1001 Videogames I must play before I die!
No.0023 Grand Theft Auto
My memories of the first GTA are mostly about just trying to get to play it for any extended length of time. When it came out I was 10 and I saw it whilst visiting a family friend. My parents wouldn't let me have any kind of games console when I was growing up and my father was a big Archimedes fan so there weren't a huge number of new games being released that I could actually get my hands on. Going to this guys house was like visiting a shrine to what I might be able to do once I was old enough. My older brothers were friends with this guys older brother and both our parents were friends in that way mothers are. When ever we all went over to their house for dinner or something I would always end up watching this guy or his older brother playing games. A lot of my early exposure to modern or at least current games came from there. Grand Theft Auto, along with Resident Evil, left the biggest impression on me. I got to play a little bit of it there and knew I needed to be able to play it myself. In the end I just about got a PC emulator to run it on my Acorn at home and finally I could play it!
Coming back to this top-down crime'em up was an odd experience. My memories of it were much more sedate, probably because I could only get it to run at about 10-15fps the first time I played it. After fiddling about to rediscover the controls I got my bearings and it all started to come back to me. I don't think I successfully finished a single mission in this game ever, and the same was true this time around. I tried picking up the tanker loaded with explosives, I drove to the police station and armed the bomb, but the remaining momentum the vehicle had when I jumped out meant it drove straight through and out the other side. Once you've failed a mission, you can't re try it which was odd. But then you quickly remember that you weren't there for the missions, it was all about the mayhem you could cause.
Even for such an early sandbox game, it still manages to produce those bizarre moments that games like Just Cause 2 and Saints Row are built for. At one point I was trying to reverse and escape a police officer trying to pull me from the car and bust me, but as he dragged me out and I expected the disappointed sigh of the off screen audience the car kept rolling backwards and crushed him, leaving me free to go about my murderous rampage. Small moments like this reminded me why this game was so impressive. If you're actually trying to play the game properly, its incredibly difficult. I'll freely admit that I quickly found myself going nowhere and resorted to cheats so as to stay in the game world long enough to properly remind myself of what this thing was all about. I had forgotten the game actually still used lives, which seems cruel given that, without armour, ANYTHING will kill you.
If you are looking for a loose trip down memory lane then I'd recommend taking a look at GTA again, but if you've never played it before you may well wonder how this game even managed to get a sequel. It was just so unlike anything else around at the time, a strange mix of crime and comedy, that is pretty common place in games nowadays, but was completely fresh at the time. It also had a god damn awesome theme song!
No.0024 Grand Theft Auto II
Grand Theft Auto II throws out some slightly mixed signals at first. The intro movie, which is awesome, makes it look as though you'll be playing a game that takes its self much more seriously then its predecessor, but you quickly learn that isn't true. The game does develop in complexity, each area has three gangs and depending on the missions you take and how often you kill their members they will become more of less friendly. The more a gang likes you, the more missions you'll get from them. They start small, and you'll start to notice GTA mission staples starting to show up, like picking up some drugs, then sprinting around the city trying to distribute them to various dealers before a time limit runs out. Get to the high end gang missions and suddenly you have a firetruck that has been converted into a flamethrower. Like I said, while its presentation may have become more serious, the gameplay sure as hell didn't.
One thing I did notice that completely slipped past me when I originally played it is the strangely stylised nature of the game. Everything has a decidedly retro look to it. The cars all look like they're from the 1930's, its most obvious on the Miller-Meteor ambulances that are just a palette swap away from being the Ecto-1. Its only something I've noticed now that I'm old enough and actually care about that kind of thing and not just where to find the Electro gun. It's a style I vaguely remember starting to show up towards the end of Kingpin: Life of Crime as well.
GTA II is a far more rounded and polished game compared to the first. It seems that Rockstar decided to put something there for you to actually do rather then just see how long you could last with four stars, although GTA II goes to six now. The game also leans more on the ridiculous side with its missions. One tasked me with abducting random people using a bus and taking them to a factory to be processed into hotdogs. The whole thing feels generally more comedic, and we get our first taste of Rockstar's use of insane radio DJs. It is certainly easier and more engaging then the first game, so if you really want to see the humble beginnings of the GTA series and haven't tried any of them before I would say that you'll probably get more out of GTA II the the first game.
Both of these games hold a special place in my heart, even if I can't bring myself to play them for more then an hour or so of each now. You can get both of them on Steam, along with the other GTA games all the way up to Episodes from Liberty city, really cheap, or if you just want the original two they are available free on Rockstar's website. Either way you should check them out, if only for the fart/burp button that has no right being as funny as it is.