In many ways, Grand Theft Auto III s systems-based design centers the game on actions and their consequences. For instance, players are given the freedom to drive recklessly in the city and run over whatever pedestrians happen to be in their way. But if there happens to be a police officer nearby who witnesses the wanton slaughter, players will suddenly become wanted by the police for their crime (which is represented on the players wanted meter) and will need to avoid the pursuing law enforcement until their wanted level decreases. Similarly, players are able to steal any car they want in the game, but if a police officer witnesses the theft, the players wanted level will increase. Stealing a police cruiser is also possible, but the police become especially mad when players do so and will pursue them even more doggedly. Outside of just the police reacting to crimes, if players shoot a member of a gang, the other members of the gang are liable to come after them with guns blazing. Players are allowed to drive their car as recklessly as they want, careening into the sides of buildings or making insane jumps . But every time players hit something the car takes damage and, after it has sustained enough hits, will eventually blow up. Thus players are forced to make interesting and sometimes difficult choices: they can cut corners to get somewhere more quickly, damaging their ride along the way, but if they damage it too much they will find themselves without any kind of transportation. If they play it safe, their travel time will be longer and they may fail the mission. Similarly, the police make players think twice about the choices they make. Players may need a car right now to get through a mission, but there s a police officer watching. Can they outrun the cops? Or do they have time to run around the corner and try to steal a vehicle when out of sight?
Grand Theft Auto III s level design is another key component of the game that gives players meaningful choices. Though there are many mini- games and other diversions players can participate in to refine their skills or earn extra cash, the core of the game sends players on a variety of different missions. The missions are quite well set up to provide players with a good variety of goals to accomplish, all of which exploit the game s same core mechanics but reuse them in interesting ways. Players will have missions where they need to assassinate a particular enemy, steal a specific car, pick up a person or a package and drop them/it off at a second location, and so on. The missions are set up to make sure players explore all the different parts of the city, frequently crossing the whole island to accomplish a specific mission. From a level flow perspective, what s most interesting is how players can take any route they like through the city to get somewhere. Furthermore, in some missions the target of the job may move around the city space freely and unpredictably. A battle that starts outside of a specific restaurant may lead to a chase through the city that plays out differently each time the user experiences it. Some missions are timed, meaning players will need to make careful choices about what route they take or how long they let a battle play out. This makes the flow of the map in Grand Theft Auto III more like a strategy or sports game, where a battle can naturally and dynamically flow around the environment. There is no critical path to the map. GTA3 s Liberty City is so large, navigating it can be quite daunting at first, with players spending a good amount of time getting lost before they figure out their way around. This experience is much like moving to a new city and needing to learn the lay of the land. Fortunately, every inch of Liberty City is completely unique and there are plenty of distinctive landmarks for players to use to get their bearings. An innovative and useful HUD map shows players the nearby streets and smoothly zooms in and out based on the player s current velocity, making navigating the unfamiliar city much easier. And since the game s core mechanics and light physics implementation make driving a vehicle so enjoyable, players are more than willing to put in the time it takes to learn their way around since they can have such fun doing so.
More than any other action adventure title, Grand Theft Auto III is a game that causes players to tell each other tales of the amazing chase sequence they had with the police or all the improvisation they used to pull off a mission. Personally, I remember one mission where I had to kill a rival mob boss who ended up chasing me in his armored Mafia Sentinel vehicle. Our showdown had raged across various parts of the city, and my car had sustained so much damage that it was on fire and I had to abandon it. My enemy was still on my tail, and without a vehicle I was a sitting duck. I remember we were fighting near a gas station when I ditched the car, and a thug was barreling at me when I jumped over a low wall that he then smashed into. Suddenly his car had sustained more damage than I d managed to inflict by ramming him with my now-dead vehicle. He wasn t out of commission yet though, and he drove around the wall to try to run me over again, but this time I ducked behind a gas pump, which he proceeded to ram into. I managed to pull off a number of these matador-like maneuvers until his car finally exploded from all the damage it sustained, and I passed the mission. It was definitely an I couldn t do that again if I tried moment. I had passed the mission, the goal of which was completely predetermined, but the way in which I accomplished it involved a method I had come up with on the fly. I had pulled it off in a way the game s designers were unlikely to have anticipated. As a result of my involvement in the authorship of the scenario, it is one of the most memorable experiences I have ever had in a video game. These are the type of scenarios that well-implemented systems-based game design makes possible.