Next on my countdown of “games that I avoided playing” is Grand Theft Auto for the PlayStation. No, not Grand Theft Auto V. Just Grand Theft Auto.
At 185 million total sales, GTA may be one of the most beloved game series out there these days, but it’s come a long way since its debut on the PlayStation. Grand Theft Auto may have been the first game in the series, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it catapulted the games to greatness; that award goes to Grand Theft Auto III, arguably one of the most important games of all time. The first two games were a tad more… forgettable.
Grand Theft Auto, at its core, is a top-down 2D version of its 3D counterparts. You can hijack cars, shoot civilians, and run over lines of Hare Krishnas. As you do so, police offers will try to chase you down and shoot you to pieces. You progress by working for various mob bosses and criminals via pay phones (something they kind of paid homage to in a few side missions in GTA III)
Unlike the later games, which follow a progressing storyline, Grand Theft Auto merely requires a high score in order to finish each of its six levels. This, it turns out, is no easy task. You can earn points via shoot-outs and drivebys, but beating each level is only practically achievable by beating most, if not all, of the level’s missions. The problem is that if you fail a mission, you don’t actually get to go back and retry it. You’d have to restart the entire level.
As a result, Grand Theft Auto devolves into a long, tiresome chore for anyone seriously trying to finish it. Not that there were many of those people back when this game came out. While watching me play, at least two of my room mates were genuinely curious why I felt the need to go back and beat this game. Even in 1997, it was not a game you played in order to finish. It was stress relief. You booted it up with your friends, got into a couple of pile-ups, ran over a few police offers, and called it day. You got to maybe the fourth mission and then gave up.
I suppose the most compelling reason I could give them (besides simply crossing it off my backlog) is that it’s neat to see what features were in GTA from the very beginning. It only has a handful of the features that would later come to define it as a series. These include things like the Pay n’ Spray stations and the “ranked” wanted system that ratchets up the number of police coming to hunt you down.
Also, oddly enough there are a few random references to later games in the series hidden deep within the story. This includes a cameo of El Burro, the leader of the Diablos in Grand Theft Auto III, plus a couple of pieces of dialog that I recognize that they reused in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. But since the 2D and the 3D games aren’t official linked by story in any way, this basically amounts to little more than trivia.
Otherwise, Grand Theft Auto turned out to be a repetitive and tedious romp through gaming history. This is how the entire series got started. Now, we’ve all seen what the series has become. I suppose my geek cred gets a little boost for having beaten the original game? Perhaps, but it’s not like anyone cares about that anyway.
The Bottom Line: Grand Theft Auto is barely worth playing through just to say you’ve beaten it, but it’s an interesting artifact of gaming history nonetheless.
PS: I guess I should mention that the game does have an awesome theme song:
Also, Randall and I bring up this song all of the time. It’s oddly catchy song and plays over one of the game’s radio stations :