As you can see from the screenshots, visually GTA3 is a bit of a patchwork right now. The best likeness we could come up with was the idea of the original Driver time running on the Unreal engine, with all its associated sharpness. Unreal was always noted for having much more pronounced polygons than its contemporaries. Presumably, the latter two versions (PC and Xbox) will be optimised to take advantage of the high-end GeForce 3 display adapter from NVIDIA though. The task of rendering an entire city is quite an arduous one for a console graphics chip, which is one of the reasons GTA2 was a top-down adventure and not 3D. A lot of memory and speed will be required in order to build up an appreciable level of detail through intricate textures and a decent draw distance, and Rockstar are confident both the Xbox and PC will be able to offer that now.
The structure of the game's core missions won't be as loose as GTA 1/2, but will retain the non-linearity of those games. In total over 80 missions are apparently available, with plenty of little scrapes to complete on the side. Starting off as a lowly sprout ferrying things around for the big bosses, you'll work your way up in the organisation as the game progresses, until some say you'll be giving orders. Rockstar are keen to stress that despite the added complications of a fully three dimensional engine, GTA3 will be much more than just a pretty face, and as usual if you're not interested in the missions there will be laws to break, people to beat up, grannies to mug, and vehicles by the hundred to carjack. The living, breathing city theme remains, and as in GTA2 you are just as likely to get carjacked or beaten up as any of your hapless victims are. Thanks to the third dimension though the game will be a lot more in your face than the previous two, where you sometimes felt quite isolated from your little head and shoulders on the ground below.
Cunning Stunt Bonus!
In GTA3 simple fisticuffs on the sidewalk sounds more like a Tomb Raider subgame with punches, kicks, headbutts, all manner of weaponry and other tricks, and escaping the police won't simply be a matter of squishing them in your stolen School Bus either. This time they will dive out of the way, shoot out the tyres and cause mischief for you too. Speaking of the police, all gradations are set to return with city cops, SWAT, FBI and even the National Guard on hand. They'll chase you all over the city as well, although you can't flee the state to escape their jurisdiction yet - perhaps that's being saved for GTA4. The city itself is split into three subsections; industrial, commercial and suburban, all interconnected by a series of bridges and tunnels. Each has its own look and feel, with different kinds of buildings, cars and inhabitants. In order that your progression be staggered, you won't have full access to the city straight off, but it will come in time as you complete more missions.
Vehicles and their damage skins are said to have improved as well. There are close to 50 different rides hidden throughout GTA3, including all the old favourites - SUVs, trucks, buses, emergency service vehicles and the like. Damage can be inflicted all over the vehicles, with 18 possible damage skins per car and a number of different sound effects for everything. As in GTA2 you can play during day or night, but this time there is no tick-box option - you are in a real-time city and when the sun sets, that's when the moon comes out (logical, eh?). The time of the day will be important, as some missions will be impossible unless performed at a certain time or under cover of darkness. Joining this system for the first time is a proper weather system, including rain, fog, thunder and lightning to spice up your downtown frolics. It can all affect gameplay, making roads even more slippery for example. And finally, where would a GTA game be without a stonking soundtrack? The original spawned its own separate soundtrack CD, and the radio station feature is said to return once again, this time with a number of licensed tracks from big alternative artists. There's no doubt in our minds that GTA in 3D had to be done eventually. Let's just hope the third dimension doesn't come at the expense of gameplay, because that really would be a shame. More on GTA3 when we get to play it!