A personal history of Grand Theft Autos

Oct 10, 2013

When I was a child, growing up in rural Kentucky… no wait, that’s another thing altogether. When I was a little kid back around the turn of the millennium, my older brother occasionally played the original Grand Theft Auto games — I forget whether 1, 2, or both — and sometimes, I tried them myself as well.

I mostly just had him find me a tank with which I would drive around the city, crushing cars and shooting down pursuing police units until the tank couldn’t take any more punishment. It was great fun, both alone and with a friend. However, I soon went through a period where I had a sort of on-off relationship with video games, and I pretty much forgot about the GTA series after that.

A few years later, I was at a friend’s house, and at the time this particular friend happened to be playing GTA: Vice City. I was immediately hooked and went to buy the game for myself shortly thereafter. Vice City was a great game in many regards, and it kept me entertained for a very, very long time. Had my friend not shown me the game, I probably wouldn’t be the GTA fan I am to this day.

As an aside, the two of us curiously tended to share the same taste in games during the PS2’s prime years; just like he introduced me to Vice City, I introduced him to both Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy X. Back then, the internet wasn’t a big thing for me yet, and the thought of reading reviews and (gasp!) actually buying games online didn’t occur to me until years later, so discovering new games was mostly by word of mouth. As much of a tech lover I am today, I was notoriously behind technologically during my early teens. I got my first mobile phone in 2006 and my first e-mail address only a few years earlier. But I digress.

After discovering that GTA III existed, I played that one as well, and it was good. Then San Andreas was announced, and I, along with a couple of friends, was absolutely ecstatic. I pre-ordered it as soon as I could, and hurried down to the store after school on release day to pick it up. What I remember most about that day is that one of the other kids who had pre-ordered it claimed to be sick on that exact day, got his mom to pick it up for him, and stayed in bed playing San Andreas the rest of the day. His condition, true or not, allowed him access to the game a few hours before everyone else, and at the time, I almost wished I didn’t have such a crippling fear of consequences for skipping class so I could do the same.

In any case, I started playing it on that day and didn’t stop for a good while. I must have inspected every nook and cranny of that game many times over, because damn, that was an amazing game. The size of the world, the endless possibilities, the music, the easter eggs, the myths about Bigfoot — and yes, I spent a good while searching for it with Mr. Release-day-sickness — all contributed to the fact that San Andreas was one of the most anticipated and most engrossing games I had ever played.

Years later, along came the PS2 port of Liberty City Stories and Vice City Stories — didn’t own a PSP yet — which were both good in their own right, if not exactly as impressive as the previous titles.

By the time Grand Theft Auto IV was announced, I was already in the possession of a PS3, and my anticipation for it was huge from the moment the first trailer hit the web. Curiously though, as excited as I was, I didn’t actually bother to pre-order it. Then, on release day in April 2008, as I watched everyone else being busy playing it, I envied them and ended up buying it at a local electronics store for an exorbitant amount of cash. But hey, it was GTA, and I was kind of desperate.

GTA IV was a very good game. However, for all its HD glory (well, 640p anyway) and realistic physics (with blatant disregard for seat belts), it had nowhere near the variety that made San Andreas so fun to explore and keep playing. For me, GTA IV didn’t last very long past the story missions. I don’t know if it was the lack of variety or that I had a larger choice of games than back in the PS2 days, but in any case, I soon stopped playing it.

Fast-forward to November 2011. By this point, I’m in the middle of my bachelor’s degree and have played both Episodes From Liberty City and Chinatown Wars, so you could say I’m up to date on the GTA front. Myself and a friend and fellow fan, whom I met at university, stay a while after class to watch the GTA V announcement trailer. The website is overloaded and the university wi-fi is unstable, but eventually, we’re able to stream the entire thing. We’re immediately super excited, even while realizing that it won’t be out for a good long while. Every moment is savored and we speculate on every aspect of the game.

And now, GTA V has been released and every GTA fan the world over breathes a sigh of relief that the game might almost have been worth the wait. I did end up pre-ordering this one, and actually managed to reach what the game considers 100% completion, though it is in reality more like 85. I like the game. It still has some of the uncool features from IV — like having to hold a button to run and a physics engine that occasionally has seizures causing jumping into a wall inflict about as much damage as being shot in the chest — but it improves on its predecessor in so many ways that it ends up being much more comparable to San Andreas, which in my opinion is something a GTA game should strive for.

So why am I telling you this overly long anecdote? Firstly, it needed to be put into context how fucking much I’ve been looking forward to Grand Theft Auto V. Secondly, as much as I want to talk about GTA, I’m pretty sure everyone already knows exactly what the latest game is about and how good it is. And thirdly, I’m a nostalgic idiot who can’t seem to ever move on from materialistic trivialities such as this.

People older than myself might scoff at being nostalgic about the last decade, but being only 22, almost half of my entire life has happened during that time. It sort of makes me feel old. Come around kids, let me tell you about my youth. We had a console that couldn’t do HD and didn’t connect to the internet! But it also didn’t have to constantly download gigantic software updates to work. Ah, those were the days.