Greatest Games of All Time: Grand Theft Auto III

One of the most controversial games in history is also one of the greatest--we induct Grand Theft Auto III into the hall of fame.

Platform: PS2, PC, Xbox | Genre: Action/Adventure | Released: Oct. 22, 2001
Publisher: Rockstar | Developer: Rockstar

Grand Theft Auto III is easily one of the greatest games of all time. It was quietly released in 2001 for the PlayStation 2 and after widespread critical acclaim and positive word of mouth, quickly became a cultural phenomenon that forever changed the world of video games. It may seem crude now, but when it was released, GTAIII offered an unprecedented level of freedom and detail, giving rise to terms like "sandbox" and "open world" to describe the entire genre of games that this one inspired. Yes, GTAIII was also violent and controversial, but it isn't the defining game of the PlayStation 2 era because of its success. Rather, it epitomizes its generation because it's an undeniably fun, well-designed, immersive, and hilarious game that broke new ground for future games to follow.

There's something satisfying about launching an all-out war on an entire city, just for the heck of it.

In what might be the most significant leap forward for any video game franchise, GTAIII took the series from a somewhat obscure top-down game of cops and robbers to a fully realized action adventure set in an expansive 3D world. Playing GTAIII for the first time, it's easy to feel intimidated by the sheer scope of the game. You play as a nameless hero who happened to catch a lucky break and avoid going to prison. After a short intro, you're thrust into the streets of Liberty City, where you can do just about anything you want.

You can steal a car and simply cruise through town to check out the sights. Or, you can hop in an ambulance and try your hand at being a paramedic. If that doesn't suit your fancy, you can get behind the wheel of a police car and hunt down criminals to deliver your own brand of vigilante justice. And of course, you can always visit any of the dozens of intriguing story characters to take on special missions and earn some serious loot.

This looks like a lovely evening for a stroll through the park…

The size of the game's world and the freedom it gave you to explore are the most immediate and striking aspects of GTAIII, but it's more than just a huge maze of streets for you to run around in. Liberty City was so well designed and detailed that it felt remarkably lifelike. Pedestrians strolled down the street muttering to one another; newspapers blew in the wind; gangsters patrolled and protected their territories; hookers propositioned johns on street corners; and through it all, the sun continued to rise and set on the comfortable chaos of life in the big city.

Subsequent GTA games would expand the scope of the playable world to encompass multiple cities and miles of virtual space between, but Liberty City from GTAIII felt just right. It was by no means small; the game had three huge districts and hundreds of miles of roads to explore. The different districts were perfectly distinct--for instance, the hilly suburbs of Shoreside Vale offered a completely different experience from the seedy red-light district on Portland Island.

In addition to the superbly crafted world and top-notch gameplay, Grand Theft Auto III had a fantastic sense of humor. Everything from the dialogue and characters to the radio stations and billboards was infused with a satirical wit that was funny without feeling overplayed--a remarkable feat for a game that easily lasted 100 hours or more. Whether you were laughing out loud at the ridiculous Smokey and the Bandit-like antics of angry police officers or chuckling at the goofy Lazlow as he rambled on about nothing in particular on his talk radio show, there was always humor to be found among the mayhem in Grand Theft Auto III.

Who is this guy?

Of course, GTAIII generated plenty of controversy when it was first released. After all, a game that lets you pick up a hooker, have sex with her, and then rob and murder her is going to raise a few eyebrows. What you have to understand about the game is that it's not the senseless violence and mature themes that made it fun--violent games have existed for years. What made Grand Theft Auto III fun was the way it was so cleverly designed to keep you entertained despite a relative lack of structure. Essentially, GTAIII gave you the freedom to entertain yourself, which in this case proved much more effective than holding your hand and dragging you through a rigidly organized series of challenges. Grand Theft Auto III defied all expectations of what a video game must be and delivered a gameplay experience unlike any other. And for that, it's without a doubt one of the greatest games of all time.

 

What are your thoughts on this induction to GameSpot's Greatest Games of All Time? Leave us a comment and let us know!

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Discussion

676 comments
White-Storm
White-Storm

Awesome game. Loved the fourth one on 360.

snes_vs_ps1
snes_vs_ps1

Die Hard Trilogy was clearly a major source of inspiration for GTA III:P

fracicone
fracicone

My wife is a casual gamer, which means The Sims, Hidden Object games and Professor Layton, but when GTA3 was released on PC it was the ONLY time she ever sat by my side and watched me play a computer game. That should count for something!

midway_nights
midway_nights

yeah it should be number one. number 2 should be san andreas for sure.

dannyb7040
dannyb7040

DragonMaster, how can you say that a game doesn't deserve to be on this list because its too violent or has too much drugs or sex? Should the Godfather be forgotten as a great movie because its too violent? This game depicted modern day crime in a way that no other game has (other then newer GTAs). This game 100% deserves to be on this list because it is innovative, incredibly fun, and had the balls to withstand all of the criticism given to it from whiny snobs like you.

Lugia_120
Lugia_120

Actually i played GTA III after i played san andreas and vice city.My favorite,just behind IV.

ChiefFreeman
ChiefFreeman

it's been to long since they updated this feature. Time for a late 2009/early 2010 update on the "Greatest Games of All Time" Gamespot!

DragonMaster909
DragonMaster909

Yes the game was inovative being the first (or one of the first) open world games out there but in my personal opinion this is by NO means a game that deserves to be on this list... Drugs, Violence and Sex, exactly the same reason I HATE Rap... just my opinion here.

poorisaac
poorisaac

GTAIII is still my favorite one.

07TUROK
07TUROK

I THINK GAMESPOT SHOULD ENTER MAYBE ENTER SOME OTHERS LIKE- FARCRY/QUAKE 1/ ETC

NIkoscho
NIkoscho

Gamespot did a perfect work till this time, but now they must upgrade the list with two or three new games.

bigd575
bigd575

Yep one of the best games ever I could still pick this up and play it any day,

jsmoke03
jsmoke03

it was good, but i wasn't impressed until san andreas. i know why people saw it as one of the greatest ever since it spearheaded its own genre of sandbox games

OmegaCookie7
OmegaCookie7

Definitely a great game, but I wouldn't consider it a "greatest game of all time." Sure, it was fantastic in its day, but nowadays would you prefer to pick up GTAIII or San Andreas? For me, I'd go with SA. Games like FFVII, Chrono Trigger and Super Mario Bros. 3, however, have aged much, much better.

dub14
dub14

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

nik_cscz
nik_cscz

it doesnt matter how many times you have played it gta3 never gets boring whereas vc and sa could be boring......i dont know the reason...

Bartiscool
Bartiscool

I still remember when I first played this game. There was no way to describe how great it was, But I thought better games would come along over the years. And here we are 7 years later and this is still one of the greatest games of all time.

o0c0o
o0c0o

Yes, you're right. Gta is the best game all the time,Thanks Gamespot.

AndreSCP
AndreSCP

I play videogames since I was a young kid and the first time I touched this game I was about 7/8 years old and din't have a PS2 yet. However, the revolutionary gameplay, the liberty that the game gave me, continued in my mind for years, until I could buy this console (many years later) and the game and finally play the one game that made me dream about it. It's a classic, if you don't believe it, just play it and think how can such a game could be done in that time. Long life for R* and the GTA series!

covertgamer78
covertgamer78

I never played anything like this when it came out, and I was completely amazed. Paved the way for the excellent sequels. A must play for anyone but for adults only.

Breackneckboy
Breackneckboy

Grand Theft Auto III deserved this induction. It was an instant classic and created a whole new game experience. Even if San Andreas is better, which one was first? Which one revived the GTA series and kept it going to get to San Andreas? Have respect for this classic.

oli_burt
oli_burt

I have recently bought the GTAIII & Vice City double pack. I am really impressed by GTAIII, many parts of the game I had credited to later GTAs but turns out they were in the original! I didn't complete the game the first time round so I'm working on it :P I loved the style of San Andreas, having some allies is what GTA needed, but GTAIII just seems more gritty and although it's old it has been on the top of my pile since I bought it.

Meracalos
Meracalos

San Andreas is better than this. But, from the different perspective, GTA III is revolutionary.

xunhallowed
xunhallowed

Chaosctf2k, how can you think your opinion matters if you speak it incorrectly? You spelled "appalled" completely wrong. Obviously, your brain does not function very well, and you can't see depth in games, or proper spelling. You should really consider playing Barbie and The Twelve Princesses, because that has no prostitutes, and making your character become as "glam" as possible seems a worthy quest for the young, adventurous minds such as yourself.

Chaosctf2k
Chaosctf2k

This garbage got "Greatest Games of All Time". What? This game sucked as soon as you changed out of your prison clothes. It was horrible. Picking up prostitutes for a couple hours and some crappy animated cinematics? Heck, killing civillians spawned a genre of sandbox games that blew. Please, I picked this game up on launch and sold it a week later. Rockstar had to make such a piece to start the revolution. Naming this a top tier.. makes games look like the crash in 1970. I'm appauled.

Rocul
Rocul

I have to play this again D:

wars45
wars45

it is and when it comes on ps3 . it will be soooo good

gamergeller
gamergeller

The reason I bought my PS2. I ate ramen for about 2 months after buying this things. At the time it broke my bank account.

wii_sean_wii
wii_sean_wii

No game will ever be as big or popular as any of the modern gta games just which one do you pick? GTA III GTA Vice City GTA San Andreas its hard to say i love them all but it has to be GTA III just bcoz it was a revolution for all games that we play today !! BRING ON GTA IIII

Nicaboy456
Nicaboy456

i still play this game and love every minute of it....

Duminakan89
Duminakan89

I still remember when I first played this game!

Sparky2002
Sparky2002

THIS GAME STARTED IT ALL & MANY YEARS LATER THE ARE 100'S OF GAME THAT NOW FOLLOW WHAT GTA BROUGHT INTO OUR HOMES DEFI_ THE BEST EVER MADE GAME IN THE WORLD TO DATE... INTENCLY GROUND BREAKING FOR ITS DAY

zeus_gb
zeus_gb

Out of all the games I still think GTA III is the best of the series.

mkothephenom
mkothephenom

this game is legendary but san andreas is where its at.

WWE4lyfe123
WWE4lyfe123

yea...GTA 3 is a classic...and i am proud they picked this game as the greatest..

philman21
philman21

"where are the other greatest games of all time?" Features->Greatest Games

hogcore
hogcore

I played this game and loved it. GTA SA was just a bit too much, I actually got bored of it because of this after the first week or two and never played it again. GTA III gets my vote - it was just right.

mscrisostomojr2
mscrisostomojr2

where are the other greatest games of all time? Thanks, mscrisostomojr2003

VGLeo34
VGLeo34

Hard decision: San Andreas or 3

Sparky2002
Sparky2002

yep set a new bench mark for the rest of the world with its freedom within a game do as you wish & open the gate for the series gta to a much greater lvl there would be no san andreas if it was not for this game so anyone who says sa is the best think about it SERIOUS......... the time of the game the ability & pathed a new era in gaming history

Captain_Orgasm
Captain_Orgasm

This game totally deserves this induction - it changed the way games were made forever. WIthout it we wouldn't have GTA SA or the fantastic looking GTA IV. Rockstar deserve all the recognition they get for making superb games.

DryvBy2
DryvBy2

It's Max Payne's alter ego..

Meracalos
Meracalos

San Andreas is the greatest game