"Sex and drugs and rock'n'roll are very good indeed!” The late Ian Dury couldn’t have said it better, although in reference to Grand Theft Auto 3 we’d probably have added fast cars and crime in there somewhere. If you don’t remember or even know who Ian Dury was, don’t worry – all you need to know is that GTA3 contains all of the above in large doses, and with ingredients like that you know you’re in for a damn good ride!

GTA3 is the successor to two previous instalments of the Grand Theft Auto series, and if you loved every minute of those then you’ll already know some of what to expect from this game. Rockstar have lovingly retained most of the themes of the early games and even much of the original control system, but what they’ve come up with this time can only be described as “breath-taking” in comparison. Using the technology afforded by the PS2 they’ve created a game and gameworld unlike any other – once you step onto the streets of the alternate reality known as Liberty City you’ll be locked into a world of criminal indulgence that’ll keep you coming back for more, and more, and MORE!!!

GTA3 is played in the third-person and you assume the role of a nameless thug. The intro FMV shows you being left for dead by your female partner after she shoots you during the getaway from a bank robbery in order to keep all the loot for herself. After a spell in hospital you’re on your way to jail when a sudden explosion blows up the Callaghan Bridge into Portland forcing your police paddy wagon off the road. A local gang breaks several of its members free, leaving you and fellow convict 8-Ball to hijack a car and escape. 8-Ball sets you up at a hide-out and leads you into your first ‘job’ for a mobster named Luigi. From there on in you work your way up the crime ladder doing various jobs for different gangs with the aim of vengefully catching up with your ex-partner.

This is where the story starts and you’ll soon realise that the plot plays a large part in GTA3, more so than in the first titles. Your first two missions for Luigi (the only compulsory ones) serve as training levels and also introduce you to some key characters whom you’ll go back to for more work later. There are many different gangs in the different parts of Liberty City; in order to progress through the game you’ll need to do work for at least several of them. This sets up an interesting dynamic as the gangs are all competing for turf and you’ll find yourself being shot at if you drive through certain areas controlled by rival factions.

The missions are well varied. An early one finds you taking to a lowlife drug dealer with a baseball bat, whereas later on you’ll be required to steal several expensive sports cars and deliver them to a secret garage unscathed after driving cross-town through busy streets. Other missions include ferrying whores around town, doing hit jobs on various opposing kingpins and snitches, and blowing up factories and rival gang premises. You can accept work by meeting gang bosses and operatives face-to-face or more covertly from one of the many public phone boxes scattered all over the city. It’s also possible to have up to five missions lined up so that if one proves to be too difficult you can always do another to progress the game before going back to the difficult one. In total there’s supposedly over 80 missions, so we think you’ll probably be working away at them for a good 40-50 hours (and that’s just the first time through!).

But before you think GTA3’s just about accepting missions, completing them and moving onto the next – think again. In between doing missions, and without even having to stop the game at all, you can do all kinds of other stuff – or you can just wander around the city taking in the sights and watching the inhabitants go about their daily lives! One of the more passive activities involves collecting the 100 secret packages hidden in out-of-the-way places on each of the three islands. Collect and ye shall receive rewards! You’ll also be rewarded with cash and prestige for taking advantage of the many jump ramps and stunt opportunities around the city in the vehicle of your choice. This is a particularly fun pastime, especially once you start finding the ones on top of large buildings.

There are also a host of minigames included which provide a nice diversion from the main missions for as long as you so desire. These are mainly short, time-limited activities such as picking up as many passengers as possible in the taxi, picking up as many victims as possible in the ambulance, or wasting a certain number of gang members within a given time. Each minigame rewards you with cash upon completion. All statistics from your ‘recreational activities’ are recorded in your personal player stats, which can be impressive reading as it records just about everything including distance travelled by foot and kilo's of explosives used!

Perhaps the best element of gameplay is the almost total freedom to just do whatever in the game, whenever and however you see fit. If you like you can play it through in a linear fashion to complete all the missions, or you can do everything in as random a way as you want. Different gameplay styles will appeal to different gamers so the experience becomes totally personalised and is guaranteed to be different each time you play. There might even be a few people out there who would never actually finish the game because they just wanted to try and see and do ‘everything’.

“What about the cars?” you ask? Well first off there’s more cars than you can shake an Uzi at (and you’ll do that more than once). Grand Theft Auto 3, as the name would suggest, relies fairly heavily on vehicles and the streets are nearly always jam-packed with over 50 types of cars, taxis, trucks, buses, ambulances, fire engines and even military vehicles – all of which are for the taking. You can walk up to any stationary vehicle and hit the triangle button to enter it (unless it’s locked, of course). Beware - some hold surprises! If you want to steal somebody’s vehicle while they’re driving it, simply step out in front of them till they stop, press the triangle button and you’ll be pulling them out of the vehicle, jumping in and driving off in no time. Don’t expect this to always be so easy though, as some drivers will fight back and some will even pull out a piece and bust off a few caps in yo’ ass!

Vehicle handling is excellent with each vehicle type having its own physics and driving style. Once you’ve mastered handbrake cornering you’ll be roaring all over town at breakneck speed and weaving in and out of busy traffic with only the occasional fatal collision. You’ll really need to master that driving technique too, as many missions involve driving to beat the clock or other drivers.

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