Thanks to a recent Rockstar bundle, Grand Theft Auto III has at the time of writing sold an extra 180,000 copies in recent days - not bad going for a game released in 2001 and has been superceded by a boatload of million-selling sequels and spinoffs.
GTA III stands up remarkaby well after all these years. While it can be thought of as a kind of prototype for (and poor relation to) Vice City (2002) and San Andreas (2004), GTA III is still an enthralling crime sandbox in its own right - more than worthy of a few notes and screenshots, below.
It's clear that the design priority for GTA III was to recreate Grand Theft Auto 2, but in full-3D. Almost every gameplay element from the previous game is present and correct, and there are few truly new additions. The difference is that Liberty City is more "seamless" than previous environments and the theme is somewhat less surreal.
What Rockstar did with the Renderware engine in 2001 is remarkable. Liberty City is a huge and complex environment for that time, and the wide variety of pedestrians and vehicles - complete with distinct handling and extensive damage modeling - is still impressive.
The missions are often quite simplistic, but the more complex ones are a real thrill to complete. Towards the end of the story, an element of planning becomes helpful, and it's always wise to tool up on weapons and armour. The mission "S.A.M." may be the best.
The script and story are a major weakness. The story is almost non-existent outside of the opening cutscene and the spectacular final mission. Mission trees end abruptly without real resolution, and the voice cast - including Joe Pantoliano, Michael Madsen, and Kyle McLachlan - is not used to best effect.
The three distinct areas of Liberty City are all impressively varied, but the last area - Shoreside Vale - is barely used. This is because the man story ends shortly after the island is unlocked, and almost no missions take place there.
The combat is very clunky and seems like an afterthought to the design; only exotic weapons like grenades are particularly fun or useful. The driving is fantastic, however - the cars handle in varied and intuitive ways and it's fun to learn the geography of Liberty City (albeit without a real in-game map).