I have never really been into violent video games (unless you count the old school hockey games where you could break open a dude’s skull and watch them bleed on the ice) and spent most of my time playing games like Mario Kart, Final Fantasy, and sports games. So I did not think much of the first two Grand Theft Auto games and even ignored the huge buzz around the third game which essentially invented the sandbox game (ironically instead I bought The Simpsons rip off game which thankfully was a lot more entertaining than their Double Dragon rip-off Nintendo game). But the ad campaigned for Grand Theft Auto: Vice City drew me in with its Miami Vice vibe and A Flock of Seagulls soundtrack which it is why the franchise is this month's induction into the Scooter Hall of Fame.
Forget the video game violence; Vice City was worth it just for the soundtrack along, I would have just been content with just driving around the sprawling faux Miami just listening to the awesomely eighties radio stations (Lionel Richie! Hall and Oates!! Squeeze!!!) and to those that always rag on the violent storyline, there is nothing making you going around shooting people and picking up hookers, you could steal a taxi and play Crazy Taxi style or earn a living hunting down criminals for the police or hijacking an ambulance to help people to the hospital on time.
Okay, I am not that altruistic, I also partook in the more violent storylines too. But the Grand Theft Auto games are just like playing a movie. III was basically The Godfather, Vice City is a retelling of Scarface, and San Andreas is like playing Boys in the Hood. Of course to the parents out there, if you do not let your kids watch those types of movies, you definitely should not let your kids play these types of games. And if you do let your kids watch those types of movies and play these types of games, you really need a visit from child services.
Even if you do choose the dark side (that is where the main storylines are anyway) there are consequences. If you kill someone, the police will come after you. And if you continue to kill people, the more the pursue you until the call in S.W.A.T., helicopters, and if you stay on the lamb long enough while you continue your killing spree they will even bring in an armored tank. And once you are caught, you have to pay your way out of prison or pay a hospital bill defending on how they get you.
As great as Vice City was, San Andreas was even better in almost every since way except maybe the soundtrack (it is hard to choose between cheesy eighties music and the mix of early nineties gangsta rap and alternative rock. The opening local, which was a fictional version of Compton was probably even bigger than Vice City then throughout the game you could travel to San Francisco and Las Vegas (where you can even gamble) surrogates. There was even the countryside, a mountain, a couple of small suburbs, and a desert with its own Area 51 type secret government facility where you could steal a jet pack. Seriously, how cool is a jet pack? Sure not all the additions were inspired, requiring players to eat was annoying, and then when you ate too much, you were unable to run and the weight training was just as silly.
Expectations were high when Grand Theft Auto leaped onto the next generation council and GTA IV more than lived up to the hype. Where the previous installments were clearly inspired by iconic movies, the new version followed an eastern European immigrant trying to find his way in the new world by any means necessary. And since this was he first in seven years to be set in current times and this time around you had access to a cell phone (complete with a camera) and if you stole a car that a soccer mom would drive it probably would be equipped with a GPS devise. And there were so many ways to get around Liberty City (basically NYC) with five distinctive boroughs, aside from the obvious car, there is the subway, boats, and you could even commandeer a helicopter, just remember to bring your parachute just in case you have to bail.
When you were done with the game, there were two downloads featuring new storylines for Liberty city. The Lost and the Damned has you as the leader of a biker gang who needs to keep its turf while The Ballad of Gay Tony saw you employed as a body guard for the titular nightclub owner who was just as ruthless as his female loving counterparts. Each game was almost as expansive as the original and actually managed to intertwine with each other. Then there was even more fun when you fired up the modem and go online for deathmatches, street races, and other fun game. You could still occasionally find me in a Turf War waiting room.
Much like many of Rockstar Games, little is known about Grand Theft Auto V out later this month (look for a list of The 100 Greatest Song from Grand Theft Auto coming from me around the release date, unfortunately that list will be instantly outdated the moment it is published as there is said to be 240 licensed songs for the new game). The game does return to San Andreas but consider how much Liberty City changed from GTA III to GTA IV, the fake west coast will probably look radically different than the PS2 game, it is said to be bigger and the original San Andreas and GTA IV combined, and even more ways to get around (ATV’s! jet skies!!). There will also be three lead characters you can toggle between, a first for the series. One apparently will even own a dog which, depending on your actions, can get lost or even die. While the online mode looks to be even more expansive. Grand Theft Auto V (as well as my list of The 100 Greatest Songs from Grand Theft Auto) comes out on the 17th.