Eurogamer Retrospective: GTA 1

Well, my revenge shall involve a rocket launcher.

With only coincidental timing, this week I wrote about the original Grand Theft Auto for Eurogamer – Dave Jones’ game that spawned the empire that led to his creating APB. Does the top-down 1997 original stand the cruel passage of time? Is it still controversial? I write:

It’s not like gaming had been an innocent pursuit until 1997. Obviously not. But it was the year that things got noticeably controversial. (The same year also offered us another chance to mow down innocents with Carmageddon.) And when a mainstream game from DMA – who had entertained us with suicidal green and purple rodents – contains lines like, “My brother knows I’m bangin’ his wife. Waste the sonofabitch before he finds me,” it comes as quite a surprise. To go from Christmas Lemmings to people shouting about “getting pussy”… it’s like your gran revealing she used to be a porn star.

And even more!


  1. mrmud says:

    All of my innocence was taken a few years earlier by Syndicate.

  2. Ginger Yellow says:

    I’d love to see the original GTA (or more precisely, GTA London, since for some reason I never played that one) remade in the Chinatown Wars engine.

    • Garg says:

      All I remember from GTA London was the tyre screech noise was awful and was like someone scratching a black board.

    • Xercies says:

      All I remember is this line

      “Don’t mess around or i’ll give you a slap. Remember I’m the monkey and your the cheesegrater”

      To this day i still have no clue what the hell that means.

    • Cynic says:

      London had the best cheats. Being able to rapid-fire rockets out the driver-side window was the height of entertainment for months.

      My brother was apparently rather big in the modding community at the time and showed me some fun tricks you could do with changing a car’s sprite and palette.

    • Omroth says:

      Chinatown Wars was the most inexorable insult to gaming I’ve ever played.

  3. Paul O Malley says:

    The graphics and game engine hasn’t aged well, but it’s still as fun as it was back in 97… for 20 minutes.

  4. terry says:

    IIRC and I may not as its been a while, GTA started out being developed for the Amiga and DMA decided on a PSone release pretty late on, hence the clunky graphics.

  5. misterk says:

    I only ever completed the first level, and that by using a cunning exploit. In liberty city the train tracks are up above the street. So, grab yourself a gun (preferably the machine gun), then go up to the train. Get in the train. Get out of the train. Fire your gun. Repeat. As GTA had a combo accumulator, and the innocents ran onto the train tracks, this would increase your score.

    of course, after a while the police would turn up…. only they didn’t know how to climb the stairs…..

    GTA was astonishingly tough- one bullet would kill you unless you’d picked up some armour.

    • terry says:

      I only ever managed to finish the San Andreas level because my game bugged out and spawned policecars infinitely over over the river, which ratcheted up the points considerably. With the combo system it quickly gave you a 99999999 score and the glorious red text that indicated you had bested that goddamn horrible layout.

      GTA really holds up pretty well, gameplaywise. I like the goofy phonebabble when you accept missions the silly dialogue, and the Smash TV-ish announcements. Even if they did copy the original open-world masterpiece Postman Pat for the ZX spectrum (link to :P

    • airtekh says:

      Oh god, the difficulty in GTA was brutal.

      I remember when I got to vice city for the first time, I couldn’t pass a single mission; and as John says unlike modern GTAs, the missions don’t allow you a second attempt.

      I did get some enjoyment out of GTA, but I have to say I enjoyed GTA2 a lot more.

    • BAReFOOt says:

      We managed to completely empty the city! We didn’t even find a car to drive and look around until we were trough half the city on foot. It was a bus. And that’s all there was left in the city. No car, no person, not even a dog. Why? Because every car the game could manage, was piled up in a huge burning pile of police cars in the middle of the city, which still had to end burning, before the resources could be re-used for anything else. ^^ It was epic! :D

    • LionsPhil says:

      @terry: Postman Pat for the Atari ST was surprisingly awesome. Especially on Hard Mode. None of this crashing your van into a wall and then being able to just drive off again of GTA casuals, pah!

  6. rxtx says:


  7. Harmen says:

    I know the feeling. I get lost in supermarkets.

  8. Dhatz says:

    hey,the mafia II ad in background has some alignment mistake on the right part, it should be lower.
    I miss the special things like gouranga in the latest GTA.

    • Cynic says:

      “I miss the special things like gouranga in the latest GTA.”
      Me too, as does everyone I’ve talked to about it. It’s so much less of a game since 4, and more of a boring sandbox with missions where you enter an angry-man-simulator or play unrelated minigames.

  9. Xercies says:

    It surprises you how actually quite good the original GTA was and how much freedom it gave you. Also The missions where if you failed that was it but you could still carry on if you wer willing to grind is actually quite amazing if you think about it.

  10. Cooper says:

    The original GTA has better car handling than APB. What went wrong there?

  11. Martin says:

    I remember having a time-limited demo of GTA – around 15 minutes of play time or so, if I remember correctly.
    I must have played hundreds x15 minutes in top-down Liberty City… Gouranga forever!

    • Ed says:

      Same. Me and a mate used to have round-robin plays of the demo to see who could get the highest score within the time limit (7 minutes IIRC).

      The main game was very fun, if brutally difficult towards the latter half, but those 7 minute demo runs were tremendous fun.

  12. Tyler says:

    I loved this game so much. I still remember the soundtrack, and leading two hour long police chases.

  13. DrDoc says:

    Looks terrible, controls terrible and the camera makes me sick. GTA2 has aged much better and it’s also free.

  14. bill says:

    Would make a great flash game!

    I remember playing it (don’t remember if if was a demo, or a *cough* friend’s version) but I never figured out how to save, so it seemed like the game had to be completed in one sitting.

    Of course I’ve played the true-3d gtas now, and you save by going to your garage. Was this one the same, but i just missed it?

    • airtekh says:


      No, the only ‘save’ you got in GTA1 was upon completion of a ‘level’, which unlocked the next boss you were working for. This is part of what made it so difficult. You had to basically complete 1/6th of the game in one sitting, if you wanted to save your progress. (You worked for two bosses in each city, and there are three cities).

      The subsequent GTAs made sure you were able to save your progress more easily. GTA2 allowed you to save in a safehouse, but you needed money to do so.

  15. The Tupper says:

    I’m embarrassed to admit it, but up until now I hadn’t realised that there were other cities in the original GTA, despite having played it for hours.

  16. Jimbo says:

    Good shot kid, I think you got him.

  17. Freud says:

    The maps that came with the game were very handy. When involved in a police chase you pause and plan your route to the next body shop.

    I have lots of fond memories from this one. Many of the missions were quite fun (the Speed ripoff, having to slide under a bus to get access to the tank in San Andreas), running over hare krishnas and the insane killing sprees you went on when you found a frenzy thingie.

  18. bob arctor says:

    Kiiiiiiill Frenzy!

  19. kafka7 says:

    The toughest thing about the original was the top down perspective, which, ironically, made it easier to complete missions in a mid-paced vehicle than a sports car. You simply could not see ahead when going at speed so getting stuck in traffic was inevitable. In some ways this is similar to the recent GTA games in which mission completion often has a lot more to do with careful driving and a focused approach than with going beserk and attracting attention.

  20. Sigma Draconis says:

    Whenever I look back at the GTA series, I always compared the transition from GTA1-2 into GTA3 with a classic arcade game being updated and evolved with new ideas, yet keeping the same gameplay philosophies of the original. It’s apt, because as it stands, that’s pretty much what those classic top-down GTA games were — straight-up Arcade Chaos on a large scale.

    And it was mindless, violent fun! Racking up cash (essentially points on a score counter back then) by killing fellow citizens, completing missions to raise the multiplier which racked up even more cash, all to reach a score in order to move to the next area (the next stage, in the game’s sense). Then you get to do it all over again! You didn’t care if the cities were stupidly easy to get lost in or that being outside of a vehicle without body armor may as well have been suicide.

    Even though GTA1 is rough by today’s standards (GTA2 slightly less so), I think fans of the games since GTA3 should go back and give it a play. It’s worth experiencing the series’ simpler times before it became the sprawling, sandbox parody of American city life.

  21. ClassicGamer says:

    Somone has clearly never owned a Commodore.

    Sex games, Samantha Fox Strip Poker, Commando Lybia, Custers Revenge, Hitler Diktator, Ikari Warriors, Blood Sport, various sex animations, etc pp.

    The list goes on forever, and all of this way before GTA, some even before the first VGA graphics..

    So, er, yea.

    There was stuff before Lemmings. And it was just as much a reflection of humanity as it is now.
    Nowadays the media multiplier and public awareness are just infinitely more huge than when some geeks lovingly toyed with their “breadboxes”.

  22. McGregorous says:

    The first game I played multiplayer via serial cable.

    “That song was so good, I think I’m ‘gon play it again!”

  23. New Era Caps says:

    Generally I do not post on blogs, but I would like to say that this post really forced me to do so, Excellent post!