As we excitedly count down to the launch date of Rockstar games most ambitious and desirable game to date, Grand Theft Auto V, we at Twinstick gaming are getting ready for launch by doing a brief retrospective of Rockstar Games’ greatest and most controversial hits (seldom are they mutually exclusive).
Each day, on the run up to September 17th (GTA V’s worldwide launch day), we’re going to bring you a little slice of the history and controversy surrounding the projects Rockstar has chosen to undertake over the years and examine the evolution and maturation of their games.
Where better place to start than 1997 and the one that started it all, the original Grand Theft Auto?
Grand Theft Auto (soon characterised to GTA) was released back when developers Rockstar North, where actually known as DMA design. Initially, it was a little known game from a reasonably well known developer. A top-down action / adventure that took the unusual slant of a) casting you as the criminal, and b) giving you the freedom to pretty much do as you pleased within the fictional lands of ‘Liberty City, Vice City and San Andreas’. Graphically, it was somewhat simplistic even for 1997, but it was the controversial gameplay that would send it soaring into the international spot-light. Any media filled with violence, drugs and guns was always going to the subject of controversy, but this would soon turn into something more than the usual hysteria.
Thanks to a carefully orchestrated PR campaign of deliberate outrage, courtesy of Max Clifford, Grand Theft Auto was rarely out of the media’s collective glare throughout 1997 and beyond. It was a game that suddenly, everyone had an opinion on. National headlines struck fear into the nation’s parents and a put desperate need to play this game into the mind of every child (after all, what can be more compelling than a game your parents don’t want you to play?)
The whole stirring up of controversy was by design, though this wouldn’t become apparent until years later when GTA creators David Jones and Mike Dailly admitted as much. They also claimed that it had never been their intention to create something controversial, just something fun – that, admittedly, had a dark sense of humour.
‘Fun with a dark sense of humour’ pretty much characterises the way the series would progress.
In the midst of all the contentious hype and ignorant fear, there was a pretty groundbreaking game. The inventiveness of the open world, free roaming structure alone made GTA one of the most important games of its generation. Though there were missions to tackle and an eventual end-game to be had, you had total freedom to choose your path through the game and in between missions, you could pretty much do as you pleased. ‘Do as you pleased’ soon translated into stealing cars and mowing groups of pedestrians over at high speeds. News of the somewhat bloody hilarity of the game continued to spread, through word of mouth, and before long it had become the most talked about game in the world. Teenagers loved it, parents feared it and the TV and news media pretty much condemned it. Video-game critics, on the other hand, had mixed feelings.
Averaging only about 6.5 out of 10 upon released (the Playstation version fairing a little bit better than the PC counterpart), the game was viewed as having simple or ‘shoddy’ graphics, the open world nature was praised by many – and the soundtrack was seemingly loved by all. Even for a simple game coming out of Scotland back in 1997, an extraordinary amount of effort had gone into the game’s soundtrack and in particular the rich and varied sounds of the radio stations. This was something that DMA Design and eventually Rockstar North would always come to prioritise (and as word spreads through leaks, GTA V looks set to continue the same kind of care and quality). The game had 7 different radio stations containing a variety of tracks from different genres – all composed by Colin Anderson, Craig Conner and Grant Middleton especially for the game. This level of depth and variety in a video games musical soundtrack was virtually unheard of in 1997.
Even with a stellar soundtrack, this could have been dismissed as a somewhat mediocre game. Even with a few bright spots and nice ideas, had it not been for Clifford’s campaign of outrage, Grand Theft Auto could very easily have been overlooked. Instead, from its humble and controversial roots, it would grow into something quite spectacular. Grand Theft Auto had been firmly planted in the psyche of the world.
The first little seedling to sprout was 1999’s Grand Theft Auto 2.
Richard is a father, teacher, gamer and writer. He believes that The Last of Us and Olli Olli 2 are the finest games ever made, feels that the StarWars Saga should only be watched in ‘the Machete order’ and once cleared Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time in one sitting. Took him 20 hours, four cups of tea and a sausage roll. You can follow him on twitter @TLOUFactionsMP or @VigilanteSanta and view his occasional twitch outbursts on twitch.tv/spooklebeans.