Grand Theft Auto Advance Hands-on

Rockstar and Digital Eclipse bring the juggernaut franchise to the Game Boy Advance.

Grand Theft Auto Advance is the forthcoming portable version of Rockstar Games' juggernaut console franchise. Once the stuff of rumors, Grand Theft Auto Advance's existence has officially been confirmed by Rockstar Games, and the developer has been tapped to shepherd the groundbreaking series to Nintendo's portable system. As if all that wasn't enough, the game is already nearing completion and is due to hit stores next month. We had the chance to sit down with a work-in-progress version of the game to see how the miniaturization of the popular franchise is going so far.

GTA Advance combines the old top-down viewpoint with a number of elements from the recent 3D games.

While development rights to GTA Advance have been shopped around several top-notch GBA developers, the veterans at Digital Eclipse have earned a shot at interpreting the game (in conjunction with Rockstar North) on Nintendo's handheld system.

But before we delve into the impressive technical merits of the game, we'll cover the story. Grand Theft Auto Advance's narrative is an original tale set during GTA III that focuses on two members of the mob in Liberty City who are looking to get out, Mike and Vinnie. Of course, if film, real life, and Rockstar's own games have taught us anything, it's that the minute you start thinking about getting out of the mob, untimely death comes knocking. And, of course, such is the case with our two lead characters. Just as our ill-fated duo is wrapping up a few jobs before its members wipe their hands clean of mob life, Vinnie has an unfortunate encounter with a car bomb. The end result? We now have a single lead character for the game, and we have a compelling reason to start snooping around Liberty City. After Mike is framed for Vinnie's murder, the accused mobster sets out to find out who murdered Vinnie and who framed him, which sends you on a tour of the seamy underbelly of the troubled town.

While the story is both in keeping with the console entries in the series and set during the original Grand Theft Auto III's time frame, Grand Theft Auto Advance's gameplay offers a pseudo-old-school experience. Whereas GTA III marked the franchise's shift from an overhead view to full on 3D, GTA Advance keeps it real and uses the old top-down view from the previous games. However, rather than serve up retro gameplay, Digital Eclipse and Rockstar North have instead created a hybrid game that mixes many of the gameplay elements from the 3D game with the overhead-view perspective from the first two games.

The basic structure of the game makes use of the now-familiar objective-based gameplay that the series is know for, as well as the simple running-around-while-committing-mayhem-on-your-own style of play. Your missions will run the gamut from deliveries, to death dealing, to driving, to other GTA staples. You will, of course, be able to hijack cars, and you can smack any pedestrians you don't like upside their heads. To be honest, we were more than a little pleasantly surprised by the sheer variety of cars and people in the game. Digital Eclipse and Rockstar North appear to have captured the essence of GTA on the GBA quite handily.

The graphics in the game make the most of the top-down perspective. Mike's animation is smooth and flows well, and it features some cartoony flourishes during combat. Racing around in cars works well, and it looks good. The animation for cars even reflects their handling with exaggerated motions. Overall, the graphics have an undeniable charm that balances personality with some nice technology.

The game's art style will certainly be familiar to fans of GTA III and Vice City.

Audio in the game is coming along. You can expect a good variety of tunes in the game, as well as an assortment of voice samples. The various effects for cars, weapons fire, and suchlike all sound good so far.

Based on what we've played, Grand Theft Auto Advance is shaping up to be a slick, little game that manages to offer a bit of its predecessors' charms. The top-down perspective, while not ideal, has been buffed up thanks to gameplay that's anything but a rehash of the first two games. The story is interesting and plays out in a style that's faithful to the spirit of the console games in the series. Finally, while you won't be overwhelmed by the detailed assortment of sprites, there's a lot to appreciate. It's a given that fans of the GTA series will snap this up, but even newcomers to the series will find a lot to enjoy. Grand Theft Auto Advance is currently slated for release this October for the Game Boy Advance, so look for more on the game soon.

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