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How GTA 3 changed the open-world genre completely

20 years is a long time (Image via Rockstar Games)
20 years is a long time (Image via Rockstar Games)

In honor of GTA 3's 20th anniversary, it's time to look back at how the game changed the open-world genre completely.

The New York Times once stated that GTA 3 was:

"One of the most influential and successful games ever made."

It's vital to reiterate that GTA 3 had a profound effect on the Grand Theft Auto series. Upon its initial release, the game was considered a revolutionary masterpiece.

The previous Grand Theft Auto games were successful but nowhere near the level of GTA 3. Modern gamers won't understand how brutal the transition from 2D to 3D was for many video game companies.

Not to mention, GTA 3 is an open-world game. Back then, Liberty City was considered a lively and thriving town.


GTA 3 was ahead of its time and helped revolutionize the open-world genre

The beginning of a new era (Image via Rockstar Games)
The beginning of a new era (Image via Rockstar Games)

Modern gamers might look at GTA 3 and see an open-world experience that has clunky controls and lackluster graphics. However, it's vital to assess GTA 3 when it was first released. This time period is when it established its legacy as one of the most influential video games of all time.

Open-world games have existed since 1980s, with 1984's Elite being one of the earliest examples. Later games like Shenmue also pioneered the genre in its infancy. However, GTA 3 arguably took the concept of open-world games to the next level.

It even inspired a new term known to fans as "GTA clone." Essentially, it would be a 3D open-world game with action-adventure elements. There would be vehicles to use and typically crime elements to go along with it.


Why GTA 3 succeeded

A dark open-world game with adult themes was a good combination (Image via Rockstar Games)
A dark open-world game with adult themes was a good combination (Image via Rockstar Games)

To say that GTA 3 was a success would be an understatement. It was a universally acclaimed title at the time. One of the crucial reasons for its success was the freedom endowed to the player.

It was a 3D open-world game. Coupled with that, Liberty City was dark and gritty. The characters that inhabited it were memorable, including the pedestrians. At the time, it did something that no other game could fathom. Players truly possessed unbridled freedom.

The game had a semi-linear mission sequence. However, players weren't forced to do it. Instead, they could explore Liberty City or seek weapons, armor, and other collectibles (like Rampages and Hidden Packages).

Apart from that, GTA 3 was brimming with maturity. Video games were primarily seen as a juvenile experience back then. There were adult-themed titles, but GTA 3 stood out for its excellent gameplay.

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Naturally, GTA 3 had its controversies. Some parts of the world even altered the game to be more appropriate. In a way, these issues helped generate interest in the game. It seemed forbidden, especially for younger audiences.

Not every great game reaps profits, but GTA 3 sold exceptionally well thanks to its marketing. This success led to other games looking at its structure, which eventually gave birth to the "GTA clone" concept.

Ultimately, it was an open-world game that heavily promoted freedom and differentiated itself from other titles thanks to its mature themes.


GTA 3 setting the standard for open-world games

GTA 3 is being featured in the upcoming GTA Trilogy: Definitive Edition (Image via Rockstar Games)
GTA 3 is being featured in the upcoming GTA Trilogy: Definitive Edition (Image via Rockstar Games)

To get an idea of how critically acclaimed GTA 3 is, one can look at its PS2 Metacritic score. It has a rating of 97/100, making it tied for second-highest rated game with GTA 5. For reference, those two titles are only behind GTA 4 by one point.

It's tied with Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3 as the highest-rated PS2 game on Metacritic. Not only that, but it's the sixth best-selling PS2 game of all time. Remember, the PS2 is the most successful console of all time, having sold over 155 million copies.

Two of the games on that list were GTA Vice City and GTA San Andreas. Naturally, the first game's success as an open-world experience influenced those two titles' popularity. Here is a fun fact: GTA San Andreas is number one on that list, having sold at least 17.33 million copies.

GTA 3 helped make later GTA games possible (Image via Rockstar Games)
GTA 3 helped make later GTA games possible (Image via Rockstar Games)

Just looking at the GTA series in a vacuum, it's easy to see how GTA 3's success as a 3D open-world game paved the way for later titles. Now GTA 5 exists and has sold over 150M copies, which wouldn't have been possible without GTA 3's contribution.

GTA 3 has a large sandbox environment that many modern games have since replicated. Its voice acting is top-notch, which helped differentiate itself from previous open-world titles. Back then, those types of games either had no voice acting or even a laughable attempt at it.

Likewise, those open-world games were often too linear. GTA 3 had sandbox elements, which made it innovative. Other sandbox games existed, but they weren't made in the same style as GTA 3.

A colorful cast helps make the experience that much more memorable (Image via Rockstar Games)
A colorful cast helps make the experience that much more memorable (Image via Rockstar Games)

It also helps that the game's cutscenes are less rigid than some of its video game predecessors. At times, it made the gameplay seem much more immersive.

Pioneers within the gaming industry tend to be remembered for their merits. GTA 3 changed video game culture as a whole. It introduced a 3D world that no other competitor contrived during this era. One cannot overstate how revolutionary it was. Its islands provided a unique setting that perfectly complemented the cast and gameplay.

GTA 3's initial release date was 22 October 2001, so players should remember how revolutionary it was on its 20th anniversary.

For comprehensive guides, walkthroughs, character information and more, check out SK GTA Wiki

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Edited by Sijo Samuel Paul
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