Pros: Oddly Addictive
Cons: Not Much Replay Value, Bad Graphics And Sound
It's not often that a game can be hamstrung by having horrible graphics, bad sound, minimal plot details and clunky controls, and still manage to be fun. Grand Theft Auto pulls off this miraculous feat somehow, and proves to be more than the sum of its parts.
The basic premise of the game is that your main character is some sort of underworld thug, and he must run around a city and commit various crimes ranging from car theft to sabotage to murder for some mysterious boss who gives him his orders. Sounds all warm and fuzzy, eh? Make no mistake - this game is neither intended for or to be played by children. The themes and language are adult in nature, and it's a little disturbing to think of a child playing a game where the goal is to kidnap, murder, steal cars and evade police.
Little background information is given on your character or who is giving him orders, or on anything else, for that matter. You basically choose one out of a few thugs to be your main character, and the game starts with you taking a phone call from your boss. He gives you instructions on what to do for your first mission, and you're off. Your first few missions mainly just involve stealing a car and driving it to a certain point and leaving it. Of course, the missions start to get more and more difficult, with more intricate details and time limits.
After a while, your character is expected to place bombs to blow up buildings, evade and sometimes kill police officers, and other deviant acts. All the while, you must dodge and/or run over unsuspecting pedestrians and commuters who have not much to say to you in the way of kind words. For most missions you are given the freedom to simply wander around the city and do as you wish. One of my favorite things to do in this game was to steal different kinds of cars, because each car, depending on its style, would play a different type of music on the radio. When you steal a pickup truck, for instance, country music plays over the radio. When you steal a fast sports car, it's techno, etc.
Believe it or not, this all makes for what can be a very fun gaming experience (though not for long). Just the fact that you can mess around and try out certain elements of the game adds a whole new dimension to an otherwise flat game. For instance, you will find that when cruising around in a newly stolen car, if you smash into a police car and take off, the police will pursue you. Just be sure to not let them touch you when immobile, or you're caught, and the game is over. Police will chase you in huge numbers as the game goes on, and you can collect certain weapons in order to return fire when they start to shoot at you. I realize how twisted of a gaming premise this is, but believe me, the game is so unrealistic that doing these things in real life would never cross anyone's mind.
The main reason why this game is so unrealistic is the graphics. The graphics in Grand Theft Auto are pretty horrible; barely a step above the original 8-bit Nintendo console graphics. The view of the city is all overhead, with very little in the way of detail. All of the buildings and people look basically the same, and the people are all tiny blurry blobs that are indistinguishable. The only way you'll know the policemen from the other citizens is that the policemen are the ones shooting at you (with the "shots" appearing as dotted lines). The cars are given just enough detail so you can tell them apart, but again, they look pretty bad. The only part of the game given the slightest graphical touch are the portraits of the characters at the very beginning of the game, and you only see that for all of ten seconds.
The sound for Grand Theft Auto is equally abysmal. The only sound effects to even bother writing about here are the musical selections that play for the various cars, and the often filthy samples that people shout out during the course of the game. As I mentioned before, each distinct car has its own distinct musical selection that plays while you drive around in the car. This appears to be the only part of the game that benefitted from a little time and effort. The only other notable sounds are those that happen when you run into people's cars or the people themselves. The people in this city are exceptionally foul-mouthed, and they will shout various vulgarities at you at any opportunity. The quality of the sound in general is fairly poor, as if they recorded everything on a ten dollar cassette recorder from Radio Shack, and most of the sound effects like guns firing or tires squealing are pretty unconvincing.
To complete the trilogy of bad game development, the controls in Grand Theft Auto are also clunky and hard to get a grasp on. With only a few things to even do in the game (steal a car, fire a gun, answer a telephone), one or two button would have sufficed; however, it appears that they tried to make use of the Playstation's wide array of controls, and they failed miserably. Stearing and controlling a car is a tedious task, and takes lots of practice to get used to. You will end up slamming into many an angry commuter, and sometimes backing off into a river before you get the hang of driving. One control that you need later in the game is accumulating and firing weapons, and they are just as hard to get used to. You will get blown away by the cops many times before you get even close to returning fire (it's actually easier to just run them over with a car). Again, for a game with very little to do task-wise, Grand Theft Auto does an amazingly incompetent job of translating the controls.
So how can a game fail so miserably at everything that is important about a game (graphics, sound, controls), and still be fun for at least an afternoon? Well, I have no idea; but it really is fun, addictive gameplay while it lasts. Once you have completed the vast majority of the missions in the game, you will not find much else to do besides the usual car thievery and police avoidance, but the game is just fun enough that you might just want to do some more of that anyway. Grand Theft Auto goes about everything in the game pretty incompetently, except for the fun factor. The only wise decisions that these game makers made was to leave the gameplay open-ended, and to allow players to make their own fun in the game. This alone saves Grand Theft Auto from One Star Hell, and forces me to give it the green light to other gamers.