The original Grand Theft Auto was released back in early 1998 amidst a big cloud of controversy, battling the evil forces known to us all as The Censors!
The game's mission pack, London 1969, is now available on budget for Ł9.99 from Sold Out Software, and as the game was released before EuroGamer was even in a twinkle in anybody's eye, we thought now was as good a time as any to review it...
With GTA London you get thirty new vehicles to pilfer, and thirty new missions to get through. And this time around, instead of the yellow taxi filled roads of America, you get to cause merry havoc around the black cab stuffed streets of London. "Gawd blimey guv!"
Well, it's not quite as easy as that. The more crimes you commit, the more interested the police will be in making your acquaintance. Their Panda cars also happen to be the fastest cars in the game!
Once you have a mission to undertake, a little white arrow will point in the direction you have to go. Simply follow this arrow, and once you are near your target it will home in. All missions have two or more stages to them, which can range from meeting someone who has a juicy slice of information, to picking up a suitcase full of cash.
Failure to complete certain missions will result in you having to locate another phone booth to take on a new mission. And a mission can be failed for a variety of reasons. Failing to complete a task in a set time, killing a key person, or getting caught by the Police - these are just some of the sticky ends your walking crime machine will meet.
Fail the crime bosses too many times though, and you will soon be a freelancer on the roads, with no guidance whatsoever. Not the best scenario in the world, I can assure you.
Cops and Robbers
As you're tearing around London, it is inevitable that you will get a few bumps and scratches along the way.
Damage resistance varies from car to car. For example, steal a bus and this will endure a huge dose of punishment. Get inside a VW Beetle on the other hand and you will find it hard to keep it roadworthy unless particular care is taken.
If the heat from the police is getting too much, you can visit one of the few garages dotted around the map for a new lick of paint! Particularly useful if you've just used a Copper as a speed bump!
You will also notice wooden crates dotted throughout the map. Smash these by punching them, as they usually contain weapons. Yes my friends, you can even go pedestrian bashing with a machine gun! Sometimes you will need to locate a particular crate containing a more violent weapon, a rocket launcher for example. Joy!
Top Down A Downer?
GTA London adopts a top down view of everything. For the most part this isn't really too much of a problem. In fact, the way the camera pans back at high speeds, revealing more road, can be quite hair raising.
There are moments where it can be utterly infuriating though. Street obstructions such as lampposts, fences and signposts can be very difficult to distinguish at times. This results in you going from 90mph to stop in a flash, which not only serves to be highly annoying, but can also make you an easy arrest for the police.
The instant stop annoyance doesn't stop there though. You only need to slightly glance off another car or edge of a building for your car to stop dead. Fine if you've slammed into the back of something, but a mere glance shouldn't hinder your Police evasion.
The handling of the cars is very good, but with no attempt to be a driving simulation by any means. This is raw arcade we're talking here. Just get in a car and screech round those corners. Not a care in the world!
Minces and Gears
"Minces and Gears"?!? That's "eyes and ears" to those non-cockney speaking people!
It has to be said that GTA London, like the original game, is not a great looker. The graphics are highly pixelated and scrolling isn't the smoothest. You are hard pushed to see what the fuss was all about to be honest.
However, this aside, the representation of the cars and locations are very recognisable. The Union Jack painted E-Type Jaguar, for example, is particularly cool to mow down pedestrians in. Also some of the locations are easy to spot - Big Ben has never looked so pixelated .. I mean good!
What makes the game tick though is the superb music. Each car you get in will be tuned to its own radio station. This means that one-minute you will be driving along to a reggae beat, and the next some real 60's style funk. It all adds to the dodgy atmosphere of the game.
Couple the music with unrelenting arcade style play, and the graphical limitations pale into insignificance.
You can't go far wrong if you buy both GTA and the mission pack in one hit, as Ł20 will get you hours of fun. You can even link up via IPX on a LAN and duel it out with friends if the mood takes you.
A special note should also be made here on the rather excellent packaging the Sold-Out range provides you with. The game comes in a swanky cardboard outer box, which houses a Playstation style opaque blue case containing the CD and game catalogue. Budget in this case doesn't mean skimping on quality. A refreshing change.
GTA:London won't win any prizes for graphical excellence. Yes, it is unbelievably frustrating at times to come to a full stop, having not seen a lamp post looming. It can also be annoying to smash into a car you haven't been able to see due to the top-down nature of the game obscuring your view.
However, with an absolutely stonking soundtrack pumping along to the beat of super smooth arcade style gameplay, you simply have to love this game. It's old school gameplay come back to visit .. and it's wild wild fun!
9 / 10