GTA3: Act 3

After a marathon session of mission after mission, I have gained access to Shoreside Vale. It’s basically suburbs and an airport, the New Jersey to Liberty City’s Manhattan. So much for my theory about progress in urban games being measured by ritziness of environment.

One thing that surprises me now is that the game is turning out to have an actual plot, and maybe even themes. There wasn’t any real story in the first two GTAs — how could there be, when every single mission was optional? That obviously isn’t the case here, but look at the protagonist: he’s mute, nameless, and defined solely by his role in doing missions, which are chosen for him and which he passively accepts. How much of a story can there be about such a person?

Not much, perhaps, but more than I was expecting. Let me describe the major plot events so far. First, you escape from prison and fall in with the Mafia. They send you on various missions against their competition, but in the end, despite your exemplary service, Sergio, the big boss, tries to have you killed: he thinks his wife, Maria, has taken you as a lover. With Maria, you flee to Staunton Island to do jobs for the Yakuza, which is ruled by a a brother and sister named Asuka and Kenji. They have you take payoff money to a crooked policeman named Ray, who in turn gives you a job destroying evidence against another of his donors, Donald Love, a prominent businessman and owner of one of the radio stations you’ve been listening to on your car radio all along. Donald Love has a scheme that requires lowering property values, so he asks you to start a gang war by killing Kenji and making it look like the Colombian cartel did it.

Now, you have to understand that this gambit, faking an attack to start a gang war, was used extensively in the first two games, entirely without consequence. In GTA2, each level had three gangs on it, and I think every one of them had a mission to start a war between the other two. But missions in those games were isolated, self-contained scenarios, not part of a storyline. You’d nominally “start a gang war”, but nothing would change. So it was a little shocking to find, in a mission that took me into Colombian turf early in Act 3, that the gang war was still in progress, and that Asuka, who had disappeared from the story once she ran out of missions for me, is still around and obsessed with finding and punishing the guy who killed her brother.

At the moment, Asuka still regards me as an ally, and is willing to send me on new missions.The irony is that throughout the game, various characters have blamed me for things that weren’t my fault: Sergio most obviously, but Kenji and Ray also had their unprovoked outbursts. So of course the one time I actually commit a grievous offense against one of my benefactors, I get no blame at all. It’s an uneasy situation, though, and produces twinges of guilt in a way that running down random pedestrians doesn’t for some reason. Act 3 may well turn out to be a time of revelation and reckoning.

GTA3: Getting Started

Surely, Grand Theft Auto 3 is one of the games that any game-literate person must know, one of the defining games of this decade. Not only has it been tremendously influential to the industry, it’s controversial enough to have become one of the few games that even non-gamers have heard of. It’s even been satirized in a soda commercial. Strange to think that it’s taken me this long to get around to playing it.

My reasons for not playing it yet are not good ones. They stem from my completist leanings: I don’t like to play series out of order if I can help it. Thus, I didn’t want to start GTA3 until I had finished GTA2, even though there’s no continuity of story or anything like that. And it took me a while to get around to playing through GTA2 simply because it wasn’t all that good. Its faction system was an interesting experiment, but it encouraged somewhat tedious gameplay. The easiest way to complete many of the missions was to pacify the gang whose turf you’d be invading in advance, which you could do by killing your unresisting allies in the target gang’s rival gang. Still, I finished GTA2 a few months ago, and then took a months-long break from the series.

Even now, I haven’t really made a serious go of it. I’m having some difficulty getting it to work properly with my joystick, a PS2 Dualshock controller connected to my PC via a PSX-to-USB adaptor from Radio Shack. The problems I’m having are problems I’ve had before: the right analog stick seems to have its axes swapped, so that pressing forward and back rotates the camera and pressing left and right zooms in and out. Various websites suggest registry hacks to fix this, but nothing has worked yet. I suppose I could just go to keyboard/mouse controls, but that just seems wrong for something that’s primarily a PS2 game.