Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Grand Theft Auto (PC)

Grand Theft Auto title screen PC
Today on Super Adventures I thought that this would be a great time to play the original Grand Theft Auto for an hour or two and type up any stray thoughts that might cross my mind. Not that there's anything special about today, it's just always a good time for a bit of GTA and it's been years since I played it last.

The game is by British developer Rockstar North, who are still producing the GTA games to this day. Though back then they were still known as DMA Design and were more famous for making the Lemmings games. Yeah I know that everyone on Earth knows that already, it just amuses me that both Lemmings and GTA are by the same developer.

The game came out in 1997 for MS-DOS, Windows 95 and PlayStation... and was ported to the Game Boy Color two years later, man I've gotta see how that turned out. I'll be playing the updated PC port given away free from Rockstar's site, which has been tweaked to run properly on modern systems... in theory.

Annoyingly though, this free GTA turned out to be a limited time offer so I can't give you a download link. Well I can link to the download page, that's still there, but at the time I'm writing this the game is "currently unavailable". GTA1 is also currently unavailable on GOG, GMG, GamersGate, GameFly and any other shop beginning with G I could think of. It's not on Steam either I'm afraid.

Oh I forgot that DMA Design had a little logo man. I'm kind of surprised that this video shows him getting flattened by a hit and run, as I figured they'd be downplaying the potential for pedestrian murder.

Though I suppose I should've expected the developers of Lemmings and Walker to feature the slaughter of tiny little computer people.

Here's another thing that's surprised me: I get to choose my character from these eight anti-heroes, split 50-50 male/female. Which means that this, to the best of my knowledge, is the only GTA game in the series' entire 16 year run to let you play as a woman.

Then I get to choose which city I want to play in: Liberty City, Vice City or San Andreas (huh, I feel like I've heard those names before somewhere...). Actually I'm stuck with Liberty City for the time being until I unlock the other levels.

Right, that's me then, that tiny figure dressed in yellow standing next to the car. The choice of character basically only affects the colours of that little sprite and whatever you pick they always have the yellow jacket so they're all more or less identical at a glance.

That semi-readable yellow text across the bottom of the screen seems to be a mobile phone call telling me to get my ass to some pay phones for a job. Could I not just give them my number? Well I've got a yellow arrow and a car so getting there won't be an issue, and I'm sure I'll figure the rest as I go. I'm going down to South Park gonna have myself a time.

I barely made it a few meters down the road before I came across this row of orange-clad gentleman doing a conga line across the pavement. Hey, I wonder if I killing them all at once will get me a 1 up...

Crap, two of them managed to escape the cold unyielding force of my front bumper as it met another bumper coming the other way. The game does actually give out points for running people over and I was getting a nice combo going until they ran off! Worse, it seems that someone's called the police on me, as I've got two little cop faces chattering their tiny teeth at the top of the screen.

I think I should probably quit back to the menu and restart so I can give this trip to the phones another try without the inevitable distraction of a high speed police chase. I can barely drive in a straight line right now, I don't need to be weaving in and out of oncoming traffic.

Actually first I'll use this break as an excuse to look at another version of the game.

Grand Theft Auto Game Boy Color title screen
Grand Theft Auto (GBC)
You know, as Game Boy Colour title screens go, this isn't so bad. I hope I get to play as the guy with the gun barrel finger.

I'm not sure what I was expecting when I loaded it up, but it definitely wasn't this theme tune. It's... well... you'd better listen to it yourself: Grand Theft Auto GBC Theme (youtube). Even if I could think of the words I'd need to describe it, I doubt I could put them together in an order that would do it justice.

Grand Theft Auto (GBC)
The GBC version is actually surprisingly similar to the PC game, with the same road layout and gameplay. There seems to be something missing though here, and I can't quite put my finger on it...

You know, playing this has made it really obvious just how much the sound helps bring the PC version to life. Playing the other versions of the game I can close my eyes and hear the city around me, but the GBC version doesn't have this. It's missing quite a few other things as well, but the city would seem dead by comparison even if there were cars, trucks and people around.

Meanwhile back on the PC version, I started a new game and this time managed to follow the yellow arrow down to South Park without incident.

The cars behave a lot like you'd expect a real car to, with some actual weight to them. The trouble is that my character controls a lot like a car as well, with rotation, forward and reverse keys. Plus when I'm out the car I get a fart button in place of the horn, to let people know when I want them out of my personal space.

Oh, plus see that crate over there on the right? I noticed another one along the way here and drove right through it, which gave me a free bulletproof vest with three extra hit points. I'm not seeing any other hit points anywhere on screen so the thing seems absolutely essential.

Well it seems that my first mission is to run over the chief of police with a truck. I thought we might ease into a career of crime with some purse snatching or whatever, but the guy on the phone sounds confident that I'm ready for the big-time! I mean I imagine they sound confident; there's no actual voices in this.

Oh. It appears that my employer forgot to mention that I'll be driving a fuel truck packed with explosives. Well it's not like there's any rush, I've got a clean wanted level and I don't see any timers on screen. I just need to take this nice and slow and I'll be fine.


SOON.


See, no problem at all. I parked the fuel truck next to the precinct and was able to grand theft this nearby jeep to make my daring escape just in time to watch the fireworks. Now I'm free to go off and follow the yellow arrow to collect my cash reward.

I wonder how the GBC guy's doing right now.

Grand Theft Auto (GBC)
Typical, I spend five minutes looking for a car and then two of them come along at once, blocking me in. I'm going to have to hijack each car in turn and drive them back a little to get my truck out safely, and hope that there aren't any more cars coming my way. A couple more shunts like this and the fuel tank's going to explode for sure.

The cars in this don't behave anywhere near as realistically as in the PC version and I've been having real problems getting my guy to open the door and get in. Also there's never anyone in the cars! In the PC game when you carjack a ride, you have to pull the former occupant out into the street before you get in. I guess all the cars in this are driven by either ghosts, autopilot, or James Bond in the back seat with his remote control phone.

Why would the developers choose to put in a type of bridge that obscures the cars underneath? It's hard enough to dodge the other vehicles when I can see them.

I do appreciate though how my car eventually snaps to follow the road when I've got it mostly lined up, that's a smart feature. It doesn't work around curves, but that's okay because there aren't any; not a single curved road in the entire city. Every single corner in the game is a right angle.

Nice creepy mouth icon down there.

Well I've received my $50,000 for driving that truck a few hundred meters, but the mission's not over yet. Now I've got to trail some guy and waste him when he meets with his men. It's lucky I found a machine gun and body armour in boxes along the way really or else I'd be wasting my time instead.

What? C'mon I let him get like two meters off screen because I didn't want to spook him. That ain't right at all.

Hang on, I just realised that bombing the precinct earlier counts as part of this mission, so I just failed that job as well at the same time. Fuck.


ONE MISSION LATER.


It seems that each phone booth here gives me a different job and successfully completing a mission adds to my score multiplier (the yellow 'x 2' in the top left corner). So by screwing up that first job I missed out on getting double the cash reward for the next mission.

The green 'x 2' is my lives count by the way. Yep, the original GTA has lives! So retro.


LATER, ON A TAXI DELIVERING MISSION.


Alright, that's the first taxi delivered to the crane. I just need one more and then I'm done with this part of this particular mission. I've got a laughing cop face on my cop-o-meter though so I have to be ready to make a run for it when they inevitably make an appearance.

I doubt level one notoriety is going to cause me much problems though. Well, until I try to fight back anyway. Or swerve out to dodge a squad car and end up respraying the bodywork with a pavement full of pedestrians. That kind of thing tends to attract more attention and boost my wanted level I've noticed.

See, this is how things always go down. I try to defend myself and suddenly this makes me the bad guy!

I say try to defend myself; you can see how much luck I'm having with this machine gun. There isn't the slightest bit of auto-aim, so hitting enemies takes patience and a chunk of my precious ammo. Walking backwards is far slower than walking forwards though, so if I don't get one of these bullets to connect in the next half-second I'm screwed.


SOME CHAOS LATER.


Man, there is nothing scarier than the sound of a half-wrecked cop car on your tail: the painful tapping noise that means he must have bounced off every wall and civilian car along the way. At that point he's not a cop any more, he's a suicide bomber in a four-wheeled homing missile and his journey can only end in fire and death... the death of the poor unfortunate criminal he was ramming into at the time (ie. me).

Oh hang on I'm getting a pager message. Quit ramming me for a second you assholes, I need to write this down! There apparently is a way to replay the last message received, but knowing my luck I'll have received another one by the time it occurs to me to this and the first message will be lost forever.

These messages are kinda important too as they point me towards parked cars with secret missions attached and I'm fast burning through my limited supply of phone jobs so I need all the missions I can get.

Roadblock! The camera really does zoom out a fair distance as I build up speed, but it's not quite far enough when I'm a car like this Escort Cosworth which flies down the road at a ridiculous speed. I'm more than capable of accidentally destroying a vehicle this fast just by trying to get it through traffic, so police roadblocks equipped with machine guns are the last thing I need.

I should really ditch it and find a more reasonable car, preferably one that isn't ticking like a time bomb.

Well that certainly didn't work out as planned. It appears I have a fatal allergy to both cars AND bullets. I should've remembered the first rule of GTA: never get out of the car.

Wait, that's the first rule of Interstate '76. Whatever, it's a sensible rule.

Getting killed didn't actually fail my important taxi collecting mission, but it has deducted one of my lives and then teleported me outside of a nearby hospital with all of my gear confiscated. So long then, machine gun. The crates don't seem to respawn and there's no Ammunation gun shop in this city, so whether I can find another machine gun in my travels is up to the whims of fate. I guess I'm supposed to be keeping track of where all the gun crates are located over multiple playthroughs.


EVENTUALLY, MANY MISSIONS LATER.


Crap, I was trying to hijack the train, not leap onto the bloody electrified rail! There goes my character's final life then. Game well and truly over, mate.

By the way, there's a good reason I was playing around on the railway line just then instead of earning money. You see, after finishing a few more jobs, some wildly successful, some less successful, I found myself in an interesting situation: I had nothing left to do.

You only get the one shot at each mission and then it's gone forever. Then it seems that you're stuck with earning cash the hard way: running people over, crashing into things, selling cars etc. And that's the story of how I got bored and tried to nick a train.

Let's start a new game and give this another try then.


NEW GAME!


I saw those orange guys hanging around right at the start again and couldn't resist trying to run them over, so now I have three laughing policemen along the top of the screen. Even worse, I wasn't able to get a full set of the little bastards this time either!

Well at least I'll get to see how good I am at driving an explosive truck to a police station when there's a squad of cop cars trying to ram me off the road the whole way there.


LATER.


Oh I like this crate! Why can't I drive over bonuses like this more often instead of pistols? Or worse, car speed ups. Like they're not way too fast already.

Hey it even gave me a free machine gun. I'll just park up over here and rain havoc upon traffic then I guess.

Wow, that's it? I blow up one car and that's the end of the kill frenzy? The thing didn't even increase my multiplier.

Though $20,000 is always nice. Plus apparently it's perfectly legal to murder people during a kill frenzy as I'm not even being hunted by the cops afterwards.

It's always a laugh to pull a skid across an entire biker gang and then steal their ride (and their drugs). Definitely a whole lot easier than getting out and trying to shoot them. Did I mention that the shooting in this is absolutely terrible? Because it is.

Riding the bloody bike on the other hand isn't quite so easy. It's like riding a very fast tiny car that throws you across the ground when you hit anything, which left me as a sitting duck when the cops came over to slam on the cuffs.

These cops only have to walk up to me and I'm immediately busted, and it happens very fast.

Usually when I'm busted the cops take away my weapons and body armour and reset my score multiplier right back down to one, but this time the joke's on them. Not only was I carrying a 'Get out of jail free' item I'd found in a crate lying on the side of the road which let me keep my stuff, but also I didn't even HAVE a score multiplier yet! HAH.

Look at that smug bastard squinting at me from the bottom left. I'm the guy who just got away scot-free with a paragraph's worth of criminal misadventure, so why is he smirking like he's had the last laugh?

What is it that you know that I don't, huh? HUH?

Amazingly the mission was still going after my brief visit to the station, so I hijacked a car right outside the police station window and drove back over to where I... parked my bike. Then after getting it to a garage I was given a timer and told to race to a specific phone for part 2.

Man this is turning into Die Hard with a Vengeance, except without the riddles. I'm really going to have to get these people my mobile number or something because this isn't working out well for anyone. I mean what if I miss the phone call huh? They'd be forced to scrap the job entirely!

I delivered the package to a pick up marker and that's mission complete! I've finally got my multiplier up to x2 and I'm heading back to the phones to keep the momentum going.

But... there's those orange guys in the bottom right again. I know this is going to set off the entire police force again but I have to give it another shot. I HAVE TO. I know that if I line my car up right I can wipe the lot of them out in one go. It's just a little tricky when the camera zooms in tight as I slow down.


BUT THEN.


Well that didn't exactly go to plan. I hit just enough of them to ensure that the police were ready to ambush me when I left my car at the phones and now I'm trying to outrun disaster. This cop is like the T-1000, he never gives up, he never slows down, and if he gets close to me I'm totally screwed.

I on the other hand slow down to a crawl if I so much as brush against a building. I'd spin around and try to shoot him, but that slows me down too! I really wish there was a way to escape the police in this, besides police bribe pick ups and auto shops right now.

Oh look at who it is. I bet they're laughing their asses off at me right now. Well just stay right there and keep laughing, I'll be right back when I find a car and build up the courage to stand still long enough to hijack it.

The cars actually seem to follow a few traffic laws (they're aware of traffic lights at least) so catching one on street isn't that hard. It's just a shame I can't turn the radio onto Chatterbox when I get inside; that was the best bit of GTA3!  

Well I found a good way to get the cops off my back. I collected a 'get out of jail free' key and then got myself (unintentionally) arrested. It's bought me a bit of space to move around without being chased everywhere at least.

But look who was waiting outside the precinct for me! They've latched on and won't leave me alone. This is terrible! The ultimate humiliation.


SEVERAL (SUCCESSFUL) MISSIONS LATER.


And that's another car successfully driven from one place to another place. I think I must be doing well as my score's just changed red.

I ran out of phone missions a while back, but I was ready to write down all the pager messages this time, so I was able to find the secret missions too without much trouble. Well I think I did pretty well seeing as I didn't have the map open anyway. The game doesn't have an in-game map by the way and it's a real pain in the ass trying to navigate without one sometimes because the yellow arrow points towards the target, not the road I need to get there.

Though hang on, the yellow arrow has just changed red... that's very interesting.

It seems that I've reached the score target for this level and I can move on! Well that's what I'm guessing anyway; the cutscene's misfired and I ain't being told shit.

I am a success in life at last. Though sadly I don't get to move on to Vice City until I've played another set of Liberty City jobs. I think I've seen enough of it though, so I'll be turning the game off now.

Oh wait, there's still one last thing I need to do first.

Grand Theft Auto Gouranga!
Got them all!


CONCLUSION

Grand Theft Auto was always a game out of time I reckon; with one foot in the PlayStation age but the other still stuck in the 16-bit era it looked pretty dated even back when it was first released. I mean it came out just 4 years before GTA3, but the games are light-years apart in sophistication.

On the other hand this game pretty much invented the sandbox crime simulator genre, though I am surprised at how different it is to its descendants. It has limited lives, there's no story, no cutscenes, no saves, no checkpoints, you only get a single chance to play each mission, and you win by getting a certain score. Also the combat is pretty bad, but that's practically a tradition for the GTA games (I haven't played GTA5 yet, so please don't yell at me if they've got it right this time).

It feels like it's deliberately trying to be everything that video game protesters were scared of, even down to giving out Death Race style point bonuses for hitting pedestrians! But no matter how many kill frenzies you carry out or how many drug packages you deliver, there's no darkness to it. I mean visually it might as well be a Lemmings spin off; everything's so tiny and distant and tame!

I did like it, but I think that's in spite of the retro 'charm' rather than because of it. Later games like GTA 3 and Saints Row the Third took this foundation and built something amazing on top of it, leaving this one kinda redundant. But that's hardly a reason for me to withhold its shiny golden star, as it successfully managed to hold my attention despite overwhelming distractions. For a bit.



Enough of my incessant insipid blather, what do you think about what I think about Grand Theft Auto? What are your own thoughts about the game? What are your own thoughts about my site in general? Answer me!

5 comments:

  1. It does look and play like an Amiga game, which is probably not a surprise given the developers. I would like to see a version of GTA that keeps the top-down perspective of the original series but the gameplay of the latter games; I suppose Retro City Rampage is close.

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    Replies
    1. Wasn't there one relatively recent topdown GTA game that was made for DS and PSP?
      I belive the name was GTA Chinatown... or something like that?

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    2. Chinatown Wars, yes, I'd forgotten about that!

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    3. Chinatown Wars actually was pretty good. I completed it on DS and it was fun and controls were nice.

      About GTA 1 the author is right, it already looked dated back then. It looked really strange in the age of Quake 2. Very fun to play nonetheless..

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  2. I'm quite partial to GTA 2 myself.

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