Some titles stand the test of time. Some titles 10 years later are still fun to play to this day. Sure, they may have aged and may pale in comparison to their newer iterations but they are still enjoyable and playable despite all that. Some are even better than their modern counterparts. However, other titles have not stood the test of time. Some titles years after their release are rude awakenings, especially to those with nostalgic glasses on. Their modern iterations are light years beyond the original concept and make you wonder how the series was allowed to proceed from its atrocious beginnings. The original Grand Theft Auto is unplayable.
I started playing the Grand Theft Auto series the way a lot of people started the series: GTA III. Since then, I’ve played all the games released on the PS2 and enjoyed them all, San Andreas being my favorite. Although I’ve never completed Vice City or San Andreas - mostly due to me obsessively trying to complete the games 100% - I did fully complete GTA III and I will complete the other two someday. Being a fan of those three games, I thought to try the first and second games. I’ve owned them both on Steam for awhile now (acquired from a sale of the whole series minus the fourth game and its expansions) and I finally decided to actually try them out. For this article, I’ll be talking about my experience with the first game with a piece about the second game coming later.
I loaded up the first game to begin with and I tried to navigate the menu with my gamepad. Nothing. So I use my keyboard’s arrow keys and get to what I guess is the first level. I try to use my gamepad here and it works…sort of. My character is constantly turning in different directions. I struggle with the movement controls for a few minutes until I decide that I simply can’t get my character to move in a straight line. So I exit the game and pull up the options so I can configure the gamepad. I try to map the movement to the d-pad instead of the analog stick but it doesn’t recognize my gamepad’s d-pad. After a quick search online, I come to find that movement in this game was actually done with the face buttons. So I go back to the button configuration, adjust it to fit this configuration and load up the game again.
I’m able to get my character to move better but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s just awkward to control my character. So I exit out again, and adjust the controls to use the keyboard instead. It feels a bit better, as I can now move my character reasonably. However, when I got into a car, I’m swerving, hitting cars, and running over pedestrians. I have almost no control over the car and can’t steer the thing to save my life. I fumble around with various control ideas using both the keyboard and the gamepad trying to find something that works but to no avail. So I just use the keyboard with an altered button layout.
I restart the game and feebly attempt to get to wherever the objective arrow is telling me to get to. I finally get there, which turns out to be a row of payphones. I see the text and then it vanishes almost immediately. I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing but there’s an arrow to follow so I do that, driving like a drunk the entire way. I get there and I figure out that I’m supposed to drive a big truck with explosives in it. However, I’m not supposed to hit cars and stuff or else it’ll blow. Easier said than done. The controls fight me the entire way until the truck finally blows up a minute or so later. I manage to jump out of the truck before it does but I’ve already seen enough.
So these games did give a good first impression. Perhaps I should spend more time with these games. So I tried them again. I tried just running around and causing various amounts of mayhem. Shooting has no real aiming system so you just run forward rocking left and right in an attempt to hit someone and cops can bust you with little to no effort. So then I tried getting my game face on and real attempting to complete the missions. I changed the text speed to slow in the options menu and now I could read my mission statements. I manage to complete one that asked me to steal a bike but failed at another. I also came to the horrible fact that if I die too many times, I have to start the level from scratch. No saving available.
So what’s the major issue here? The controls. There is no tutorial of the controls and you are never given a clear understanding of how you should control your character on foot or while driving. Subtle movements are never an option to you, though the game may be asking that from you. Never do the controls feel natural or intuitive to you. While I did manage to actually get a mission done in which I ran over some guys coming after me, jump a half completed suspension bridge, and drive to several locations, I never felt like I was actually doing what was on the screen. I felt like I was just getting lucky.
Even if you are a fan of these games, you must’ve had to train your brain to adapt to the control scheme, either on the PC or the original PlayStation version. Furthermore, doing things like hitting cars or killing pedestrians give any kind of enjoyment. If anything, they make you feel like you’re playing the game wrong or that you’re losing. When you drive down the road and sideswipe a car next to you, I felt like was screwing up. In GTA III, I would pull out an Uzi and finish the job. Again, while I completed that one mission, I was constantly running into cars, scraping by buildings, and running on foot in the wrong direction until I corrected myself. The camera, which is constantly pulling in and out, is a part of this as well, as it’s very disorienting.
The graphics, even by late 90s standards, are terrible. The first game looks like something that was created on MS Paint and resembles a low budget Super Nintendo title rather than something running on the disc based PlayStation. Your character is literally just eight or nine pixels and it’s downright pathetic. The sound is just a random assortment of beeps, bloops, and other various annoying sounds meant to give the feeling of “city life”. Music is decent enough. I highly recommend changing the music in the options menu from Radio to Constant. It drowns out the constant clutter of sound effects, making the game much more tolerable to listen to.
The following GTA games completely reinvented its gameplay for the better and are why Rockstar is the company it is today. However, the original game is an unplayable mess. Grand Theft Auto was never a critical darling but there is a fan base for this game and the London mission packs. Now to be clear, this is not a review. I don’t think it very fair to give a review of a game I played for only an hour or so. This is just a first and last impression of a game I have no intention of visiting again. If you are a fan of this game, is there something in this game that I’m missing? Is the PC version inferior to the PS1 version? My research says the two are identical but is that wrong? Is there some way of getting the controls to work a bit better? Is there a configuration that makes using a gamepad playable? Present your case in the comments below.