GTA3: Climax or Transition?

Catalina makes her moveThere’s something peculiar going on at this point in the story. Ray has fled to Miami (what, not Vice City?), Donald Love has vanished without a trace, and Asuka and Maria were abducted by the Colombian cartel. More specifically, they were abducted by a woman named Catalina, who apparently has some bad history with the player character. (It seems this was established in the opening cutscene, but it’s been so long since I watched it that I don’t remember her at all). Catalina is turning into the story’s chief bad guy. No, make that the story’s chief antagonist. Everyone in the game, including the PC, is a bad guy.

So all my former sources of plot-related missions are gone in one way or another. The only mission now available is delivering ransom money to Catalina herself. On receiving it, she breaks her promise to free Maria, insults you with great vehemence, and then leaves her henchmen to kill you while she escapes in a helicopter. What happens when you catch up to her, I can’t say; I haven’t managed to do that yet.

And this leads to the peculiar thing: this could easily be the end of the game. The story has come full circle, everything has funnelled into this one confrontation, and the car-vs-helicopter chase seems kind of ultimate. But it might just be the end of a chapter. The first chapter similarly funnels into a single mission requiring a large amount of cash after you complete all the missions for the Mafia in Portland. As a result of finishing that mission, you gain access to Staunton Island and can get new missions from the Yakuza. The same narrowing of options occurs in the second chapter, and ends when Shoreside Vale becomes available, but you still get your missions in Staunton, even as the content of those missions takes you into the newly-opened territory. Catalina’s ransom demand is the first mission that starts in Shoreside Vale. Maybe this is just the start of a shift to the new area, and a new series of missions will follow, probably involving Catalina in some way.

This uncertainty is something peculiar to games. When reading a book, you always know how far you are from the end. When watching a movie, you may not know exactly, but you know approximately how long it is and how long you’ve been watching it. With a game, all you have to go on is the game’s content. A lot of games make it obvious when you’re approaching the end, by making it clear what your ultimate objective is and providing some metric of how close you are to that objective. For example, if a game is divided into levels, and you’re told in adavance how many levels a game has, the number of levels you’ve completed serves as such a metric. But this sort of thing is the result of deliberate design decisions, and not inherent to the medium. The geography of Liberty City, and the design of the first chapter, suggest that this is a story with three chapters tied to the three districts, but the missions in what I’ve been calling “chapter 3” call this into doubt.

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