How grand theft auto III changed gaming forever

OCT 10, 2021

With Grand Theft Auto The Trilogy: Definitive Edition launching soon, it's important to understand the third game's effect on the industry.

Grand Theft Auto III proved a smash-hit for Rockstar when it was released in 2001, selling millions of copies and netting an impressive 97 on Metacritic. In the years following its release, though, Grand Theft Auto III has proven one of the most influential titles in all of gaming history, due in large part to its emphasis on storytelling and open-world gameplay.

In terms of story, Grand Theft Auto III saw players taking on the role of Claude, a silent protagonist looking to get revenge on his girlfriend after she betrayed him during a bank heist. To accomplish his goals, he works for a number of different Liberty City's most colorful characters -- including the deadly Leone Mafia. Over the course of the game, things take a number of dark and shocking turns.

Although not everything about the game's story has aged well, Grand Theft Auto III had an incredible story for the time. Though there were a lot of fantastic action-adventure games, Grand Theft Auto III was, at its core, a crime story, and it boasted the grittiness to match. However, the title wasn't just edgy. Grand Theft Auto III is often quite funny, poking fun at the silent protagonist trope, the rich and more with its dark humor. In many ways, Grand Theft Auto III made other dark titles possible while also becoming the biggest point of comparison for them.

However, it's not just Grand Theft Auto III's story that matters. In fact, the story may not even be the most important part of the game's legacy. Instead, that falls to the title's open world. In Grand Theft Auto III, gamers could traverse three islands filled with people in a variety of different vehicles. There was a genuine feel to Liberty City, and players were encouraged to learn its layout until it felt like an old, familiar home.

While open worlds had existed in different capacities since gaming's early days, Grand Theft Auto III took things to a whole new level. The detail and scope of Liberty City paved the way for a ton of different games, including Saints Row and Mafia. The depth of Grand Theft Auto III's world also had a direct influence on games entirely unlike the title. In the years since Grand Theft Auto III, open worlds with a high degree of interactivity have become a staple of gaming, and so much of that started here.

Outside of the gameplay itself, Grand Theft Auto III was wildly controversial. People critiqued the game's violence, depiction of prostitution and much more. There were claims Grand Theft Auto III promoted violence, and actual lawsuits were filed because of the game. The conversation around Grand Theft Auto III changed what was considered acceptable in video games in a huge way and ended with dark, mature-rated games becoming much more acceptable. While pretty much every Grand Theft Auto title gets its fair share of controversy, the conversation around the third entry was particularly heated, and its success proved such ire wouldn't hinder sales. This then opened up gaming to a lot more titles willing to risk dark subject matter.

Despite those accomplishments, Grand Theft Auto III feels fairly dated now. The combat is frustrating, and the graphics -- which were incredible for the time -- look 20-years-old. However, without Grand Theft Auto III, gaming might have been tremendously different. So with the Grand Theft Auto The Trilogy: Definitive Edition slated to release later this year, a new generation of players may finally be able to experience the classic that changed everything.

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