Grand Theft Auto: A retrospective – The GTA 3 spin-offs

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Vice City

A month after GTA 3 was released to record sales, Rockstar knew that they had a franchise on their hands that would steer the company towards even bigger successes. Buying developer DMA Design and rebranding them as Rockstar North, the future clearly had more wanton destruction, violence and high speed pursuits in store for it. And it wouldn’t be long before the next GTA game arrived, taking players on a trip down south and back in time.

Vice City

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Built upon the Grand Theft Auto 3 engine, Vice City was released as a PlayStation 2 exclusive in October 2002. Much of the same gameplay had been retained, but with further improvements this time. The sandbox environment was still in play, combat now had a quicker responsiveness to it and property could be purchased, allowing players to have a constant flow of income for their illicit income.

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And unlike GTA 3’s mute protagonist, Vice City’s Tommy Vercetti had plenty to say.

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Voiced by none other than Ray “Goodfella” Liotta, Vercetti found himself, leading a cast that also included the vocals of Tom Sizemore, Burt Reynolds, Danny Trejo, Lee Majors, Jenna Jameson and the infamous Gary Busey himself. Even classic TV show Miami Vice got some love from the game, as Phillip Michael Thomas  popped up as a Rico Tubbs-inspired character within the game.

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Set in 1986, Vice City was fully dipped in the pastel suits and neon lights of that era, with Vercetti working from the bottom of the gangland hierarchy to once again reclaim a kingdom of drugs, sex and violence in a game that paid homage to classic films such as Carlito’s Way and Scarface. Once players had established themselves as a drug kingpin at the halfway mark of the game, Vice City changed considerably and opened up a more financial side of gameplay.

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Players could purchase property which doubled as safe houses, acquire failing businesses and help turn them around or generally use new assets as a front to pursue more illicit activities. Completing the various side missions would then properly unlock the new assets, giving Tommy access to more funds with which to continue other missions.

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New cars, boats and a rocking soundtrack of the best of the 1980s were all present, as were new aerial vehicles. Players could hop into a helicopter, cruise through Vice City on motorcycles and access an arsenal of weapons that was easily triple the size of the guns available in GTA 3.

Impact

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Vice City was yet another massive hit for Rockstar. Scoring positive numbers across a wide range of publications, Vice City is still ranked as the sixth-highest-rated PlayStation 2 game on Metacritic, with sales to match. As of September 26 in 2007, Vice City had sold over 15 million units, before that number was increased to 17.5 million sold in March 2008 and over 20 million in 2011. Vice City is also the fourth-highest selling PlayStation 2 game of all time. But for the next GTA game, players would be leaving the sunny shores of Vice City behind and head to Grove street…

GTA: San Andreas

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Hard streets. a harder life. After focusing on gangland activities in cities inspired by New York and Miami, GTA would hit the thug life of Los Angeles for the next game in the series. San Andreas was easily the biggest GTA game to date, with a location that spanned three distinct environments: The inner city Los Santos, the high-class San Fierro and the Vegas-inspired outback of Las Venturas. In total, players now had almost 14 miles of real estate to explore.

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Stepping into the shoes of Chris Johnson, who was voiced by rapper Young Maylay, players once again worked their way up from the bottom, gathering resources, weapons, vehicles and allies as they went along. The key difference in San Andreas however, was that players had far more features to indulge in, many of which were experimental and never seen again.

The biggest such change came in the form of various physical statistics that Carl could improve upon as the game continued. Working out would result in Carl transforming into a gigantic bodybuilder, while spending too much time down hamburgers would see a gut form on the lead character. Respect, sex appeal, stamina and lung capacity all had a part to play, from recruiting gang members to determine how long players could stay underwater for. Carl could go out on dates if his sex appeal was high enough and stamina regulated how far he could run without getting winded, a useful attribute when the cops were hot on your tail.

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Various other schools would also increase player proficiency in using cars, bikes, boats, planes and firearms. By the time certain skills were maxed out, Carl was a dual gun-wielding, lean and mean sex machine, making the mode an essential part of the San Andreas experience. Cars could also be customised with nitrous and other cosmetic upgrades, while several new aerial vehicles were unlocked once Carl had obtained a pilot’s license.

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Hoods could also be conquered, as Carl took on several waves of enemies, which had to b defended from time to time as rival gangs made a push for your new territory. On top of all the usual vigilante, ambulance and taxi missions, players could also break into houses, pimping, courier jobs and even worked in a local quarry.

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All of this, in a game that featured a hipper 1990s rap soundtrack and voiceover work from the likes of Ice T, Samuel L Jackson, Peter Fonda, Clifton Powell and James Woods. GTA San Andreas wasn’t just a game with a bigger ambtion, but an quality to match those lofty goals as well. Just don’t mention the Hot Coffee mod.

Impact

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Raking in critical acclaim, GTA San Andreas is easily one of the best PlayStation 2 games ever made, and a defining benchmark of quality for the franchise. Bigger, better and bolder, the game sold over 12 million units by March 2005 on the PlayStation 2, making it the highest-sold game on that platform of all time. As of March 2008, San Andreas went on to have sold a total of 21.5 million units and increased that number to over 27.5 million units by 2011. The Guinness World Records 2009 Gamer’s Edition listed San Andreas as the most successful PlayStation 2 game, with 17.33 million copies sold for that console alone in the end.

It’s also the final core game to be released in the PlayStation 2, going out with a bang. But the PlayStation 3 would soon see a new breed of GTA released, that was even bigger than the mammoth San Andreas.

Last Updated: April 13, 2015

Darryn Bonthuys

Something wrong gentlemen? You come here prepared to read the words of a madman, and instead found a lunatic obsessed with comics, Batman and Raul Julia's M Bison performance in the 1994 Street Fighter movie? Fine! Keep your bio! In fact, now might be a good time to pray to it!

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