Can you believe it’s been 20 years since Rockstar first introduced a third-dimension to its open-world adventures?
Well, with Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – Definitive Edition hitting our digital libraries this week, many of us will be revisiting those glory days of the GTA series. We couldn’t help but think about all the things that made Grand Theft Auto III, San Andreas and Vice City so exciting in the first place.
Join us as we head back to each of the three eras – the early 00s, mid-80s and mid-90s – and jog your memories with these seven wonderful things you may just have forgotten about the original GTA trilogy.
They all launched within three years of each other
Considering it has now been *checks notes* forever since Grand Theft Auto V launched, cast your mind back to simpler times when we received not just one but three completely separate, yet equally fantastic, GTA titles – all within just three years of each other.
The first in the 3D trilogy, Grand Theft Auto III launched in October 2001, two years after Grand Theft Auto II. It was met with all of the usual controversy you’d expect from a Grand Theft Auto release. The main complaint this time was the ability to not only acquire the services of the workers of Liberty City’s red-light district, but the fact you could take them to Callahan Point, boost your health and, er, brutally murder them to steal your money back.
That aside, GTA III was very well received and sold remarkably well. Its large open world, good cast of characters (which we’ll get to later) and seemingly infinite possibilities for mayhem and fun had fans excited for more. They didn’t have to wait long for the sequel, either. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City arrived just 12 months later; an unbelievable timescale today.
When it arrived, Vice City was bigger and better in almost every way, too. A larger map, even bigger cast (we’ll get to that later) and not only more cars to drive, but bikes, boats, planes and choppers too. This all made for a massively enjoyable experience – and all of this within just one year? Incredible.
After this, it was a (seemingly endless at the time) two-year wait for Grand Theft Auto San Andreas, but that wait was, for many, all the more worth it. About four times the size of Vice City, San Andreas had not just one but three huge cities, as well as a desert, forest and an entire mountain with the first appearance of Mount Chiliad, too. It also brought a bunch of new gameplay mechanics, like improvable fitness, gang wars and crew recruiting. So much content in just three years is simply incredible to think about.
How dumb the Police are
Without wanting to get into politics or the zeitgeist, the cops in the GTA Trilogy are seriously dumb.
Sure, it’s fun in Grand Theft Auto IV and V to see how long you can survive with a 5-star wanted level. But in these older titles, even acquiring that level takes some doing. You’ll struggle to kill any cops for yourself; they, more often than not, blow themselves up, drive into lakes, trap themselves or flip their cars over all by themselves.
It’s hilarious to lead them on a chase in a stolen tank, then watch as cop car after cop car just slams into you. Sure, the tanks blow the cars up on contact, but what if they didn’t? What do these law-enforcing lemmings think they’d achieve by driving into a tank?
Drive something faster like a Stinger and in their efforts to keep up, you’ll be ducking beneath police cars flying over you like bullets. Even the ‘copter cops say to each other “Have you read the manual for this thing?!”.
Only CJ can swim
Everybody knows GTA III’s Clyde can’t swim. Heck, he can’t even talk. Hawaiian-shirt aficionado Tommy Vercetti, however? He can’t swim either. Now that seems a real waste. Poor Tommy lives right on Miami Beach, with the soft, sandy shoreline stretching as far as the PS2 could render. We suppose it’s telling that, despite the dozens of lifeguard huts, there’s rarely a lifeguard in sight.
Eventually, after Rockstar were mocked for their hydrophobic heroes in Driver 2 (which, incidentally, contained a colourfully-clothed character named Timmy Vermicelli, complete with water-wings) Dan Houser, one of the creators of the GTA series, said in a 2004 interview: “We just got pissed off with people saying, ‘We can’t do swimming.’ It works well in the game. So if you drive off a bridge you’re not going to drown.”
So unfortunately, rather than the unspoilt waters of Vice City, you’re going to have to wait until your time with CJ to dive into the very-spoilt waters of Los Santos, San Fierro or Las Venturas. It’s not all bad, though, as there’s 50 oysters to collect, with decent rewards for collecting all of them, so get diving.
Firefighter, Paramedic and Vigilante missions
While GTA V lets you do almost anything you like – from diving in a submarine to hunting deer – you can’t do any of these things in Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy.
But each game in the GTA Trilogy has a tonne of side content, from GTA III’s Off-Road and RC missions to Vice City’s side-business specific quests – like the Ice Cream van drug-dealing or the Film Studios “G-Spotlight” finale. There’s even San Andreas’ tabloid-baiting burglary and pimping side-quests.
One linchpin of these early 3D titles, though, were these emergency service missions: Firefighter, Paramedic and Vigilante, each with their respective bonuses for completion. After completing various quantities of each mission, your character would be imbued with a special power: an extra armour slot for killing fugitives as a Vigilante; an extra health slot for saving lives as a Paramedic; or a flame-retardant coating for extinguishing fires as a Firefighter. The last of these proved immeasurably useful, considering many enemies were tooled-up with molotov cocktails in these early titles.
You can play pizza-delivery boy or cabbie, too, and pick up fares to take to their destination as a way to earn a quick buck. Or take them to the middle of nowhere and leave them there. Or launch them off of Mount Chiliad. Or blow the car up. Or sink them. The list is endless.
The sheer size of San Andreas
(Thanks to Digital Spy for doing the literal “leg work” on this one)
You may think you recall how big San Andreas is. We all know it’s three cities spread across a 14km sq. map with a vast, oceanic, bay between them. But no, this is too simplistic.
In total, it takes one hour and thirty six minutes to cross the map by foot. A duration only beaten by GTA V’s reimagining of San Andreas county a whole nine years later. That means if you crash your Cropduster in the Las Venturas desert, you’re in for a mighty long, lonely walk back to civilisation. Or to your Jet Pack, if you have it yet.
The Las Venturas strip, Los Santos beach and San Fierro highways are all much longer than you recall, too. An “easy drive” on any of these becomes a far trickier trip when you have to avoid numerous hazards on the way. From kamikaze commuters on the freeway and guilt-ridden gamblers on the strip, each one is a minefield of obstacles, all ready and waiting to cause your fiery demise.
The Voice Casts
We told you we’d get to them. There’s some truly impressive voice talent in Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy. Boot up Vice City, and you’re going to recognise pretty much everybody. Head to the IMDB page (here) to see what we mean. It’s hard to believe there are so many names and so much prestige involved. This was not common for videogames at the time.
Vice City boasts perhaps the most impressive list of the three, which includes:
- Ray Liotta as lead character, Tommy Vercetti
- Burt Reynolds as Avery Carrington, the real-estate magnate and mentor to Donald Love
- Lee Majors as salt-of-the-earth Biker Gang leader Mitch Baker
- William Fichtner as loser lawyer Ken Rosenberg
- Dennis Hopper as shark-obsessed film director, Steve Scott
- Luis Guzmán as Ricardo Diaz, whose mansion you later turn into your new pad
- Danny Trejo as the “cojones” obsessed Cuban gang leader Umberto Robina
- Debbie Harry as Kaufman Cabs taxi controller
- Lazlow Jones as “himself”, but back where he started on V-Rock.
Grand Theft Auto III boasts:
- Kyle McLachlan as media mogul and Avery’s protégé, Donald Love
- Michael Madsen as Toni Cipriani
- Micahel Rapaport as Don Salvatore Leone’s son, Joey Leone
- Joe Pantoliano is Luigi Goterelli
- Debi Mazar is the somewhat femme fatale of both Don Salvatore and our own hero, Claude
San Andreas chose to feature fewer big stars and more genuine rappers to better fit with and lend credibility to its late-nineties hip-hop style, but we still saw, most notably:
- Samuel L. Jackson as crooked cop Officer Tenpenny
- Ice T as failing rapper Madd Dogg
- Peter Fonda as aging hippie “The Truth”
Having so many incredible actors really put some weight behind the stories and their characters. Vice City, especially. Liotta plays Vercetti, the first GTA protagonist to actually speak, and what a performance.. He’s cool, confident and keeps calm when things turn nasty. Burt Reynolds is, of course, fantastic, and Lee Majors makes his character, Mitch Baker, memorable despite you spending relatively little time with him.
Credit also to Luis Guzmán’s Ricardo Diaz, who is one of the most irritating drug-lords we’ve ever come across, which makes it all the more enjoyable when you get to kill him and take over his ridiculously large mansion.
These days we’re spoiled by checkpoints, regenerating health, manual saving and the freedom to choose which missions to play and when. In this early trilogy, however, given how tough some missions are or how many enemies you need to shoot, it seems unthinkable that during some missions there simply is no “Restart Mission” option. If you’re used to having dozens of checkpoints and health packs lying about the place or just hitting ‘Restart’ if you fail, then these games will be quite the shock.
There are some missions, like the infamous RC Helicopter mission “Demolition Man”, or “The Driver”, which are exceptionally difficult. In the latter of these, you have to race Hilary, who drives a Sabre Turbo while you get stuck with a Sentinel. It’s essentially a race between The Flash and an old dishwasher. During other missions, like a Vice City bank heist, should you be unlucky enough to be shot and sent to the hospital or arrested and carted to the nearest Police station, you’ll then need to catch a cab back to the other side of the map, start the mission again and then drive back to the bank again. It’s such a hassle! To add insult to injury, the hospital and Police station are basically next door to the bank that you then return to after restarting. It’s like some kind of torture.