bits of III, but mingling the absurdity of the ads and craziness/banality of the local radio stations with some of the mid-80's and early 90's most iconic tracks, ended up being a match made in heaven. Plus, how terrifically did authentic tracks from the period flesh out the respective worlds of both games?
3. Took the crime spree on the road: Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories
While not the first handheld entry in the franchise (that would be 2004's Grand Theft Auto Advance), 2005's PSP entry Liberty City Stories was the first time the third-person console experience was ported to handhelds. Adding innovations from both San Andreas and Vice City including motorcycles and a more dynamic camera, LCS also provided the first jolt of multiplayer to the series (although how many of us were able to get four friends with PSPs in the same room).
Sure, wrestling with the camera and moving your character using the notoriously tiny analog nub and face buttons was a challenge, but you were getting your GTA fix on the go. It's debatable how well an expansive, open world experience translates to a platform designed for gaming on the go in short bursts, but no one can say that Liberty City Stories provided anything less than a comprehensive Grand Theft Auto experience.
Plus, it's the only entry in the series to boast The Sneaker Pimps on the soundtrack, which was, of course, the first thing you thought of when you saw the title in this list.
2. Crashed our first motorcycle, decided it was only cars for me from here on out: Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
Okay, maybe I'm being a little hard on the... tricky controls associated with Vice City's two-wheeled vehicles, but c'mon, motorcycles are tough to drive! In all seriousness, this was the first title in the series to introduce motorcycles, as well as boats and helicopters. And this is a big deal because?
It's all about the variety (and kind of ties into our #1 entry below). With the addition these new vehicles (as well as jets and jetpacks in San Andreas), Rockstar was busy adding new ways for you to not only complete the story based missions but also tool around and experience the city. Motorcycles added speed, helicopters, verticality, and boats, well, they allowed you to mess around in the water (and if you're like me, get stranded far from shore, necessitating an embarrassing swim back in). New vehicles weren't just more bulletpoints for the back of the box--they were an evolution in the way you could experience the urban landscapes of GTA.
1. Watched Katt Williams perform stand-up: GTA IV
Add to this, watching TV, or going on dates, or play pool with your cousin, or any of the other handful of new activities the now three-year-old entry in the series allowed you to do. Rockstar Toronto was pretty upfront with attempting to recreate New York with their first next-gen entry, modeling the skyline and locations after the greatest city in the world. And to that end, they made Liberty City '08 far more expansive than any of the other sandboxes from previous games.
Sure, it was kind of like the developers dropped a dating sim into the middle of the franchise (and unfortunately, some of those dates were with your sad-sack cousin), but again, as with #2 up above, it was all about evolution. How weird and wonderful was it that Rockstar dropped all of these little things into the game that you could do, some allowing you to push the story forward, some simply allowing you to drop out of the sandbox for a bit and just relax with alternative forms of play. It's not as though at that point they were shooting for a 1:1 simulation or anything, but they kept spinning out these colorful, unexpected new nooks and crannies for their city.
It's that kind of experimentation and willingness to go off the rails that has me curious about and, most importantly, excited for the upcoming sequel.
Stay tuned tomorrow for MTV Geek's coverage of the new, highly-anticipated trailer for GTA V.