GTA3: Reckless Driving

If the core of the entire GTA series is reckless driving, it took them three tries to get it right. The first two games have an overall mechanic that discourages taking risks most of the time.

In the first two GTAs, no particular missions were required for progress. To get from one level to the next, all you needed was enough money. In theory, you could earn the entire amount through petty crime, but finishing a level would take days that way. The key to advancement was the score multiplier, which increased the cash you got from everything. If your multiplier was 10, a simple fender bender worth $10 before modification would instead get you $100, equivalent to running over a pedestrian without the multiplier.

So, how did you increase your score multiplier? Each level would have a few powerups in obscure corners that did it for free, but the main way you did it was by completing missions. That’s the thing that made missions important. The cash reward for the mission was a nice extra, but the multiplier was the real motivation.

Now, the opportunities to increase your score multiplier were limited. There were only so many missions on each level, and unlike GTA3, if you failed a mission, you couldn’t retry it. And in GTA1, there was no way to save the game between missions; only after finishing a level could you save. So every time you failed a mission, you irrevocably wasted a potential multiplier increase, in effect losing a number of points equal to all the points you would earn from that moment onward. In addition, if you got arrested on a mission, the cops would confiscate part of your multiplier. So there was a great deal of motivation to not take risks, especially on missions. If you ever, at any point in a mission, acquired a “wanted” rating, the top priority was to get rid of it. Missions with a time limit could be an exception, but even in those, you tried to be as careful as you could.

In contrast, GTA3:

  • Has no score multiplier
  • Allows you to save your progress between missions
  • Allows you to retry missions even if you didn’t save

All of the GTA games provide the same basic motivation for driving recklessly, ignoring traffic lights, driving on sidewalks, and so forth: it’s fun, and with the interface they give you, breaking the rules is easier than following them. (I half suspect that the developers were at first just experimenting with a driving interface, and came up with the crime theme after noticing how the system they had come up with encouraged car-chase-like behavior.) In GTA3, for the first time, they had the good sense to not punish you for following this instinct. Even crashes that in GTA1 would make your car immediately blow up in an unrealistic orange fireball usually give you an opportunity to climb out and escape in GTA3.

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