Before Carmageddon, Postal, or Kingpin shocked and mortified parents and congressman alike, a small title entitled Grand Theft Auto was released upon an unsuspecting public. Right off the bat, it doesn't take a genius to tell what the game is about; you play as bad guys who stole cars to do bad things with them. It quickly won the hearts of more than a few gamers, who reveled in this opportunity to be a common street thug out to do no good. This is not surprising, however, because to most, though they won't openly admit it, it was a dream come true. And now with the aforementioned gangster games all the rage, DMA Design (DMA) went to work on a sequel to their sleeper hit, appropriately entitled Grand Theft Auto 2 (GTA2), and promised us an improvement over the original. But I must be honest and say that it wouldn't have been much of an accomplishment even if they had pulled it off.
For the uninitiated, GTA2 puts you in the role of a small-time street thug, who wants to join up with a big-time organization and do some real damage. There are quite a few gangs for you to choose from, but you start off with three crime organizations to work for: the Yakuza (Japanese Mafia), the Loonies (Redneck gang), and the Zaibatsu (an immoral corporation that has its hand in everything). You have to pick one to join up with, find one of the pay phones they use to assign jobs and, of course, complete these jobs. The more you complete with one gang, the more they "respect you". Unfortunately, it also means that rival gangs are more likely to hate you, but thems the breaks in the life of the underworld. The idea of building up loyalties and rivalries was what tempted Chi and I to review this game, but the execution of this aspect and everything else is botched beyond belief.
DMA has a design philosophy that stresses gameplay over graphics, which was how they got away with 2D overhead graphics in the original Grand Theft Auto (GTA). Unlike the original, the gameplay in GTA2 is nonexistent; in fact, it quickly becomes a study on how to be derailed from your path while simply going from point A to point B. If DMA wanted simplified controls, then I would salute them for such an intention, but DMA's button configurations was certainly not the solution. I cannot explain fully how unnatural it feels to use the X button to move forward and then the triangle button to move backward (whether in a car or on foot). It's even more bizarre that there wasn't an option to use the analog joystick that is already attached to most PlayStations (in this country) nor even one to use the D-pad that comes standard with all controllers. And don't get me started on their exclusion of vibration in such an action-oriented game. Sure DMA tries to offer four different button configurations, but none of them are any better than another.
The obstacles thrown in my path only further complicate matters. Whether it's narrow alleyways or congested traffic, getting around usually resulted in tons of damage to my car. After spending a pretty penny to get my ride rigged with weapons and a new paint job (to throw cops off my trail), it was a pain to have to lose the car once it was rendered inoperable. Here, the option to hop from car to car (on most missions) is welcome and necessary, but it really makes me wonder why they included the option to build up a car at all. The pedestrians walking the streets can also get to be a real nuisance because it was nearly impossible to avoid them. I could swear that some of them deliberately ran under my car to get me in trouble. It didn't matter whether it was a regular citizen or a mob ally that was in my way, if I was in a car, I knew I would run over them eventually. It was too hard to decipher who was a law-abiding citizen and who was a gun-toting hooligan; the 2D graphics and the distant, overhead camera are to blame for this. Running over the pedestrians would mean more heat from the cops and, sometimes, I would run over my own mob guys, which would lead to lost "respect" from within my own gang and this, eventually, would make me public enemy number one.
The final insult is the amount of walking that is expected of me. Driving with any control scheme in GTA2 is challenging, but walking is downright impossible. The most natural thing for me to do during an adventure part of the game was to reach for the D-pad or analog stick, but it seems DMA was not concerned with doing things the easy way. Exploration was rewarded by bonus points, bonus weapons, and bonus vehicles to get into more trouble with. But the best excuse for this was the bonus missions, called Killing Frenzies, that DMA included to help me kill time. For example, in one Killing Frenzy, I had to kill a certain amount of citizens in a certain amount of time. It sounded 'fun,' but running while aiming and firing a gun and, at the same time, negotiating turns was always a struggle. I rarely ever completed those Frenzies in time and was left wondering what was their point. The lack of a map to find my way compounded with an overhead view that does its best to be counterproductive to exploration resigned me to give up on GTA2 and take early retirement from my life of crime.
One look at recent game releases tells the story of our obsession with thugs and criminals. It's been that way with movies for the longest time, just look at Robert DeNiros' Ronin and Mel Gibson's Payback. DMA Design arrived on the scene just as older gamers (and, to be honest, immature teens) were begging for something different. No game developer has done it like DMA, who are, arguably, the originators of this genre, but with GTA2 they seemed to have taken a few steps backward. I don't know what happened between then and now, but it feels like GTA2 was done by another company. The quality is substandard and the only thing that it reminiscent of the original is the premise. When it comes down to it, stripping away the gameplay, all GTA2 brings to the table is foul language, gratuitous violence, and aging 2D graphics. Once my bloodlust was quenched, GTA became a monotonous and painfully shallow game.
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