Everyone's favorite jack-move simulator is back for another round. Grand Theft Auto 2 is, for the most part, a collection of enhancements to the original game. The graphics have been redone, the music is different, there is a slew of new weapons, the mission structure is a bit more complex, and the city feels a bit more alive. But at its core, GTA2 is the same old game.
There are three levels in GTA2. Each level is divided up into three areas of turf, controlled by a different gang. The gangs range from the ever-unpopular megacorporation, Zaibatsu, to the dirt-road mobile-home-owning Rednecks. But regardless of personal philosophies, the gangs' methods are roughly the same. You, as a budding young criminal always on the lookout for the next big score, need to earn some respect from the gangs in the city. Since the gangs are constantly at war with each other, the only real way to earn the respect of one gang is to roll over to their rival gang's turf and start smoking as many gang members as you can find. Once you've earned a little positive respect from a gang (an onscreen meter lets you know where you stand with all three gangs), you can start answering that gang's pay phones and going on missions. The missions are similar to those in the original GTA. They force you to blow up buildings, shoot informants, deliver narcotics, and all other types of ill deals. The better you do in one gang, the more that gang's rivals will hate you. The more they hate you, the angrier they will get when you roll into their area. Angry gangs will simply open fire on you the minute they see you. Luckily, you've got a health meter this time around, so you can withstand a few shots before going down.
The police are also a constant factor in GTA2. In the original GTA, "the man" was content to simply set up roadblocks and hope you'd wreck your car. This time around, the 5-0 can get downright devious. They'll swerve in front of you and cut you off. They'll send a van full of armored SWAT guys your way. In later levels, the feds will pick up your trail, and, if you're really a miscreant, those cop-car roadblocks might just get replaced with tanks.
Even though the gameplay is largely the same as in the previous GTA, it's still a lot of fun. The game gives you plenty of freedom to pick which gang you ally yourself with, though if you want to actually finish a level, you're eventually going to have to side with each of the level's three gangs. Once you get tired of running errands for the gangs, it's still fun to just drive around, running people over, blowing up cars at random, mowing down innocent bystanders with your machine gun, and waiting for the cops to arrive on the scene. This gives the game a "pick up and play" style to it, so you can sit down, turn on the game, cause a ruckus for ten or 15 minutes, and go back to whatever it was you were doing before. Excelling at GTA2 takes work, since you need a ton of points to proceed from level to level. This forces you to get really good at the missions, since completing missions is the only way to get your score multiplier up. Without having all your points doubled and tripled, you could be stuck on one level for days - and you can only save the game when you complete a level. To help you score those points (and to help keep you alive), you can get a lot more weapons this time around. Now you can wield things like hand grenades, Molotov cocktails, and tasers. New guns include a shotgun, a silenced machine gun, and pistols akimbo.
Graphically, the game looks better than the PlayStation version of Grand Theft Auto, but it still falls short. The entire game is very blocky, and it runs at a less-than-breakneck speed. Even the fastest cars in the game feel sluggish. Even though the graphics may look a bit plain, the game has a great soundtrack, closely mirroring the station-style of the original game. This time around, the musical stylings are a little more modern, having been provided by Moving Shadow records.
GTA2 provides the same comically violent gameplay as that of the original. If little blocky guys peeling each other's caps with a variety of weapons easily offend you, or if exploding cars and police sirens turn you off, then don't waste your time with GTA2. However, if you loved the first game but wished there was just a bit more variety in the mission structure, then by all means steal a car, drive it down to your local game retailer, and slap around the owner until he gives you a copy. OK, it might just be easier for you to buy one, instead.