Article: A History of Grand Theft Auto

Back in 1997, a small Scottish developer named DMA, previously most famous for Lemmings, released the original “Grand Theft Auto” on the PC to relatively little fanfare. A simple top down viewpoint disguised a game-play style that was to revolutionise the way video-games worked. Instead of a linear progression, players were now free to pursue their goals in any manner they saw fit, completely ignoring typical missions if they so wished. Two years later, the sequel was revealed on Playstation and PC, retaining much of the original’s style, content and game-play. One key new feature was the introduction of shifting allegiances. Like its predecessor, “Grand Theft Auto 2” was a successful game but in many ways remained a sleeper hit. This was all to change in 2001 with the release of “Grand Theft Auto III”.

Released on the platform that introduced gaming to the general public, the Playstation 2, and adopting a new 3D perspective, the game proved a huge success, selling over 14.5 million units in its lifespan. It retained the freedom of its predecessors, allowing people to either follow the story completing the missions or simply storm through Liberty City, killing, robbing and generally creating havoc on the streets. It was this feature of the game, combined with its larger coverage, which led to the critical backlash from the conservative media. There had been some controversy with the earlier games but nothing approaching the level of GTA III. To a certain extent it was the beginning of the investigation of the supposed link between video-games and teen violence, represented by a $246 million lawsuit filed by the families of the two murdered victims against the newly renamed developers, Rockstar North.

The huge success of GTA III on a purely gaming level meant expectations were high for the sequels, but both “Vice City” and “San Andreas” surpassed them with consummate ease, selling close to 40 million units combined. Retaining everything from their predecessor and upping the ante in terms of scale, story and graphical enhancements, they are seen by many as the pinnacle of sixth generation gaming. But, once again, the mainstream media overlooked much of this and controversy continued to rage. This time claims of racism were added to traditional criticisms, as Cuban groups were offended by “Vice City’s” representation of Hispanic communities, and there were forced recalls of “San Andreas, following the Hot Coffee controversy which allowed those who installed the correct mod to instigate a mini-game simulating sex (although the term ‘simulating’ required the loosest possible definition).

But none of the criticisms seriously damaged the series, in fact they are probably part of its success, and now just days away from the release of “Grand Theft Auto IV,” a game anticipated to be one of the greatest of all time it seems the series will continue to represent the best that console gaming has to offer as well as the most controversial.

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