GTA3: Staunton Island

At this point, I’ve spent several hours on Staunton Island, the second of Liberty City’s three major areas. If Portland is modelled mainly on lower Manhattan, Staunton is more like midtown: less industrial facilities and urban decay, more retail and tourist attractions. It strikes me that this is the pattern in most games in urban settings, from Leisure Suit Larry onward: you start off in the slums and work your way up to the wealthier areas. I suppose that’s the American dream for you. But it’s the opposite of the general trend in fantasy games, which often start in a peaceful, happy, prosperous kingdom and end in the gameworld’s equivalent of Mordor.

I haven’t done many missions here yet, partly because the missions are starting to get much more difficult, partly because I’ve been spending so much time wandering the streets, getting the lay of the land, and hunting for Hidden Packages. These things are related: the reason I’m hunting for hidden packages is that I’m doing so poorly on the missions. I’ll say this, though: I’m getting pretty good at finding the hidden packages efficiently. Once you learn how the designers think, it’s not hard to spot the right kind of landscape feature. If there’s a staircase, you climb it. If there’s an area enclosed by a low wall, you find a way inside. If there’s an elevated roadway of any kind, you look for rooftops that you could reach by dropping off of it.

I keep talking about the hidden packages. Reading my posts, you might think that the hidden packages are a central concern in the game. They’re not. They’re optional bonus items. You get a free weapon at your hideout for every ten packages you collect, but that’s a mere convenience. They’re no more important to the game than the “rampages” (opportunities to score big by killing a set number of a particular gang), which I’ve been ignoring when I find them. No, the important thing, the emotional core of the game, is the simple joy of reckless driving.

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