If you get caught or reported for a crime, you start off with just the one policeman chasing you. But this soon climbs, eventually leading to roadblocks and heavy responses. At this point your goal is to try to fathom whereabouts in the city you are, and get yourself to a mechanics for a respray. The police, they can't cope with new plates, and even if they're waiting for you right outside will immediately abandon the chase. "Oh, sorry, exactly the same man we were just chasing. Your car has a different licence plate and therefore you're unrecognisable."
I realise that I keep making reference to getting lost. And I also know there will be some people who scream, "What are you talking about, you over-inflated buffoon! You just learn your way around!" Which means I want to speak up for those of us for whom such a goal isn't possible. You can tell who we are: we're the ones, when playing a GTA IV or Saints Row 2, will be looking almost exclusively at the mini-map everywhere we go, almost oblivious to the rest of the screen.
Look, I can get lost going up a flight of stairs. Getting back from someone's bathroom to their lounge requires intervening aid from a St. Bernard and eventually a MEDEVAC team. I spent a year driving back and forth through Bristol twice a week, along two different shortcuts a friend had taught me. A year. A full year before I realised it was the same shortcut on the same roads. I want you to understand why there are mini-maps. They're for people like me, with the geographical awareness of a wheelbarrow.
But a difficulty that perhaps affects a larger proportion of players of GTA, and possibly the most surprising aspect of the game looking back, is the finality of failing a mission.
You've got to get to 1,000,000 points to clear Liberty City. There's only about a dozen missions to get there with. So you pick up a mission to steal truck, bomb a building, then answer a phone to get the next stage. But take too long getting to that phone and you'll miss the call. This doesn't prompt a message saying, "Mission Failed" and then put you back at the start, forcing you to repeat the whole truck bombing section again. It just says "Mission Failed". And leaves you where you are.
Should you run out of available tasks without the full amount, you'll have to resort to scraping together the scraps of points available for various street crimes. Or more likely, start over. You've also got a limited number of lives, and die too often and you'll find your attempt over. No helpful checkpoint, unless you've cleared a full city area. It makes for a much more imposing challenge than those of the modern Rockstar games. Not a more difficult challenge, certainly, but the stakes are so much higher here.
The game remains extraordinary. Playing it with anything other than a keyboard still isn't really an option. While it will support controllers, including a 360 pad, they're so berserk that you'll have little fun. And it really does take some getting used to before you'll be able to control the cars at any speed. But you do get there. And then you're having quite so much fun.
There's a few things to know, though. For an awful lot of people, me included, the version created to run on modern systems has a bug that corrupts a key file every time you close it. To get it to load again you'll need GTAFixer.exe. This will also fix a silly mistake where audio files were misnamed, meaning you'd listen to police chatter on foot. And at the same link you'll find scans of the maps, and the instruction booklet. What you won't find even in there is that hitting F7 will replay your last pager message. And don't forget that F11 will let you upgrade the graphics to 1024x768.
Play in commiseration with Realtime Worlds, whose attempt to update the franchise to an online world sadly didn't work well enough. Or play because you get to squish innocent people, and thus be brainwashed as a crazed sociopath, so the tabloids have something fun to write about.