On October 22, 2001, PlayStation 2 players examine the asphalt of a fictional city of fire and blood: Liberty City. This New York-inspired crime city is the setting for the third installment in the Grand Theft Auto (GTA) saga, developed by the DMA Design studio (future Rockstar North). Completely in three dimensions, the game represents a revolution in the series launched in 1997 that, until then, was played from above.
Twenty after the release of the game, reading the press of the time reminds us how much this title upset video game production of the time. “GTA III alone redefines the contours of the action game,” concluded for example the Joystick magazine test when GTA III was released on the computer in 2002. A judgment difficult to contradict today. You can’t help but remember how much the GTA III formula was imitated in the 2000s, from The Getaway (2002) to Saints Row (2006) to Just Cause (2006).
“I wonder if today’s gamers realize how universally acclaimed this game has been for its achievements in game sound, graphics or ergonomics. In each of these areas it has created a real paradigm shift in the game. . ” It is also the marker of an era in which games have matured ”, considers Marc A. Ouellette, professor at Old Dominion University in Virginia and author of the article“ Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and video games as speculative fiction ”. While a remaster of the game will be released on November 11, return to this maturing episode of a series that has since sold 350 million copies.
Two decades after teasing gamers, “GTA III” knows a serious facelift. Remastered, the game will be included in a “Trilogy” edition that will also include new versions of “GTA: Vice City” (2002) and “GTA: San Andreas” (2004). Rockstar / Take Two
A new identity for the series
Before deeply disrupting the video game of the 2000s, GTA III marks a formal transition for the first time. First, it lays the foundation for the brand’s visual identity as we know it today: the typography of the white Grand Theft Auto logo (taken from the American version of the TV show “Le Juste Prix”) and the colorful chessboard of the The jacket stood out with this episode. So the choice to place the camera at ground level in a fully three-dimensional environment turned out to be crucial.
However, the aerial camera is not completely abandoned: an option, largely forgotten since then, allowed the most resistant to play GTA III with the “classic” vision, even if that means missing the innovative nature of the game. With this third episode and its third dimension, GTA has become “much more accessible to a large audience and has turned towards the global trend of the market to offer more open worlds and more realistic graphics”, details John Wills, director of the center of Research by American students from the University of Kent, author of “Ain’t the American dream grand: satirical game in Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto V”.
Already transgressive but limited, the first episodes of “GTA” had seduced only a niche of gamers. Starting in 2001, “GTA III” will change the situation and make the franchise a social phenomenon. DMA design
In GTA III, the player can now immersively drive a wide variety of vehicles, be it a simple yellow taxi, a military tank, or a ship. You can also wander the streets of Liberty City with the protagonist, an ex-convict who must be guided in his career as a criminal. While he doesn’t really have a name (fans generally regard him as Claude Speed, the hero of GTA II), he now has a face, just like all the people of Liberty City, who “ are either unsavory criminals or innocent passers-by. ” . -by. Camera stuck in the mobster, this violent game that was already aimed at increasing reprehensible acts is all the more sulphurous … and, for the critics of the time, shocking.
If the game’s graphics are realistic in 2001, its cover art and visuals borrow from the aesthetics of 1970s bully movies and comics. Rockstar / Take Two
A cinematic game
“The three-dimensional passage made it possible to design a more interactive and cinematic universe,” adds John Wills. Designed for a more adult audience, GTA III is deeply influenced by gangster movies, especially those of Martin Scorcese and Quentin Tarantino. The dubbing is also provided by film actors such as Michael Madsen (Reservoir Dogs), Kyle MacLachlan (Twin Peaks) or Frank Vincent (Les Sopranos, Les Affranchis).
This trend was not isolated in the video game industry at this time. “Cinematic realism distinguishes successful end-of-the-year video games,” recalled the Associated Press agency at the end of December 2001. Among the games cited, in addition to GTA III, are Harry Potter in wizarding school, but especially the Halo shooter, the infiltration game Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. We are far from Pokémon or Sims, the best-selling games of the previous year.
Even today, the very cinematic “GTA III” dating from 2001 seems closer to the fifth episode, released in 2013, than the one preceding it, however released in 1998. Rockstar / Take Two
“GTA III goes a long way in this area. Elements taken from the movies include the narrative setting, characterization of the characters, and especially the scenes during which the player does not act. This helped create a sense of plausibility, ”analyzes Canadian Marc A. Ouellette.
The game is packed with cinematic ambitions, right down to its final minutes – GTA III ends with a shot after the credits roll. Everything takes place off-screen, without the player knowing who shot the ball or who received it.
These preparatory drawings and a development plan for “GTA III” taken from the developer files were presented in 2005 during the “Game On” exhibit at the Museum of Technology and Innovation in San José, California. CC BY
A social phenomenon
Combining technical success, playful ambition, and storytelling audacity, GTA III is a huge commercial success. It may be the first major action game for PlayStation 2, released a year earlier. It has surpassed 15 million copies based on this new formula, and each of its successors will reinforce the commercial potential of the franchise: GTA V, released in 2013 and regularly updated to take advantage of new generations of consoles, has sold 150 million copies – in video game history, only the phenomenal Minecraft has done better.
But the adult and subversive character of GTA III was also controversial. In Australia, the agency in charge of setting the ratings even takes it off the shelves after a month and forces developers to offer a less gory version. “Much of the hype around GTA is intentional,” observes Marc A. Ouellette, for whom the game’s success owes much to its sulfurous dimension.
Released a month after September 11, the game was altered at the last minute after the attacks on the Twin Towers. For example, a mission that evokes terrorism is removed from the adventure or the design of police cars is modified because it is too evocative of that of the NYPD. Rockstar / Take Two
“The reactionary response to sex and violence, however, has often obscured the degree of satire of the series,” considers the academic. John Wills abounds. For him, Grand Theft Auto draws on the world of crime both to surprise the player and to seduce him. Social satire, still embryonic in GTA III, will become an essential element of the series: “As in the other episodes, the American dream of a rich and easy life is unattainable. Most of the time you play as a small strike that does the dirty work for the gang bosses. Throughout the series, Rockstar studios are inclined to clearly laugh at the American dream. “You have to remember that GTA, which only talks about America, is a European game, scripted by English Dan Houser and developed in Scotland.
After twenty years, GTA III is necessarily outdated compared to current standards: the contemporary player will not fail to notice a number of flaws, such as the repetitiveness of certain missions, the linearity of its plot or the fate reserved for female characters, often reduced. to roles of girlfriends or prostitutes. But this fundamental episode always offers a summary of what will become of the series, including much of the video game production of the last twenty years.
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