Grand Theft Auto is the hot game from Edinburgh studio, DMA Design, to be published by BMG Interactive for MSDOS in the autumn, with a Windows port expected too. We’ve had the opportunity to play the first hour or so of the year’s hottest new British computer game. We only wish there was a way of putting videos on the internet so we could show you how it looks in motion.
Viewed from above, your pixelated people are almost like ants, running around a busy city. The scale of the urban locale – a kind of computerised version of New York, called Liberty City – is breathtaking and the freedom to explore that huge city is unprecedented. You’ll choose from a range of male or female characters to play as but all play in much the same way and your scores are recorded so that friends can compete. There’s even an option to play multiplayer over an internet connection, if you can afford the phone bill!
It can take several minutes to travel from one side of the sprawling map to the other and this is, according to the developers, only the first of three cities represented in the game.
There are no levels in the usual sense, you will receive requests to perform certain missions via a row of telephone boxes near the park. Later on, when you become a little more successful and wealthy, you’re given a thoroughly modern gadget on which to receive your quests – a pager! Completing these criminal capers will increase your multiplier and allow you to earn more points – represented here as money – all the quicker. When you reach a certain score total, you’ll be able to move on to another city.
There is a key gameplay element in Grand Theft Auto that might cause some controversy. You can earn money by causing mayhem and committing crimes. You even get paid for running over pedestrians, leaving a frightfully realistic red splat where once there was a person.
After the uproar surrounding Carmageddon recently, we can only imagine that there will be eyebrows raised at this. However, as our computer games become more and more realistic, this issue might arise more often so we’ll need to find a way to come to terms with that increasing realism. Thankfully, we can’t see a future where this kind of gratuitous carnage ever becomes a tool, used to market a game or garner free publicity. It seems to be handled here with a sense of dark humour, rather than gleeful psychopathy and that’s the only method in which we can imagine this kind of behaviour ever being acceptable in a game.
The gameplay in Grand Theft Auto is amazing. For such a huge level map, the freedom to travel anywhere and choose to do whatever you want is remarkable. It’s easy to take over control of any vehicle by hitting the Enter key. You can then use your newly acquired vehicle (there are cars and trucks – even motorcycles!) to race from one end of the city to the other. You might even want to take it to the docks area and sell it for points.
You have complete freedom of motion to turn 360 degrees, either in the vehicles or on foot, so we’re not restricted to the usual 8-directional increments of movement here.
Graphically, it’s a cut above almost anything we’ve yet seen. Especially when you consider how much detail has gone into the city that’s being represented. The top-down view zooms out and in as you drive faster or slower so you can see as much of the road ahead as you need to, without losing the fidelity of the urban setting. The sound, too is a delight, provided you have a Soundblaster compatible soundcard installed. You can even replace the game disc with an audio CD after installation and the car radios will play random tracks from your own music collection.
Grand Theft Auto is shaping up to be a wonderful experience that, although featuring some questionable moral content, should be a lot of fun for PC gamers. There’s no plan to release the game on consoles like the PlayStation or Sega Saturn just yet but if DMA Design achieve the success that their imaginative, ambitious game deserves then hopefully we’ll see it appear on those video game systems too.