Grand Theft Auto III:
Throwing Mercury Fulminate on Troubled Waters
by Protagonist X
First, for those interested, the following
o My only experience is with the PS2 version, when I was house-sitting for a
friend. I have no real opinions on the PC port, save that putting in an MP3
playlist sounds like a really cool feature.
o My total knowledge, background, and love for games is less than many other
people's by an order of magnitude. In ICJ's case, perhaps even more. I dally
with games. I mess around with them
occasionally. There are others, many of them here, who really, truly,
love this stuff.
So, then: I didn't react as poorly to it as Jonsey did. And yet I agree with
most all of his points, which helped me to finally sum up the problems I had
with it that I couldn't voice. Similarly, it took me six months after
reading Adam Cadre's Ready, Okay! to
figure out why I felt something was missing from it. But that's another
thread, another rant.
1.) I didn't notice the "can't save anywhere" problem as much,
only when I was on a mission that I had to repeat a dozen times. Best
example is the end of Chapter one, where you snipe the cartel members to
allow eight-ball to plant the bomb. Had to repeat that one well over ten
times, nearly threw the controller through the screen in frustration,
because each time eight-ball bought it, I had to restore, drive to the bomb
shop, pick his ass up, drive to the docks, and screw it up all over again.
It seemed pointless to have to go through all of that YET AGAIN, but I was
actually more pissed at myself. As noted in Disclaimer #2, I lacks the m4d
l33t skillz. I was convinced that better players breezed through this after
one or two tries, and that because I have some sort of deficiency at this
particular subset of gaming that I
was to blame. Seeing others who had similar woes opened my eyes to the idea
that maybe the design wasn't all it could be.
2.) There's too many damn timed missions, and while some of them have a
rationale, others feel tacked on and artificial. Where Kenji maketh you
dewiver the sportth carth for hith aththothiate, becauthe hith honor mutht
be pwetherved [sorry, couldn't resist] -- it's an interesting idea, but the
time limit feels like it was just wedged in there. Incidentally, I could
never complete that mission, and I put it off as long as I could. I was
actually relieved when the opportunity came to assassinate Kenji, although I
was damn curious about the other missions he might have given.
3.) The Water Factor: I tuned it out mostly. Mostly. It seemed stupid that
after rolling a convertible off a cliff, totaling it in the process, I was
just fine, but walking off a beach into the waves was instant doom. This is
a subset of my biggest judgment on the game; see the summary below.
Can I see a design reason for having the city surrounded by water rather
then in the middle of Kansas? Absolutely. Same reason New Haz or Skara Brae
are more-or-less walled in, or that the Black Mesa Research Compound is
underground. The only other option is to loop the world around King's Quest-
or Dragon Wars-style, and while this appeals to the part of me that likes
Magritte paintings and total-mindfuck surreality, DMA probably made the
better of two choices here.
I wonder if it would have been possible to code a "swim" routine,
where the character had 30 seconds to make it to a shore or slow down and
eventually perish. Maybe they were at the limit of code that the PS2's ram
can hold. Maybe not.
Oh, and I too completed a mission, and despite taking massive pains, managed
to fall in the water while getting off the boat and drown. I screamed bloody
murder at the unfairness of the cosmos robbing me of my victory. Other times
I tried jumping in the water off the pier to test it, and it would deposit
me back on land. But the way it did it wasn't smooth, felt like a rush job
of coding after beta and QA weighed in on the thing.
4.) The map of the city, mazes, 3-dimensionality, etc: Again, I tuned it
out, but not entirely. It was a little confusing at times, but eventually I
got to know the neighborhoods, the alleys and shops, the location of things.
It took a while -- in Real Life, I've driven past my own house more than
once. I can get lost on my way to the kitchen, so I'm probably not an
As a side note on the 3-dimensionality of Staunton -- I actually liked
it most times. It was interesting that it didn't feel like it was a bunch of
blocks on graph paper, it felt realer and substantial. The streets on any
island are seldom well-laid-out straightways for very long -- they twist
around and slide under each other, and I thought it was a good imitation of
a real city, with different strata.
On the other hand, it was a pisser when I was told to get to a location in a
certain neighborhood and I had to navigate by the radar, glancing
occasionally at the road to make sure I didn't rear-end a cop. And yeah, I
had to restart a bunch of them and learn-by-doing to get to a place on time,
which was annoying. See note 2 on timed missions, above.
What It All Boils Down
I liked it in several places. And it at its best when you're running around,
exploring one of the hugest and best-detailed worlds I've seen on a console
game. Some moments are sublime. And
there's so many details to make it seem real to the player (that's REAL, not
REALISTIC -- it's not a sim game, but it tries for verisimilitude). Think of
the physics on the vehicles so that the Esperanto handles differently than
the Stinger or the Cheetah. Or all those intricate street maps. There's a
big list here, we could cite all sorts of examples.
But the work as a whole suffers from the eventual intrusion of the awareness
that you're playing a game into the
immersive atmosphere, ruining the vivid and uninterrupted dream that you're
starring in a gangster movie.
The preponderance of Time Limit missions. The way that arrests interrupt you
but slide off in 12 hours, your rap sheet forgotten. The "Every fucking
cop in town plus the FBI are gunning for your blood, so you need to get the
Cop Badge Tokens to bump down the Wanted Meter." The disappearance of
cars when we go into a brief cutscene (yeah, I tried something similar and
then was pissed when it didn't work out). The way that after the mission is
completed, the wanted meter zings! right to zero in an instant, and every
cop who was shooting to kill is suddenly sharing a donut and trying to bum a
smoke or something. All the little things add up and break the spell.
Robb has probably the best example: where the Cartel -- after you've been on
a building a half-block away with a sniper rifle's scope set to "Hubble
Fucking Telescope" and then KILLED every fucking witness -- the Cartel
can pick you out in a car with tinted windows, but Kenji and the Yakuza,
who've sat DOWN with you and talked face-to-face, can't ID you when you're
three yards away firing an Uzi from the window.
The IF community beats on "mimesis" constantly, but it's true,
kids, it's true. And GTA3 is so damned good
at mimesis in places that the flaws are thrown into sharp relief. Much in
the way that most of Kubrick's films are so good that his mediocre stuff
(which presented against the work of a Renny Harlin or a Michael Bay look
fucking well sublime in comparison) sticks out like a sore thumb. Jonsey
mentioned "consistency," and this consistency is HARD WORK -- the
proverbial "last 20% takes 80% of the effort" thing in little
I've apparently come down with diarrhea of the word processor, so I'll try
to wrap up this little 60,000 word novella with something a bit shorter:
GTA3 aggravates precisely because
it's so good in other places -- if it had lived up to its potential, it
could have rivaled the all-time greats. The flaws are all the worse because
they were surmountable. It's like
watching your football team of choice play a flawless game all through the
Super Bowl, then completely piss it away in the 4th quarter by a bunch of
stupid, easily avoidable interceptions.
GTA3 fails in the exactly the same places that Half-Life shone the most.
All right. Gentlemen, you may commence your flame attacks.
SiteOp Note: And we do! Click
here to just start screeching libel at anyone who will listen.