An original, probably not enough to be called "the best".
This one is certainly different from the series from III and beyond, starting mostly at the graphics. Rather than a 3rd-person camera from behind the main character, players get to see the entire game from a bird's eye perspective.
Mainly, the story in this isn't entirely anything epic, only that you're a small-time criminal whom must take calls as a mercenary in the world of crime and gangs. Doing so will give money, a higher reputation, and more than likely a swarm of police.
In the game, the main character must go through a series of missions, and along the way will be jacking cars, beating up or gunning down targets, blowing up a police station, helping with bank heists, and a large array of other things. Sounds fun? It can be, but after half an hour of it, will become like a chore and soon enough, a drag.
Good: Realistic sounds of the city, large selection of vehicles at the tips of your fingers, good variety of weapons.
Bad: Vehicles go out of control easy, camera view can become irritatingly straining, controls are messy, long gameplay can be punishing.
Graphics: Not very bad, but still not the best. The overhead perspective wasn't a horrible idea, but the way some buildings can get in the way when you're driving on the side of a road while trying to get away from the police can drive one insane, especially if it causes one to fail at their getaway. While there isn't a whole lot to say about graphics, there is quite a bit to see as the player speeds in their vehicle and the camera zooms out.
Sound/Music: A lot of the sounds the player will hear are the casual loud noises of everyday city life. Other sounds such as horns, gunshots, sirens, crashes, engines, cussing of angry citizens and even your own sounds you can make, consisting of humourous belches and farts, only add to the large array of audio. As for the music, it ranges depending on the vehicle you take. Some play country, some rock, even rap, it all plays on the radio in the vehicle. However, per genre, it only plays one song over and over.
Difficulty: Some missions appear to be easy, while some hard, all of them only give you one try at the mission. Whether you pass or fail, you will always have to move onto the next selections of missions.
Gameplay: As an overhead action game, the primary goal is to move out of th simple life as a small-time criminal up to number-one most wanted. In doing so, you will be helping with robberies, transporting illegal material, even killing. You will be assigned different missions by answering payphones that ring and flash. As you pull them off, you must avoid getting arrested by police, or even attacked by them, and also avoid gangsters trying to kill you. Remember, in the life of crime, blood is money, and your blood counts.
Controls: Probably the biggest downer of the game is the controls. They can become irritatingly difficult to use, especially if it's your first time playing the game. Driving a car isn't as bad, but going at a high speed and next to no way of slowing the car to make it easier to maneuver can make the player steam out the ears.
Overall: It doesn't exactly take a hardcore fan of the series to pick the game up, if you can bypass the bad controls and increasingly-boring gameplay, it isn't bad all in all. I just wouldn't suggest spending 3 hours in a row playing it, you may not want to bother playing again.