Grand Theft Auto - the Computer Game Trilogy Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Grand Theft Auto - the Computer Game Trilogy

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The Grand Theft Auto III Trilogy refers to the three games, Grand Theft Auto III, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas which were all separate games released for the PlayStation 2 between 2001 and 2004 by Rockstar games. The games are highly controversial, but also hugely popular, and have become some of the biggest games of all times, beating records in relation to most and fastest sales. It is widely believed that these three games (GTA 3 in particular) have revolutionised the gaming industry.

The three games are connected in terms of intertwining plots, and recurring characters, and the three areas in the games (Liberty City, Vice City, and San Andreas) were the names of the cities used in the original Grand Theft Auto game. All three games use the same graphics engine, hence they all look similar, but each game has added more features to the general gameplay.

The History of the Franchise

The original Grand Theft Auto was released in 1998 for the PC1. It is a 2D game with a top-down view (ie you look down from above) of the city you are in. You play a small figure in yellow that goes around the city stealing cars and doing various other criminal activities in the pursuit of points. You can do missions that you get from payphones, or you can just roam freely around the city, it's up to you. The ultimate aim is to get a specified amount of points to move on to the next city, and eventually clear the game. The game was a cult hit, despite its poor graphics, even for that time, and financially it did fairly well.

It did well enough to warrant an add-on pack a year later called GTA London. This game is nearly the same in every way except it is based in London in 1969. The first true sequel is GTA 2 released later that year. This game has improved graphics and introduces a lot of new features such as the possibility of working for multiple gangs. But to the fans it was more of the same and they wanted something different. As a result the game didn't do too well and it seemed as if the series might have been doomed.

Grand Theft Auto III

The game's producers, Rockstar, weren't willing to let the franchise end there and set out to make GTA 3. Advances in technology, and a large increase in the games budget, meant that the game's dated 2D system was consigned to the past and this new game was going to be fully 3D and was to be released on the PS2. The entire gameplay system was also radicalised with the inclusion of a plot that runs through the game, while keeping the free roaming ability of the original. This gives the game a sense of purpose, which the others didn't have. Another nice touch to the game is the inclusion of famous actors in the game cast, such and as Kyle MacLachlan and Joe Pantoliano.

The Story

You play an unnamed main character2 who, at the start of the game, is taking part in a bank robbery with his girlfriend, Catalina, in the Liberty City bank. Catalina however, double-crosses him; shooting him and leaving him for dead. He ends up getting arrested and is sentenced to ten years in Liberty City Penitentiary. However, the Penitentiary-bound police convoy is attacked by The Columbian Cartel (a gang run by Catalina). The gang kidnaps an old oriental gentleman from the convoy and in the confusion your character and another, named 8-ball, manage to escape.

In return for helping him escape, 8-ball introduces your character to a guy named Luigi who is a high up member in the Leone family Mafia. Luigi needs some 'jobs' done around the city, and he's willing to pay your character handsomely to carry them out. From here your character begins to work his way up the gang ladder working for various different people. As he progresses through the game the missions get harder, but the pay gets better and he needs money to purchase new weapons and ammunition. There are also certain missions that need financial investment before they can be unlocked. However, the primary reason for doing all this is so that he can get revenge on Catalina for betraying him at the start of the game.


When on foot, the game controls just like a third-person platform game. You can walk all over the city, and you have an array of different weapons that you carry and can shoot. However, the majority of the game is spent driving cars, controlled much the same as car-racing games. The city is full of cars, which range from sports cars to rubbish collectors. Some cars drive on the streets, others are parked outside buildings, but you can get in and control almost any car in the city3. You can drive all over the city, but at the same time there are thousands of other cars on the streets that you must try and avoid. You can obey the rules of the road, or you can ignore them, it's up to you. Also in the game are several different types of boat, which you can use in the waterways of the city, although you don't use boats much in the game. The last useable vehicle in the game is the Dodo. The dodo is a small plane with clipped wings, which makes it almost impossible to fly, although experienced players should be able to manage it.

When on foot you can carry over a dozen different types of weapon, from baseball bats to rocket launchers. If you have no weapons then you can attack people using your fists, but this isn’t advisable. The smaller weapons such as the pistol target automatically on opponents and you can carry them and run at the same time, but they aren't as good at taking enemies out. Bigger weapons like the AK-47 can kill people very quickly, but they must be targeted manually and you cannot run while holding them. Other weapons, like grenades, you must throw. If you get into a vehicle, and have an Uzi, then you can do drive-by shootings on people next to you. You can buy most weapons in the game in 'Ammu-nation' gun shops, although some weapons must be bought in the less than legal army depot.

The city runs on its own speeded-up clock where every minute in real life is an hour in the game. This means that during the day the sun is shining and at night it's darker and all the cars have their lights on. Certain vehicles are only around during certain times of the day, for example trash collectors are only around in the morning. The game also has a weather system that changes randomly. One minute it could be sunny making visibility on the road good, while the next it could be raining making handling the vehicles a lot harder, and the next it could be foggy making it hard to see the traffic ahead of you.

Of course, driving around the city isn't all fun and games. Commit too many crimes and you'll end up with a wanted level and law enforcement officers will come after you. There are six wanted levels, and the bigger the crime, the bigger the wanted level.

Level 1: At level 1 you don't have too much to worry about, usually only one police car will come after you and it will stop if you keep low for a few minutes.
Level 2: At level 2 a fairly large police force will come after you. Several police cars will follow you at once at they are harder to shake, but still not too much of a problem.
Level 3: At level 3 things begin to get serious. The police will send helicopters after you that will shoot from above, while the police set roadblocks on major roads to try and stop you.
Level 4: At this level heavily armed SWAT teams start to follow you in SWAT vans and set up roadblocks on most roads in the city.
Level 5: Now the FBI are after you in their cars, and two helicopters will follow you from above.
Level 6: The highest wanted level, at this level the army declares marshal law in the city and they come after you in tanks.

To get rid of your wanted level then go to a 'Pay-n-spray' shop and have your car resprayed4. If you are caught then you are arrested5 and brought to a police station. The game advances six hours and you lose all your weapons and some of your money. Similarly, if you lose all your health then you get brought to a hospital with the same conditions6.

Of course, if you don't want to do the main missions there are lots of other things you can do in the game, such as vehicle missions. These are missions that you can do if in any of the special vehicles in the game. If you're in a police car or any other type of law enforcement vehicle, you can do vigilante missions. These, ironically, involve chasing down criminals around the city. When in a fire truck you can go around the city putting out fires. In an ambulance you can pick up sick people and drop them off at the hospital. While driving a taxi you can take on the role of a taxi driver. These missions allow you to earn extra money. Your reward for doing them is dependent on the time taken and the number of missions completed.

One of the best features of the game are the radio stations that you can listen to while in a car. There are several different radio stations in the game and each one plays a certain type of music, from pop to classical to rap. Each station has its own DJ and advertisements between songs. There is also a radio call-in show hosted by a man named Lazlow (who is on the radio in all three games). You can hear all the stations from any type of car, unlike the previous games in the series where you could only listen to certain music in certain cars.

The City

The game is set in Liberty City, a city based on New York, USA. In this version of GTA there is only one city, unlike the previous games which included several cities. However in the beginning you can only access a small area, other parts are unlocked as you progress through the game. There are three islands in the game, each one is roughly the same size, but they are all very different. As you pass from one island to the next a short loading screen will appear for a few seconds.

You start the game in Portland, a largely industrial area to the east, cut off from the rest of the city due to bridge repairs being carried out. The early missions tend to take place around the red light district (home of the Diablo gang). The island has a large dock area with several warehouses and industries. There are also many residential areas in the city near Chinatown (run by the Triads) and Saint Marks (run by the Mafia).

After the mission 'Last Requests' the bridge is repaired and you are free to go to Staunton Island in the centre of the city. This island is the commercial heart of the city and where most of the game takes place. In the centre of the island is a large park (home of the Yardies Gang), while to the south are several skyscrapers and a casino (home to the Yakaza), and to the north there is a large stadium and construction site (home of the Columbian Cartel).

After 'A Drop in the Ocean,' the third and final island, Shoreside Vale, is accessible after repairs to the lift-bridge are complete. This is the smallest island and contains the large airport as well as a small industrial district, the Cochrane Dam, a small apartment complex (home of the Southside Hoods gangs), and many mansions (another home of the Columbian Cartel).


The game was originally released on the PS2, but after success there it was also released on the PC and X-Box. It was a massive hit and it became the best-selling game in the PS2's short history. Part of its success was due to its open-ended gameplay, allowing the player to do what they want when they want, an aspect uncommon in games at that time. The 3D city feels much more realistic than the top-down 2D versions of the previous game, making you feel an actual part of the game. The well-written story, culminating in an epic action film-type ending, made the game an even bigger hit.

But success doesn't come without its troubles and many groups worldwide called for the game to be banned. In some countries the more violent aspects of the game had to be cut out. Despite this, it became a gaming phenomenon and considering the massive sales, a sequel seemed a certainty.

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

Vice City is actually a prequel to GTA 3, set in 1986 in Vice City, and it relies heavily on shows such as Miami Vice. The game is very similar to GTA 3 in most respects and holds on to nearly everything that made GTA 3 a hit, while adding a few features of its own. The game is much more light-hearted than the bleakness of GTA 3, with the city painted in bright colours and the sun nearly always shining. A major change to the game is that you no longer play a nameless, mute character. Instead, you play Tommy Vercetti, voiced by Ray Liotta. This allows for better cut-scenes, making the story more central to the game.

The Story

You play Tommy Vercetti, a Liberty City mobster who works for the Forelli mafia. Fifteen years ago he was imprisoned for killing 11 men in an incident that earned him the title 'The Harwood Butcher.' Now that he's being released, the Forelli mafia, headed by Sonny Forelli, want to keep him out of the way in case he damages business. They decide to send him down to Vice City in Florida so that he can set up a drug ring for them. Tommy heads down to Vice City with millions of dollars of Sonny Forellis money to meet his contact, a lawyer called Ken Rosenberg, with the hope of building a new life for himself in the sunshine state.

Unfortunately things don't go as planned. Midway through the meeting with the suppliers, the Vance brothers, the group are ambushed, leaving two mafia soldiers and one Vance brother dead. Now stuck in Vice City, with no money and no drugs, Tommy must team up with Ken Rosenberg and Lance Vance to try to figure out who busted their deal. But they have to be quick. Sonny Forelli isn't happy about losing all his money, and if Tommy doesn't sort things out then Sonny is just going to have to come down and sort him out.

Vice City Gameplay

For the most part, Vice City is exactly like GTA 3 with some additions. One of the major additions to the game is the improved graphics, allowing you to see things from further away and making up-close shots more detailed. Along with these improved graphics come extra vehicles. There are over a hundred different types of cars and a lot of these cars are based on cars from GTA 3 but with an eighties makeover. A new addition to the game is motorcycles7, more manoeuvrable than cars, but easy to fall off. Another new vehicle type are helicopters, with three different types in the game. These are dotted all over the city and allow you to make vertical take-off and landings to any point in the city. There is however a maximum height that helicopters can reach, so it's impossible to land on the roofs of skyscrapers. One final vehicle in the game is the Skimmer. This is a seaplane that looks a lot like the Dodo from GTA 3, but it is considerably easier to fly.

The biggest change in the game is the ability to buy property. In GTA 3 you have three safehouses around the city where you can save your game. But in Vice City you can buy safehouses around the city, some of which come with garages that allow you to save cars, so that you don't have to travel so far to get to the next mission. Once you get to a certain point in the game you can start to buy businesses around the city. There are eight businesses and each one has a certain number of tasks that must be completed. If the tasks are completed then that business will become an asset and start to produce money, which you must collect every 24 hours. The more expensive the business the more money it will make as an asset. To beat the game you need to have at least six businesses as assets, and one of these must be the print-works.

Another new feature is the ability to enter buildings. In GTA III you only play in the city and can't enter buildings, but in Vice City there are over a dozen buildings around the city that you can enter and walk around. However, you can no longer carry any gun you want while walking around. Whereas in GTA 3 you can hold every gun in the game and select whichever one you want, in Vice City there are weapon types and you can only hold one weapon for each type. This means that you may have to sacrifice faster reloads for stronger bullets.

No entry on Vice City would be complete without mentioning its radio sound track. While all the music in GTA 3 was original music for the game, Vice City uses actual music from the 1980s and includes songs from Michael Jackson and Frankie Goes to Hollywood, to name a few. This music really helps evoke a 1980s atmosphere. In fact, Rockstar Games got licences to so many pieces of music that they released it all as a CD set.

The City

Vice City is based on Miami, Florida, USA and is about twice the size of Liberty City. It is a brighter, more colourful place with beautiful beaches and dilapidated slums. The city is divided between two large islands with several smaller islands in between. At the start of the game there is a hurricane warning so all major bridges are closed, which means that you are stuck on the large eastern island with access to two of the smaller islands. Once again, if you pass from one of the large islands to the other then a slightly longer loading screen will appear for a few seconds.

The large eastern island is the main tourist area of the city with the large Vice Beach covering the entire eastern coastline, backed onto by many high-rise hotels. The southern part of the island has a large nightlife scene with many bars, nightclubs and strip-joints lighting up as a neon wonderland at night. The northern end of the island is more of a residential area with a small commercial district.

There are three small islands between the two main islands. To the north is Prawn Island, a dilapidated area that houses the Inter-Global Film Studios. Below that is the Leaf-Links Golf Course island. While this island is accessible from the start of the game, you cannot access the course until you are given membership. There are no guns or cars allowed on the golf course and you must drive around in a golf caddy. In the very centre of the city is the biggest of these islands, Starfish Island, home of Vice City’s wealthiest residents. This island is inaccessible at the start of the game and only becomes unlocked after the mission 'Guardian Angels'.

The western island is accessible after the mission 'Phnom Penh 86'. The north of the island is ironically called downtown and is the main commercial area in the city. The centre of the island contains the slums of Little Haiti and Little Havana. These are the homes of Haitian and Cuban refugees and a lot of gang warfare takes place in these areas. To the south is the port region, which is a large industrial area. And to the very west of the island is the extensive airport facility, which also contains a small army base.


Being released just a year after GTA 3, there's not much difference between the two games. But in this case more of the same wasn't a bad thing for the fans. The game became hugely successful and outsold GTA 3 to become the new best-selling game on the PS2. While the plot lacked in some places, it was made up in other areas. One of these areas are the improved missions. While most GTA 3 missions just involve driving to locations and shooting enemies, Vice City has more original missions, including such scenarios as one where you're a gunner on a helicopter taking out enemies on the roofs of buildings. Missions like this helped make Vice City less repetitive than GTA 3.

While there was still some controversy in relation to the violence in the game, the games more light-hearted nature meant that there wasn't as much as that generated by GTA 3. There were however some complaints from Cuban and Haitian officials in regards to the way in which Cuban and Haitian gangs are shown in the game. But once again Rockstar didn't shy away from controversy and began work on the next game in the series.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

Set in the fictional state of San Andreas in 1992, this game has much more of a 'Boyz 'n the Hood' feel to it than previous versions. Released two years after Vice City, this game has many new features in it, vastly changing the game. The biggest change has to be the fact that San Andreas is not based in a city like the previous two, but is actually set in a whole US state, with three cities and the countryside in between. Much more gritty and violent, San Andreas includes many RPG8 elements in an attempt to make a more realistic game while retaining all the aspects that made the previous games so popular.

The Story

You play Carl 'CJ' Johnson from Los Santos, San Andreas. Five years ago CJ's brother, Brian, was killed in a gang incident that CJ failed to prevent. After that he left the Grove Street Families gang and headed out to Liberty City to escape his old life. But now his mother has been killed in a drive-by incident involving a Green Sabre9 so he's returning to Los Santos for the funeral. However, upon arrival he's greeted by an old acquaintance, Officer Frank Tenpenny10 of the LSPD, a bent cop who frames CJ for murder. Now a suspect in the murder case, CJ is not allowed to leave Los Santos until Tenpenny says so.

Released by Tenpenny, CJ heads back home and meets his old friends, Ryder and Big Smoke, and his brother Sweet. He learns that since he left, the whole neighbourhood has fallen apart and the Grove Street Families have very little influence in the city any more. So CJ and the gang reunite and set out to destroy the rival Ballas gang, and get revenge on whoever killed CJ's mother. Things don't go smoothly, of course, and CJ is sent on an epic journey that will take him across the entire state of San Andreas.

GTA: San Andreas Gameplay

Once again, the gameplay is generally the same as the previous game but with many more additions. The most obvious change is a bad one: weaker graphics. This game is so much bigger than the other two that the graphics engine isn't able to cope as well as it once did. You must be close to a building or object before you can see it and even up close things don't look very clear. This is the price that must be paid for all the extra features.

Once again there is an increase in vehicles. While most cars in the game are early 1990s versions of cars from GTA 3 or Vice City, there are also some new types of cars, motorcycles, and helicopters. But the main advancement is in aeroplanes, as for the first time there are proper planes to interact with. There are several different types, ranging from crop-dusters to billion dollar fighter jets. There is even a full-size passenger jet in one of the airports that you can fly and, controversially, crash into buildings. The maximum flight height for all air vehicles is now much higher, meaning that you can fly twice as high as the tallest skyscraper in the game. If you have a high enough wanted level while flying then the military will come after you in fighter jets. This means that you can actually have dogfights between fighters while flying over the state.

The biggest change to the game, however, is the inclusion of a statistics, or stats, system. These include stats for muscle power, weapon skills, driving, respect levels, sex appeal and much, much more. As you go through the game, CJ's skills will increase the more you do something. For example, at the start of the game CJ has a low driving stat so it's harder to control cars, but the more you drive the higher the stat will go and the easier they are to control.

As mentioned, more RPG elements have been brought into the game. Now CJ must go to a restaurant and eat regularly, if he doesn't he loses health, but if he eats too much he gets fat. You can also buy clothes, get haircuts, get tattoos, get specialised modifications for you car, and even get a girlfriend and bring her on dates. You can gamble in casinos, bet on horses, play pool 11, play 1990s computer games, and even burgle houses at night. There’s so much that you can do that it can't all be mentioned here.

There is a major overhaul of radio stations in San Andreas. Whereas GTA 3 and Vice City had radio tracks that would repeat themselves every hour or so, this game's audio constantly changes with the game. If it's morning then the radio presenter will greet you good morning, if it rains they'll tell you to be careful on the road. They will even comment on recent events that you took part in. The talk radio station, WCTR, has several different shows, rather than just one, and these are constantly updated to take into account what events have occurred during the game.

The State

San Andreas is roughly based on the state of California, USA and is roughly five times the size of Vice City spread out over three major islands. It contains the three cities of Los Santos, San Fierro and Las Venturas, along with a dozen or so smaller towns. There is the countryside with large farms, forests and mountains. To the north is a desert with endless sand and oilfields. But despite its size, there is no loading screen when going from island to island like there was in the previous games.

At the start of the game all the bridges have been damaged due to a recent earthquake, so you are stuck on the eastern island. This island contains the city of Los Santos, based on Los Angeles, USA, which is a city of much diversity. In the slums are the various gangs of Los Santos, including the Grove Street Families, the Ballas, and the Vagos. The commercial district is full of skyscrapers, including the tallest building in the state. The rich people all live in Vinewood, a parody on Hollywood, while many tourists can be found in the Santa Maria beach area.

The countryside across the eastern and western islands is like nothing ever seen in Grand Theft Auto before. Most of it is made up from fields and forests with the odd town in between. The types of cars and people in the countryside are very different to those in the cities and you are likely to come across tractors and combine harvesters in your travels. To the south of the western island is Mount Chiliad, the highest peak in San Andreas.

The city of San Fierro is on the western island, which is unlocked after the 'Green Sabre' mission, and is a based on San Francisco, USA. The city is much brighter than the overpopulated Los Santos and is full of hills that drop off to the harbour district where there are magnificent views of the Gant Bridge, based on the Golden Gate Bridge12. The city has its share of ethnic minorities; Chinese and Vietnamese gangs are at one another's throats. There are also whole regions of the city dedicated to the hippie and gay populations.

The northern island is unlocked after the 'Yay Yay Kaboom' mission and has a vast desert that spreads from San Fierro to Las Venturas. This region is under-populated and as a result not many cars are to be found on the roads. The desert contains the Sherman Dam, as well as Hunter Quarry and an abandoned airfield. In the centre of this desert is a large military base with a no-fly zone over it. The city of Las Venturas, based on Las Vegas, USA, is in the desert. Full of glamorous casinos that line the Venturas Strip, the city is home to various gangs that run these casinos, with bitter rivalries between them all.


Following on from the popularity of Vice City was a tough challenge, but Rockstar appears to have succeeded again. The game had over eight million pre-orders worldwide and on its release day it earned more than $24 million. It has quickly become the fastest selling game of all time and it's on course to become the new best selling game too. While graphical errors plague the game, it can be forgiven due to all of the extra features that were added.

An improved story than that in Vice City also helped the game, and the appearance of several familiar characters from the two previous games is a nice touch. Never without its share of controversy, there have once again been calls to get the game banned, but all these attempts have so far proved fruitless. The overwhelming popularity of the franchise seems to outweigh the attempts of its detractors.

The Impact of the Franchise

The popularity of these games, as well as their well-deserved 18 rating, has led many people to say that the games industry has finally grown up. San Andreas is the first game release that has seen the sort of excitement normally associated with blockbuster film releases. The gaming industry, once sidelined in the entertainment industry, is beginning to make its way to centre stage. Partly fuelling this move is the popularity of the Grand Theft Auto franchise.

Its success has led to many other game manufacturers trying to mimic it and release games like it. But so far none have been able to surpass GTA in style and gameplay. The GTA franchise is not known for resting on its laurels, and unlike most games each new version has tried to become bigger and better than the last. It is video game evolution in action.

It seems obvious that another Grand Theft Auto game will be released in the future, but not for some time. The poor visual quality in San Andreas is testament to the fact that the PS2 has reached its limit and that its hardware is no longer able to keep up with massive changes in game software. The next GTA game is likely to wait and use the next generation of gaming consoles, and will more than likely use the PS3.

Further Reading

1And eventually made it way to the PlayStation 1.2Although, this character does come back for a cameo role in San Andreas and can be heard to be called Claude Speed by Catalina.3Some are locked and are impossible to get into.4This doesn't work if you're in a law enforcement vehicle.5The game refers to this as being 'busted'.6This is known as getting 'wasted'.7Motorcycles did appear in the original GTA but were removed in GTA 2.8Role-Player Game9A type of car.10Voiced by the excellent Samuel L Jackson.11For money, of course.12It is also interesting to note that the two other bridges in San Fierro, the Garver and Kinkaid bridges are replicas of the Forth road and rail bridges in Scotland. This is probably because Rockstar North's offices are just down the road from the Forth Bridge.

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