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When GTA 3 was released in 2001 it blew everyone away. It was rated in the high 90% (an average of 97%, jointly the highest scoring game for the console) by all reviewers and was responsible for selling more PS2 consoles than I care to imagine.
It was the reason I bought mine!
The old Grand Theft Auto games were a top-down driving experience, lots of fun but not much in terms of graphics or gameplay. When it was leaked that the PS2 would host the newest incarnation in GTA 3, not many people got exited. Some screenshots were released and they looked like artists renderings - a gimmick to shift a few extra units to people who'd think they were getting more than they actually were.
The reality was that Rockstar games had been locked in a secret development lab for the past 4 years playing with the state of the art RenderWare game engine, creating an enormous interactive 3D world which would forever set the standard for console games.
Totally free-roaming (sort of - certain areas are locked until specific missions have been completed) and the ability to choose your own path through the game!
Complete missions and play through the story mode or concentrate on side missions, stealing cars to order or take on a police cruiser and tackle criminals.
The basic story is simple - our nameless character (he never speaks) is left for dead after a bank robbery. The police pick him up, he survives his injuries and is subsequently sentenced for his crimes.
On the way to prison the armoured van he is being transported in is hi-jacked as another prisoner is freed, and we escape into the back streets of the city.
From this point on we control the characters every move, working through missions set to us by various criminal factions including the Mafia, Triads and Jamaican Yardie gangs.
Central to the game is car theft - we need a vehicle to navigate the enormous New York style city. Most of our missions involve automobiles in some way, whether stealing specific cars, chasing someone down or transporting someone from A to B.
As we progress, various weapons become available through the game and we can build up quite an arsenal along with armour and health power-ups (150% health and armour for completing side-missions).
While the game is necessarily violent, we can choose to avoid or confront the police. Wanted star ratings allow us to see how aggressively the police will hunt us. One star being a single police car (easy to shake) and 6 stars being national guard & military attacking (and ultimately destroying!) us.
The sound is phenomenal. As well as celebrity voice-overs, we can change radio channels and tune in to a dozen different full length talk shows or music stations. Some specially commissioned songs feature, as well as better known classics.
The game is open ended - even after completing the story mode you may continue to finish the side quests and reach 100% completion. It will take months to find all of the games hidden secrets.
Obviously, the 18 rating is there for a reason and the themes are wholly unsuitable for children. The animation is realistic, obviously cartoony, but some of the sequences are of an extremely adult nature.
If possible, this game actually improved on GTA 3.
It was the same game engine, slightly tweaked, set in a different city (loosely based on Miami) in the 1980's.
This time we play Tommy Vercetti, an ex hitman who's just been released from prison after 15 years. Someone tries to set him up with a dodgy drug deal, and the game begins with us trying to track down the culprits.
The 1980's setting is like Miami Vice on steroids. Brash, colourful, exciting and lots of fun.
Again, the music is tremendous. A dozen radio stations playing a variety of 80's classics from new wave to soft rock and talk stations thrown in. Voice cameo's from Danny Dyer, Debbie Harry, Burt Reynolds and Danny Trejo to name just a few make this a serious all star cast and cost a huge sum of money. Fortunately the game became the best selling PS2 game of all time, raking in hundreds of millions in sales and merchandise revenue!
The gameplay is improved, partly because our character speaks in this game. There are some great dialogues with other characters and a deep, slow developing story line.
In this game we have planes and helicopters available as well as the cars and boats from the previous game. It makes getting about much easier without losing any of the fun of exploring.
Once again, we have a game for adults here. 18 rated for a reason so keep it out of reach. The graphic violence and bad language are for grown ups only.
These two games together in one pack is dangerous. You could lose 6 months trying to complete these games and even then be finding new places to explore and side missions you had never noticed!
Superb value, and an absolute essential pack. Something I go back to every few months for another run through.