The First Time I Ever Played Grand Theft Auto III

First of all, happy GTA V day! Before I grab my copy and go off the grid for the next month or so, I want to take a look back at the entry that first got me hooked on Rockstar's open-world blockbuster: Grand Theft Auto III.

Unlimited freedom was one of my biggest gaming wishes growing up. I'd stare beyond the horizons of numerous games but whenever I traveled behind the beaten path, I was usually greeted by invisible walls and other barriers. The first game to grant me a taste of the liberation I longed for was Driver 2 on Playstation. I played that game for hours, not because it was particularly amazing, but because I was given more freedom than any game I'd played at that point. Granted, that mostly consisted of jumping draw bridges and repeated attempts at running down pedestrians (who all seemed to possess a pesky spider-sense. They dodged you no matter what), but that fact that I could do dumb things on my own accord was incredibly satisfying. Still, would any game be able to take things further?

Then the first previews of GTA III hit. My brain imploded in delight as I read them. It sounded like everything I ever wanted and much, much more. Though it released in the Fall of 2001, It wasn't until early 2002 that a buddy of mine who owned the game let me borrow it. Numerous reviews had already hyped up the game for me, but nothing could have prepared me for the gaming epiphany that awaited me once that glorious disc slid into my PS2 for the first time.

Once the initial mission ended, I was finally turned loose on the world. The sense of freedom was overwhelming. Could I really just do whatever I wanted? A test was needed. After jacking a car, I immediately tried striking hapless pedestrians and...it worked! Hurray for vehicular manslaughter! My actions attracted the authorities and my first car chase ensued. After a long pursuit and scores of civilian casualties, I launched my car off a ramp, sending it flying (complete with a badass cinematic camera angle) into a nearby river where I slept with the fishes.

Oh yes
Oh yes

WOW. That was the only word that came to mind. My heart was racing. My fingers twitched with joy. I had to do that again. And so I did. And then I did it again, and again and again. The story remained untouched for a good few hours because I was having too much fun screwing with cops and triggering insane, action-movie style car chases. Shots were fired, stars were raised and vehicles exploded into oblivion long into the night. I eventually got around to the story and was surprised to find an engaging and, oft times, hilarious crime epic that sucked me in almost as completely as the gameplay had. The musical offerings of the radio stations were fantastic, but the hilarious chat station Chatterbox quickly became my favorite audio destination. Every other game I'd been playing was put on indefinite hold; Grand Theft Auto III was the best game ever.

The following day in school was torture. All I could think about was how much chaos I would unleash in GTA once I got home, making the day crawl at a snail's pace. Once the final bell rang, I bid my friends a hasty ado and rushed to my digital playground known as Liberty City. Each day brought a new discovery as I pushed the limits of the game's freedom with a recurring thought being "I can do THAT?!". My friends eventually got the game themselves and we began sharing hilarious stories of the antics we were pulling off, as well as swapping tips and secrets. At some point, the dude I borrowed the game from either moved or was abducted by martians, leaving me with his copy and no way to get it back to him. I still have it to this day, so if you're reading this guy-who's-name-I-know-longer-remember...thanks?

Every GTA since has raised the bar higher and higher, and GTA V looks to be the most impressive entry yet. I'm dying to play it, and I love all the past games, but none have made me feel such pure, giddy excitement like my first few hours with Grand Theft Auto III.

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