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Off The Shelf: Grand Theft Auto

Should it stay or should it go?

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I’ve been reorganising my house lately, which has meant making decisions about what books, DVDs and CDs to keep and which to bin. This is because I’m out of space, but also because I’ve been lugging the same collection from rented accommodation to rented accommodation for years and most of it doesn’t get touched in the months or years between moves.

This also of course means I’m making decisions about a lot of PC games. For example, the first Grand Theft Auto. Should it stay or should it go?

There’s a crack on the outside of the jewel case, because what jewel case doesn’t have a crack. I like the cover, though. It’s a fish-eye photo of New York, police car and yellow cabs driving along the bottom, and the game’s logo is reminscent of ’60s car chase movies I haven’t seen.

The back introduces the game. I find these sorts of things interesting in retrospect:

Experience for yourself every classic car chase ever seen. Race at breakneck speed through an immense, living city out-running and out-witting rival gang members, mercenaries, hired killers and an entire police force. Drive dozens of varied vehicles around three of America’s toughest cities. Only the best will be able to tame the fastest cars. Only the smartest will know all the short-cuts and the whereabouts of the hottest wheels. Only the toughest will be able to take on the world and finish the job like a professional…

  • A unique, zooming, top-down view.
  • Over 6,000 km of freeways, back streets, roads, alleyways and dead ends.
  • Complete freedom of movement: no fixed track – you choose where you want to go.
  • Outrageous Hollywood style car handling.
  • 16.7 million colours.
  • A 60 minute soundtrack featuring all new music by some of today’s hottest new acts.
  • Hidden missions, secret areas and insane power ups ensure that something new is never far away.
  • Compete head-to-head in four player network games.
  • NO limitations: 100% open driving, 100% open vehicles, 100% action.

16.7 million colours! That explains the system requirements, which put the minimum at a 486 100MHz processor with 16MB of RAM.

Otherwise: how little things have changed. GTA started off promising both an open-world with total freedom and an experience reminiscent of Hollywood and “every classic car chase ever seen.”

Inside, the little teeth that hold the CD in place are broken, because what jewel case doesn’t have broken teeth. The back of the manual has the legal definition of ‘Grand Theft Auto’, which is nice. Otherwise the manual is basic, explaining how to play and what the controls are. I did like the revelation that the overhead camera is actually the “DMA News chopper flying high above the city” to bring “your nefarious behaviour” to the screen.

The disc has surprisingly few scratches on it:

When I bought it, it would have come in a much larger cardboard box, as games once did. Who knows how long ago I threw that out but I remember it had the same image on the cover as the case inside.

So: should I keep it or throw it? I haven’t read the books, but I’ve read a lot of articles like this one in the New Yorker about the current popularity of Marie Kondo’s books on tidying up. Her argument seems to be that you should keep only what “sparks joy” and throw everything else away.

This case sparks some memories, certainly. I remember either hearing or reading about GTA before release and not believing it was possible to fit a city inside a computer game. I remember that the small town in Lanarkshire that I grew up in wasn’t large enough to fit a game shop, but that for the six months that one I existed I visited it regularly, and it was there I convinced my mum to buy me this game even though it was an 18 and I was not.

I remember as well that I played GTA a lot but never advanced far with the missions. Instead I did as I think most people did and focused on creating chaos, driving fast and enjoying fleeing from the police. I liked it, but I never loved it. I’m unlikely to play it today and if I was, I’d probably just download it, since Rockstar made it available for free years ago.

So, yeah.

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Graham Smith

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Graham is to blame for all this.

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