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Friday, 9 November, 2001, 18:46 GMT
Crime plays in GTA3
Not for children - or the faint-hearted
Not for children - or the faint-hearted
By Daniel Coles

The gaming industry is far from alone in rethinking its release slate in light of the US attacks.

But with so many games based on violence it's no surprise that several titles have been amended or delayed while sensitivities are raw.

Grand Theft Auto 3 then is a surprising sight at the top of the sales charts.

It is one of the most violent games yet seen on the Playstation 2 - evidence perhaps that the public hunger for blast-em-ups remains strong.

You start as a petty criminal looking to ingratiate yourself with the underworld and rise through their immoral ranks - in short, a bad guy.

No guns - but these two are not about to shake hands
No guns - but these two are not about to shake hands
Your missions move on to bombings, professional hits and car chases to the death. Pretty soon, the game becomes a bloodbath, and woe betide any pedestrian who gets in the way.

But despite the roster of mafia nasties and drug-running ganglords the real star of the show is Liberty City, a sort of extreme version of New York.

Developers Rockstar have taken the simple 2D setting of GTA's previous incarnations and created a living 3D city - a huge breakthrough in scope and detail.

Sure you can shoot people if you want, but you can also grab an ambulance and take people to hospital.

Feeling good? Put out the city's fires, or simply mingle with the city's talkative characters.

Such freedom makes the game tremendous fun, as passers-by react to your actions and hidden items, ramps and games await the adventurous.

What the programmers are saying is, it's up to you. You can choose to take on missions from competing gang leaders (voiced by Hollywood stars including Kyle MacLachan and Michael Madsen) or simply roam the streets. The game is as immoral as you are.

On a mission

But it is the missions, all 73 of them, that provide the most fun, and variety.

In some, you must steal one of the game's many vehicles and chase an enemy through the streets while avoiding the cops. In others more finesse is required, perhaps using a sniper's rifle to help a colleague.

The learning curve is steady, and the gameplay deep enough to sustain weeks of enjoyment. At times the action is heart-poundingly frantic.

The other stand-out feature is the soundtrack, a signature of the whole series. An impressive nine radio stations blast out favourite tunes and parodies of commercial radio banter.

Want to get involved in the violent game debate? Just tune into Chatterbox FM - the developers have got there first.

With the PS2's Christmas slate led by racing and sports titles, such as Fifa 2002 and SSX Tricky, there may not be another game this controversial for a while.

But by putting the violence in the context of a broad game with plenty of humour, Rockstar have found a massively popular and playable formula.

Just don't tell the kids.

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Grand Theft Auto creator Sam Houser
"Everybody's in there and everybody's ridiculed"
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