Platform: PlayStation 2Year: 2001
Original review score: 5 out of 5 Stars
Rockstar's smash-hit Grand Theft Auto III blindsided the world in 2001, selling so many copies that it almost single-handedly propelled the PlayStation 2 to hardware dominance. Its chief contributions were that it granted the player almost unlimited freedom and instantly popularized non-linear "sandbox" gameplay.
Why It Was Innovative:
"Go anywhere and do anything." That wasn't a familiar concept to gamers in 2001, who were usually given a clear starting point and finish line in their games, be it a checkered flag or a "Level Complete" message. Grand Theft Auto III hit players with a one-two punch, dropping gamers into a huge virtual city that completely abandoned the concept of levels and rules. With a sprawling 3D Liberty City sitting at their fingertips, players were suddenly free to explore at their own pace, take on amusing side quests, look for Hidden Packages...or if, they wanted, beat up civilians and blow up the cops. For the first time, anything was possible.
As it turned out, the idea of doing anything proved irresistible to players, who oftentimes ignored GTAIII's central storyline missions in favor of simply goofing around. GamePro senior editor Sid Shuman remembers his first experience with Grand Theft Auto III: "I remember playing GTAIII for the first time and feeling like I had been struck by lightning. I knew right away that I was seeing a revolution, and that the effects would be huge for the industry." Revolutionary, but also influential: for years following GTAIII's release, dozens of new games adopted the same sandbox play style that GTAIII had perfected. But it was a testament to Rockstar North's talent that virtually all of these games were revealed to be shallow clones that lacked the wit and vision of the originator.