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Grand Theft Auto III: 5 Ways It Changed Gaming For The Better (& 5 For The Worse)

There are few games that can boast the earth-shattering and industry-defining effects that Grand Theft Auto III holds under its sleeves. Rockstar Game’s Grand Theft Auto III was the series’ jump into the world of 3-D graphics, and with it, setting the benchmark for all games to follow.

RELATED: Grand Theft Auto: 10 Things You Didn’t Know About The Series Before GTA 3

Yet, that benchmark Grand Theft Auto III set up for the industry comes with a few drawbacks. Every good (and bad) thing about 3-D Sandbox games is mostly thanks to Grand Theft Auto III. By looking back at the influence Grand Theft Auto III had, gamers can chart a clear progression towards everything we love (and hate) about gaming today.

10 BETTER: Kickstarted The 3-D Sandbox

Grand Theft Auto III is attributed as one of the first real 3-D Sandboxes. While the graphics might not show it by today’s standards, the game was incredibly cutting edge at the time. The fact gamers could move within a fully rendered world with minimal loading screens was a revolution.

Furthermore, the complete removal of “levels” allowed gamers the freedom to explore and take in the sights of Liberty City. Whether you wanted to become a criminal mastermind or just drive some cool car over old ladies crossing the street, the choice was yours to enjoy.

9 WORSE: It Lead To Endless Clones

Saints Row 2 Carlos Mendoza

Every gamer knows the term “GTA Clone.” It is as pervasive in the industry as any other kind of copy and paste genre. We know how it goes: mission, drive, mission, drive, mission, drive, run over pedestrians. Even Snoop Dog almost had his own GTA clone.

RELATED: Saints Row: 10 Ways The Series Can Finally Dethrone GTA

What these games lack, however, is the charm, graphics, humor, writing, and frankly… quality that the Grand Theft Auto games have. Very few of the clones get this (Saints Row being one of the few that does, but even that took two or three entries). But as they say: copying is the greatest form of flattery.

8 BETTER: It Mastered Open-World Missions

luigi giving the player in gta 3 a mission

On the note of an open 3-d world, the missions were also a sweet breath of fresh air. The fact you could drive around a mission to mission completing them in whatever you want was revolutionary. Furthermore, they took place within the city you drive around. No separate pre-rendered level.

What this does is ultimately bring the agency to the game and its location. Liberty City is a place where every corner could be a new exciting event. That road you drove by countless times could be the center of a big shootout in the next mission. The possibilities were endless.

7 WORSE: It Also Led To Some Awful Open World Missions

main character next to portland docks

On that note, open-world missions can be a real pain in the butt. Following Grand Theft Auto III, many a clone has introduced driving from one mission to the next as a way to pad out the game time. Many of these games would have benefited themselves from simply being linear levels, but because Grand Theft Auto III was so popular, they were urged into making their games as “open-world” as possible.

This led to the inevitable effect of games feeling bloated and wasting gamers’ time. If the city isn’t as lively as Liberty City was and still is, it makes the game feel hollow and empty.

6 BETTER: Pushed Game Content To New Levels

main character with gun gta 3

Grand Theft Auto and Rockstar Games as a whole is no stranger to controversy and Grand Theft Auto III has its fair share of controversy. Everything ranging from its graphic violence to portrayal of prostitution, Grand Theft Auto III pushed every button possible. It was no “Hot Coffee” scandal but still had plenty close to it.

RELATED: The 10 Biggest Gaming Controversies Of The Last 20 Years

And thank goodness it did, for without Grand Theft Auto III and games like it, we certainly would not have a majority of games we see today. Even by modern standards, Grand Theft Auto III still packs the controversial punch with a nice sense of class and humor. Something the clones seemed to forget.

5 WORSE: Games Got Edgier… But Not Better

Unfortunately, many developers saw the edginess of Grand Theft Auto III and thought: “We can do that, but like even edgier.” And unfortunately for gamers, they had to deal with the consequences. Games tried as hard as possible to be “edgier than GTA” but they didm’t really understand what made GTA what it is.

Not quality writing or deep thoughts on the criminal system. No. More violence. More cursing. More explicit content than ever before. And while some games like Postal 2 do this with the intention of parodying games like Grand Theft Auto, many games attempt the gritty violence and fail so, so horribly.

4 BETTER: Rags to Riches Writing At Its Finest

main character on bridge in sunset

Grand Theft Auto III was a huge step in gaming writing. It was a narrative well-thought-out and expansive henceforth not seen in a 3-D world. It was undeniably a major stepping stone. And the story was one familiar to one and all, a poor man commits crimes to become a kingpin.

It’s a story we’ve seen in endless movies like Godfather II but remixed to our modern era and sensibilities. It was cutting-edge and pack full of humor and witty dialogue that Rockstar Games would continue through the rest of the series.

3 WORSE: The Story Got Reused So Much It Became Cliche

main character on collapsed bridge

Unfortunately, seeing this story was a success and how easy it is to turn into a working game formula, many developers tried to copy it. This quickly made what was a refreshing take on the crime genre into a tired cliche. And this is incredibly unfortunate because it actually in turn ruins the original experience some with many plot points and scenes once fresh now stale and boring.

RELATED: 10 Game Series With No Clear Delineation Between Mainline & Side Entries

It’s like watching movies like Texas Chainsaw Massacre or The Exorcist in the modern day. Slashers and exorcisms are so overdone now that it all just seems tired and contrived. And likewise, so are the rag to riches crime stories. Luckily, Rockstar realized this and has managed in more recent entries to change up the character formula for the better such as Trevor and Michael in Grand Theft Auto V.

2 BETTER: New Benchmark For Gaming Scope

main character in front of sign reading orgy free food

Grand Theft Auto III set the new benchmark for a game’s scope. Games were no longer going to be a simple point-and-click adventure. No, rather, games were now big-budget 3-d adventures. Games with a massive number of missions, locations, and an ever-growing sense of hyper-realism.

One could argue Grand Theft Auto III truly marked the beginning of AAA as we know it. Video games were now a worthwhile investment and one that could make money back billions fold.

1 WORSE: All Games Would Only Exist In Comparison

Unfortunately, a game as good as Grand Theft Auto III meant one thing: all games would be in comparison too. Just as every hard medieval-style game is known as the “Dark Souls of…”, every open-world game is now known as the “Grand Theft Auto of…” This inevitably left a lot of developers feeling the need to copy Grand Theft Auto, even to this day, scrapping otherwise creative ideas for the more profitable mainstream approach.

Gamers need to just hope developers return to something different… or Grand Theft Auto VI is really as good as they’re hyping it to be.

NEXT: 15 Video Games That Were Banned For Outrageous Reasons

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