Settle up, people.
Call all the people you've made bets with over the last decade and tell them that, yes, without any doubt, the protagonist in Grand Theft Auto III is named "Claude." Rockstar finally removed any doubt you may have had as a part of its new collection of goods to celebrate the 10th anniversary of GTA III. Namely... this Claude figure:
It's likely that many of you felt you already knew this due to his appearance in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, but up until now, much of the evidence has been circumstantial. At one point in that game, you get a phone call from your ex-lady, Catalina, who's now rolling around with the silent dude from Liberty City, and she uses the name... but you're never 100% sure that she's talking to the same guy. The name was also buried in data files in the PC version of GTA III. So maybe it was obvious. It certainly hasn't been a hot topic of discussion lately, that's for sure. But I think it's kind of cool that Rockstar removed any last bits of speculation this morning with that figure. The company also plans to release posters featuring the game's box art, as well as a new version of the game, which has been announced for iPad 2/iPhone 4S and various high-end Android phones and tablets. The game will also be coming to "additional devices."
Personally, I'm having trouble processing the idea that Grand Theft Auto III is ten years old. I'm of the mind that its influence on the last ten years of game design can't be overstated. Unfortunately, a lot of the open-world games that have followed stole the wrong stuff. Think about the number of open world games you've played. Now think about how many of them actually managed to make you feel like you were a part of a living, breathing world. Yes, the AI gets in the way, and yes, sometimes the car physics go nuts and make it impossibly frustrating to play, but back then, it was a fair trade-off for the freedom of an open world.
Despite all the advances in technology we've seen come and go since then, it's a little sad to think that those are still large problems with open world games. These days, the trade-off doesn't feel special at all. We've had a decade of open-world games that have attempted to follow in GTA III's footsteps, but so few of them captured imaginations the same way that it--and the GTA games that followed it--did. These days, an open world is practically an excuse for whatever bugs your game may ship with and the only real benefit is a bunch of almost-always-boring side missions.
That's not to say that GTA III was a perfect game or anything. A lot of the time it felt like it was just barely hanging on and keeping itself up and running. Some of the mission design felt, at the time, downright unfair. It wasn't until Vice City that Rockstar realized that it was worth building a game that just about anyone could complete, resulting in a lower, smoother difficulty ramp.
But back in 2001 it was easy to overlook a lot of GTA III's faults, because there wasn't anything else like it yet. And you know what? There still isn't anything else out there quite like Grand Theft Auto. Sure, tons of games have lifted systems and ideas directly from the series. But GTA always felt like it had a point of view to share, with characters, writing, gameplay built to support its story and its take on the world. You can break it down into its individual systems, but it's the way that it all comes together that has always made the franchise so strong. Those games have always felt like they were built by people that sweated the details and cared about all the little things that turn good ideas and interesting technology into something far greater than the sum of its parts.
Also, that Claude figure is kind of awesome. I don't know that it's something I'd be willing to pay $149.95 for, but... I'm at least thinking about it. At least now I'll know what to call him, should I decide to place an order. And now we can move on to the next great video gaming mystery: Is this Claude the same Claude that was the protagonist in GTA2?!?!!!!!?