Counting down to the launch date of Rockstar’s most ambitious and desirable game to date, Grand Theft Auto V, the Twinstick Gaming team are whetting appetites ready for launch by doing a retrospective of Rockstar Games’ greatest and most controversial hits.
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. Today’s slice of the pie? Grand Theft Auto 2.
When looking back at 1999’s Grand Theft Auto 2from DMA Design (the precursor to Rockstar North), the one remarkable thing that stands out is how unremarkable it really was. Though it was commercially successful, critically speaking it was far from special. One of the biggest issues reviewers had with it at the time was that it really did little to improve upon the first GTA game. The graphics got a technical tweak that used 3D technology to add some depth to the city, but the format remained the same top-down, violent – yet – humorous romp through the city scenario.
It was given, as described at the time, a ‘retro futuristic’ setting that put it somewhere in the near future (in-game clues pointed to the year 2013, but other parts of the game hinted at the turn of the millenium), in a place simply known as ‘Anywhere City’. The city was broken down into three distinct locations: Commercial, Residential and Industrial. These areas offered something of a structure to the open world of GTA 2, each zone becoming harder than the last (especially when the heat was on. Each area had a maximum wanted level that varied from being chased down by SWAT units in Commercial, right up to a full blown Army response if your antics got too crazy in Industrial).
GTA 2 did try to introduce new game-play elements with the idea of ‘gang’ controlled areas of the city. The player, cast as criminal Claude Speed, could do missions for the various gang bosses spread throughout the city. It also allowed players to gain the ‘respect’ of certain gangs if you killed a member of a rival gang etc. Though you are never affiliated with a particular gang through anything other than your choice, the embracing of gang warfare was another potentially controversial touch paper for the series spark. This never happened really though, aside from a smattering of nay-sayers, the game never reached the fever-pitch outrage of the first. The Playstation and Gameboy Colour versions of the game even had some of the language and violence toned down to allow the game to be ‘T’ (Teen) rated in the US, opening it up to a wider audience. A very different prospect to what most people think of when the phrase ‘Grand Theft Auto’ is uttered.
However, the biggest controversy surrounding GTA 2 and the thing that helped it fly off the shelves, was simply that it was ANOTHER Grand Theft Auto game. It literally rode to success on the shirt-tails of its predecessor.
Ironically enough, the thing that helped it sell was precisely what critics didn’t like about it. As the Game Spot review said at the time: “at its core, GTA 2 is the same old game’.
1999’s GTA 2 (along with an expansion pack for the original called GTA: London, 1969 released the same year), DID mark a very important change and pivotal moment for the franchise. The introduction of writers Dan and Sam Houser.
The brothers Houser were the co-founders of, the soon-to-be-globally-recognised, Rockstar Games and, alongside working as writers for GTA 2, were also responsible for publishing the game under the Rockstar label.
An inauspicious start for the founders of the games company the media would grow to love to hate. Writers and publishers of perhaps the LEAST controversial game of the series.
Of course, it was in 2001’s sequel, Grand Theft Auto III, that these changes – along with numerous other groundbreaking, jaw dropping changes in game world and technical advancement – would REALLY be felt. Along with perhaps the most contentious game-play element the series would ever see.
Richard is a father, teacher, gamer and writer. He believes that The Last of Us is the finest game 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 @vigilantesanta.