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Video Game / Grand Theft Auto (Classic)

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And the Moral Guardians did weep...

Ah yes, the game that began what is now one of the most successful and most critically acclaimed series in all of video game history. In 1997 a studio named DMA Design (now Rockstar North), previously responsible for Lemmings, gave Grand Theft Auto to the world. In an era of violent "controversial" games like Doom and Mortal Kombat, GTA had waltzed in and stole the immoral crown.

The player is a career criminal, steals cars, kills anyone in the way, and, worse still, is free to go about this as he or she pleases. Predictably, the cries of moral outrage drew curious gamers in like moths to a flame and GTA literally sold on its reputation alone. A reputation that DMA had deliberately fuelled — they hired notorious British publicist Max Clifford to drum up controversy for the game.

The game itself is played from an overhead perspective of the city with the objective of earning cash. Earn enough money to progress to the next level, and new cities will be unlocked. How the player goes about this is up to them, since points are earned by stealing cars, murder and general mayhem. The story-based missions aren't required to progress, but they do provide the largest source of income. Basically a watchdog's nightmare.

In 1999, Rockstar released a "Mission Pack" for the game — basically an Expansion Pack that requires inserting the original GTA disc in order to boot up — dubbed GTA London: 1969. As it turned out, this was Rockstar's last foray into developing expansions for their little PlayStation gem, despite copies of GTA London boldly sporting the Mission Pack #1 subtitle to this day.

A second expansion, dubbed London 1961: Mission Pack #2, was released for the PC, and is notable for requiring the GTA London: 1969 disc to play, making it a rare single-player expansion of an expansion. Short and quite buggy, it is not well-remembered.

Grand Theft Auto provides examples of:

  • Adam Smith Hates Your Guts: By the time you reach Vice City, the cost of repairing/respraying vehicles is ridiculously exorbitant.
  • All Gays are Promiscuous: El Burro. Not only does he constantly call you "cutie" or "pretty boy", but he eventually invites you over to his place to "thank you personally." This evidently forces you to flee to the opposite coast.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: The dossier on Bizarro World Columbo, otherwise known as Deever, shows documented instances of cannibalism during a stakeout, urinating on a superior officer's desk, theft of impounded narcotics, malicious wounding of fellow officers on five separate counts, incestuous practices, reporting for duty while drunk, alleged sodomy and enjoying all of the Police Academy movies. Monster!
  • Bad Boss: Samuel Deever, to truly absurd degrees.
  • Bald of Evil: Your first boss's main rival, Sonetti, is noted for his baldness. He later sends a bald henchman to threaten you. Sonetti himself does not appear; however, the FMV intro to Grand Theft Auto 2 showcased a bald mafia don, perhaps a callback to the original.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: According to the manual, the player's actions are being filmed live from a news helicopter, thus the top-down perspective.
  • Bizarrchitecture: Vice City's street network is an exhibit of this, and as a result the city is notoriously difficult to navigate.
  • But Thou Must!: In Vice City's second chapter, "Rasta Blasta", the Rastas give the player a choice to work either for the authorities or for them. If you choose to work for "Babylon", attempting the next mission will make you blow up a limo containing Deever's mistress (oops), and you'll have to work for the Rastas.
  • Checkpoint Starvation: None of the levels have any save points or checkpoints. If you get a game over, it's back to the start of the level you were on.
  • The Chew Toy: You, arguably. No matter how well you perform for your current boss, you'll always get run out of town for some reason or another.
  • Cluster Bleep-Bomb: When you finally meet Deever face-to-face, it's ostensibly for some well-earned praise. Instead, he launches into another round of vulgarities as cars honk in the background.
  • Dark Action Girl: The playable characters Divine, Katie, Mikki and Ulrika. They're not available in the PS version.
  • Dirty Cop: It's a little oblique, but Vice City's kingpin, Samuel Deever, is not affiliated with the Vice City Police Department. According to his online bio, he was sacked for committing a laundry list of criminal acts — however, he avoided serving any jail time because the V.C.P.D. was reluctant to sentence one of their own, and he maintains close ties with the department. His one appearance occurs directly underneath the Police headquarters. He could give a rat's ass.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: The citizens of Vice City won't settle for any ordinary car alarm, no no...
  • Dreadlock Rasta: Brother Marcus, the mellowest of gangsters you come across.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • The first game, and its London expansion packs are noticeably wackier and "video game"-esque than the more realistic 3D games that would follow. Also, along with its sequel, this game has limited continues, unlike later games' infinite continues; the player would get a literal Game Over text after wasting all continues. Also, the original Grand Theft Auto (and the sequel's Game Boy Color port) are the only single-player campaigns in the series where it is possible to play as a female character until Grand Theft Auto VI twenty-eight years later (with the exception of the PlayStation version that cut down on the number of playable characters).
    • Cheats were activated not through inputs, but by your character's name. This also meant that you could only have one cheat active per run, or only have every cheat active at once if you were playing on the PlayStation version. It wasn't until the second game when you could activate them in the middle of gameplay.
    • While the idea of multiple cities was revisited in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, it was originally done here. However it was much different. The cities were separate areas instead of being on one map.
    • San Andreas is a full-on city rather than a state housing Los Santos, San Fierro and Las Venturas.
    • The game isn't as story-driven than later games, with the Player Character just being a criminal who takes missions from a different crime boss in each city, and the missions themselves being largely self-contained. Major story developments come off as excuses to send your character packing from one city to the next as the game progresses.
    • The game's iconic Wanted level aren't stars. Rather it's heads of cops.
    • No safehouses or Ammu-Nation exist here.
    • While the game has the trademark Black Comedy the series is known for, it lacks the pointed, topical satire that would become commonplace in future entries.
    • None of the radio stations have commercials. Furthermore, most vehicles have set radio stations they can be cycled to.
  • Evil Old Folks: Chinatown's crime boss, Uncle Fu.
  • Expository Theme Tune: "Gangster Friday" (more commonly known as "Joyride", as named in GTA III), a pastiche of gangsta rap composed by DMA Design's in-house Craig Conner does a good job explaining the game's premise.
  • Game-Breaking Bug:
    • Police cruisers sometimes become stuck to the player's car during a pursuit, racking up a high collision count and exploding, killing you and them instantly. This is somewhat mitigated by sticking to the side roads and avoiding 8-lane highways when your wanted level is high.
    • In the PC version, there was a bug where entering a garage on certain missions would crash the game when the camera focused on it. A common workaround was to drive away from it, causing the camera to refocus on the player and drive back into the garage.
  • Gayngster / Meaningful Name: El Burro.note 
  • Golden Snitch: Mowing down a conga line of tambourine-playing Hare Krishnas. This is surprisingly hard to do, but you'll net a giant bonus. They were replaced by hippies and Elvis impersonators in GTA London and GTA2.
  • I Have Your Wife: Bubby's daughter and dog are kidnapped in two separate missions. Oddly, when you're sent to retrieve his daughter, it's not by gunning down the kidnappers, but by paying the ransom.
  • Inexplicable Treasure Chests: Crates containing PowerUps.
  • I Own This Town: Deever's claim regarding Vice City.
  • Invisible Block: Leading to a tank in San Andreas.
  • Mob War:
    • Bubby vs. Sonetti.
    • In San Andreas, a war erupts when No Chin (yes that's his name) tries to usurp Uncle Fu, leading to a split within the Triad families. No Chin goes on the run, and you'll have to fight through all of his loyalists to unearth him.
  • Moral Guardians: DMA basically sat down and decided to make a game that would infuriate Media Watchdogs and parent groups alike. And make a fortune off it. Needless to say, it worked.
  • Murder Is the Best Solution: Deever's answer to everything. A memorable mission involves driving one of his cadavers to an empty lot; he keeps murdering people offscreen as you drive along, requiring you to go fetch more bodies and add them to the growing pile of cars.
  • Never Bring Bruce Lee to a Gun Fight: There is a sequence in San Andreas where you have to "interrogate" No Chin's associates to make them spill his location. They mockingly shrug off your punches ("Round-Eye is trying to tickle my face!"), but run off like babies if you fire an Uzi round.
  • Nintendo Hard:
    • The final level opens with a timed mission, albeit a very manageable one. The following missions have time limits and Bullet Hells that challenge even experienced players.
    • The entire game is quite a lot harder than its sequels - the character is a One-Hit-Point Wonder, the powerful weapons are rare and can be lost easily, and failed missions can't be retried, which is made worse by the inability to save during a level.
    • Also, even a one-star wanted level doesn't dissipate on its own, and the cars explode immediately after receiving enough damage, without the catching-on-flames-first cue present in later games. Although, they get really slow and emit a weird sound when they're about to explode.
    • You only have a limited amount of lives (five). A Game Over results in you starting the entire level again.
    • Partially subverted in London 1969: most of the logistically-based difficulty factors, such as the save system, remain but the police in London don't set up roadblocks making wanted levels much less of a hassle, and while the player is still a One-Hit-Point Wonder, this is mitigated by most missions focusing on driving rather than combat.
  • No Communities Were Harmed: Liberty City, San Andreas and Vice City stand in for New York, San Francisco and Miami.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Everyone in Liberty City knows him as Bubby. However, Rockstar gives his full name as Robert Michael Peter Luke Frances Darth Bruno Seragliano.
  • Permanently Missable Content: Missions that are failed cannot be retrieved, unless the player wants to restart the entire level from the beginning. This is particularly annoying in later levels, because the minimum points required to beat a level becomes higher.
  • Player Nudge: Especially in the first level where newcomers might wander around for a long time without jobs.
  • President Evil: The Babylon gang is really the US Government, and is led by the President.
  • Punny Name: Too many to list. Most are fake Asian surnames (Hung Well, No Chin, Hang Yu).
  • Ranged Emergency Weapon: The basic handgun (since Fists do no damage in GTA 1 & 2), is the only weapon available in infinite amounts as the pick-ups outside Hospitals/Police Stations respawn but the messy hitboxes means shooting anyone with it is a matter of luck.
  • Ransom Drop: The boss's dog is kidnapped early on in the game. The player is sent to drop off the ransom, which is picked up by the kidnappers via boat. Unusually for a GTA game, everything goes exactly as planned — the kidnappers take the money and point the player toward the garage where the dog is being held (in the trunk of a car).
  • Recycled Soundtrack: Head Radio's countdown theme is recycled from, of all things, the music for the Tyne Tees Station Ident at the time.
  • Rewarding Vandalism: And every other crime for that matter...
  • Schizophrenic Difficulty: The intricate street map of Liberty City, with its many islands and bridges, forces the player to study the map hard to complete even some otherwise easier missions. After that, the wide streets and simple grid layouts of San Andreas and Vice City are no problem.
  • Shout-Out: All on this page.
  • Super Drowning Skills: Starting in what would be a series tradition up until San Andreas averted it, falling into the water is instant death in this game.
  • The Unintelligible: The meeting with your final boss, Brother Marcus, is a bewildering slew of Jamaican jive. The long and short of it is: You Have Completed A Great Game.
  • Unwitting Pawn: DMA Design hired publicist Max Clifford to stir up controversy in the media. The moral elite responded as they desired, giving the game all the publicity it could ever need. Many people bought the game solely because of the media outcry surrounding it. The Moral Guardians were simply pawns.
  • Video Game Flamethrowers Suck: Averted in the first GTA title. Explosions of any kind are a death sentence; your character flails about for a few seconds, then collapses into a pile of ash. In fact, the flamethrower is so potent, you're as likely to set yourself on fire while wielding it.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: The Rasta leader, Brother Marcus. (Otherwise known as Sister Elijah on Saturday nights.)

Grand Theft Auto: London 1969/1961 provides examples of:

  • Afro Asskicker: Rodney Morash, one of the player avatars, who is coincidentally featured on the loading screen and game manual.
  • The Caper: Stealing the Crown Jewels from Buckingham Palace.
  • Clock Tower: None other than Big Ben. A heist mission involves changing the time on the clock's face.
  • Creepy Twins: The Crisp Twins, a parody of the real-life Kray twins. Albert does all the talking, whilst Archie never speaks.
  • Dummied Out: The PlayStation version of the final level, "Dead Certainty", is missing two vehicle missions: one in a Myni, and one in a James Bomb.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: Like the second game, these two are one of the few that don't take place in Liberty City, Vice City, or San Andreas. Furthermore, they're the only ones that take place in a real-world city instead of a No Communities Were Harmed version thereof.
  • Empty Quiver: A stolen (and drive-able) ICBM carrier.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Your first mission is to steal a scooter as a present for the Crisps' mum.
  • Fission Mailed: Collecting a van filled with explosive sex dolls results in this. Evidently, you play the role of a Lovable Sex Maniac; Albert Crisp lampshades it when you get out of the hospital, warning you not to repeat the same offense with a second van ("I know what you're like.")
  • Forehead of Doom: Harold Cartwright. He's revealed to have once had a Beatles moptop in London 1961.
  • Gayngster: Albert Crisp.
  • Gone Swimming, Clothes Stolen: GTA '61 has you doing this to a rival gang boss, Chalkie.
  • Guide Dang It!: The final mission. Your instructions are to blow up a car, but the directional arrow only points you to where the car was previously parked. You're given no description of what the car looks like, either. (It's a green Crapi, the most commonplace heap of junk in the game.)
  • Last Chance to Quit: Lenny Smith, a rival ganglord, attempts this after you pursue him up a fire escape. Before you kill him, Smith warns that the Crisps are growing distrustful of you. As fate would have it, Smith turns out to have been Properly Paranoid.
  • Serious Business:
    • Albert is betting on a football match, but the goalie is rubbish. Solution? Drive a car inside the stadium during practice and run him over.
    • Driving van all over town to collect ingredients for Sid's picnic. And then you're expected to pick up the leftovers.
  • Stock British Phrases: The whole game's only bleedin' loaded with them! This is, of course, in keeping with its setting, a pastiche of British gangster movies.
  • Wearing a Flag on Your Head: Jug Swinger (better known as "Shaguar" in Austin Powers parlance), a Jaguar-type roadster with the Union Jack emblazoned on it.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Your first boss, Harold Cartwright, is ordered to be killed in the final level.