There isn't much new in Grand Theft Auto: London 1969, an expansion pack for DMA's cartoonish carjacking game. The setting makes some surface differences possible: You drive on the left, the soundtrack features music appropriate to the era (think Yardbirds and spy movie themes), and police say "you're nicked" instead of "you're busted." Other than that, the Grand Theft Auto formula remains intact: Steal some cars and commit some crimes. Unfortunately, all of the gameplay problems remain as well. And Grand Theft Auto had a lot of gameplay problems.
The original Grand Theft Auto raised some eyebrows upon its release because of its violent gameplay. You take on the role of a petty crook who wants to earn the respect of more-powerful crime bosses. To do so, you must run errands, which are usually broken up into several small tasks. These tasks usually involve picking up henchmen, destroying vehicles, assassinating enemies, or often some combination thereof. To complete your tasks, you must steal cars and drive like a madman all over the map (and sidewalks, and pedestrians), all the while avoiding (or disposing of) the police that become an increasing nuisance as you rack up the crime tally.
Leave it to your own moral barometer to decide whether or not that sounds like a good time. If it does, then you may just be able to overlook the game's faults. But the premise is the only element that makes Grand Theft Auto anything more than a top-down racing game with poor control, frustrating mission design, and mediocre graphics.
The control issue is the biggest problem with the game. First, the cars are touchy. Steering left or right sends you careening in that direction. But this isn't the problem. What makes it difficult is that almost everything in the game will stop you dead in your tracks. Brush against a wall? Stop. Hit a street sign? Stop. OK, you can run over pedestrians and some environmental objects, but the stop-and-go vehicle movement becomes irritating quickly. It becomes especially frustrating when you're trying to follow the blotchy directional pointer to your next assignment with three police cars on your tail. And why is it that when you're on foot, your body behaves like a tiny auto? Trying to run from the police is no easy task when you have to make a three-point turn and you aren't even in a car.
The control problems wouldn't be so frustrating if the missions didn't seem like they were designed for an arcade game where the sole goal is to get you to keep pumping in quarters. There's no saving except between maps, and each map can include a number of assignments and take a good deal of time to complete.
Lastly, Grand Theft Auto just doesn't look or sound that good. There are a number of resolutions to view the game in, but the fact that the view zooms in and out constantly makes it difficult to see properly at any resolution. The highest camera angle in the game makes things bearable, but even that has an annoying in-and-out shimmy when you get some good velocity going. There is a 3D accelerated (3dfx only) mode, but it's only available if you run the DOS version of the game. The music is great, and the radio effect - in which different songs are playing in different cars - is really cool. But the Charlie-Brown-adult-on-helium chattering of your mission briefings gets grating in a hurry.
Grand Theft Auto: London, 1969 does have some good things going for it. The go-anywhere, do-anything nature is its biggest plus, and if the structured assignments don't appeal to you, you can take any car joyriding and create a little crime spree of your own. There's a tangible sense of tension as you're trying to get to a safe house with the police on your back, and the way the police try to set up roadblocks is a nice touch. But Grand Theft Auto just has too many problems to make it anything more than a premise in search of a better game. All you would-be thugs out there keep your fingers crossed and hope the sequel addresses these problems.