Although the Grand Theft Auto
series has been around for about six years the name really gained notoriety when it made its 3D debut on the PlayStation2 in the fall of 2001. Since then the name has been used as a benchmark for 3D free roaming titles that contain extremely violent overtones. Although it wasn’t the first title to feature a massive city, Eidos’ Omikron
did it beforehand, Rockstar’s magnum opus did it in such a manner that gamers could relate it to their own surroundings. It was a whole new ballgame and Rockstar had pioneered an entirely new way of gaming; now those who were unfortunate enough to miss out on two of gaming’s most influential titles have a chance to kill two birds with one stone, thanks to Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto
Since we’ve already reviewed GTA3
for both the PS2 and PC I’ll save us the trouble of going over what we already know. Instead, I’ll focus on the discrepancies and additions that the Xbox version brings to the table. That way all of the Xbox fan boys who are looking to wave something in the face of their PS2 toting buddies won’t have to skim too far to look for ammunition.
Right off the bat you won’t notice too many differences but as you put more hours into the game they’ll become apparent. New lighting effects give both the city and your vehicles a new sheen that was absent in the PS2 original and the subsequent PC ports. Everything also contains way more polys that ever before, helping to flesh out both characters and cars. Playing the Xbox version I was able to notice facets and nuances in the vehicles that I had never noticed before. Characters also look a whole lot better as they now have more weight and mass to them. Instead of looking like a bunch of walking scarecrows they look more realistic and human. They’ve also been given a few surface enhancements including real-time lip synching and individual fingers; nothing too groundbreaking but nice touches nonetheless. Rounding out the visual enhancements are the crisper textures that make the world look sharper and more believable. I’d still say that the PC versions, running at higher resolutions, look the best out of the three available versions but the Xbox is a very close second.
Utilizing the Xbox’s superior hardware the designers have been able to make significant cuts to the load times. Instead of sitting around and waiting for about 4 minutes for the initial loading time the game boots up in less than half that time. Also when traveling between zones the transition is nearly seamless without the delayed load time that plagued the PS2 version. When I was reviewing the PS2 version I often dreaded playing it because I was too impatient to wait around for the load times, the Xbox enhancements do an excellent job of remedying this problem.
Perhaps the most subtle change is the enhanced draw-in distance, not with the actual viewing distance but rather with the rate at which vehicles are rendered on the screen. The problem with the PS2 versions wasn’t with the buildings but rather with vehicles that would suddenly pop up on the screen as you were tearing down the street. Now you can see oncoming vehicles for a number of blocks, giving you ample time to react. This is an especially large improvement for all you motorcycle lovers out there. As the PS2 fans can attest it was frustrating to go cruising along the street at a 100mph only to run into the side of a bus that materialized out of thin air. Now those problems are gone as you’ll see them well before they can turn you into road pizza.
Lots of attention has been paid to the visual enhancements but I feel the largest difference comes from the new control scheme. Because the Xbox controller lacks the two extra shoulder buttons Rockstar had to reconfigure the control scheme, making it playable with the two shoulder buttons. What the developers came up with is rather serviceable but the lack of a free-aim option still makes it a hassle to do combat with multiple foes. Instead of using the face buttons to drive the shoulder buttons have been commissioned to handle the accelerator and the brake. Since this is the layout that most Xbox racing games prefer I didn’t have too much trouble becoming accustomed to it. In fact I found it was a bit easier to drive with this layout, especially because the handbrake was more accessible to my fingers.
When on foot the controls are pretty similar to the PS2 version with the exception of the attack and inventory functions. On this Xbox port the right shoulder button attacks while the d-pad allows you to change weapons. Some may see the mapping of the inventory to the d-pad as a nice touch but I found it to be an unnecessary complication. Unless you’ve got two thumbs on your left hand you won’t be able to maneuver your character while going through your inventory. This becomes problematic when you’re engaged in intense combat and you want to change weapons. You’ll have to remain stationary as you search through your belongings, leaving you a sitting duck for your enemies. In this respect I felt that the control scheme of the PS2 version was minutely better but results will probably vary from player-to-player.
If you hate 80s music or talk radio you’ll be glad to know that the game supports custom soundtracks via the use of the Xbox hard drive. I’m not so certain that this is a necessary addition to the game as the included radio stations are just excellent, but its inclusion is sure to please many. Also, the audio has been beefed up quite a bit due to the Xbox’s Dolby Digital capabilities. I didn’t really have a problem with the PS2’s DTS soundtrack or the PC’s EAX support but apparently some swear by Dolby. I felt that the separation was much cleaner between the 5 channels but the audio samples were pretty much similar in all three versions.
Looking back at these games a year and two years after their release I can wholeheartedly say that they’ve withstood the test of time. Other Game of the Year caliber titles, such as Metal Gear Solid 2
or Mario Sunshine
, just aren’t as fun to play in late 2003 as they were when they were just released on the shelves. This isn’t the case with the two GTA games. They’re both as fun and as engaging as they’ve ever been, if not more so. I came into this thinking that I would just check out the games and look for changes but I found myself becoming engrossed in them for hours and hours, effectively ruining my productivity for the past week and a half.
Make no mistake about it; if you missed out on the PC or PS2 versions then you owe it to yourself to pick up this bundle. It combines two of the best titles that video gaming has to offer at a very attractive price point. No, you won’t get too many differences between the old PS2 versions but that shouldn’t stop you from falling in love with them all over again.
If you've never played the PS2 versions, or you were holding out for the inevitable Xbox port, then you shouldn't hesitate to pick up this bundle. It will provide you with dozens of hours of gaming without putting too large of a dent in your wallet.