Written by: Rik

Date posted: June 27, 2007

Waiting patiently at the lights. Now that’s how you get ‘respect’ – from your fellow road users.

The original Grand Theft Auto was far from perfect, but it had a fair few features to recommend it. Here at FFG, we (well, I) particularly liked the fact that it all took place in a real working city, where you had the freedom to lark about and create mayhem for hours on end – driving recklessly, nicking flashy sports cars and selling them down at the docks, answering the ringing payphones and doing the odd mission for a bit of cash – all while trying to avoid the attentions of the police. It was pretty good fun for a while, but truth be told, the novelty eventually wore off, and the incentive to progress dwindled thanks to a few significant gameplay flaws. Anyway, there’s no need to summarise the review here – suffice to say, it was quite good, but could have been even better.

Traditionally, in the world of games at least, the aim of a sequel is usually to build on what was well received in the original while fixing whatever was broken. Unfortunately though, in making Grand Theft Auto 2, the developers have actually decided to leave most of the cruddy bits in there, while simultaneously removing most of what was good about the first game. On top of that, and as you can see from the screenshots, save for some token 3D card support, the graphics and game engine are almost exactly the bloody same. As sequels go – in fact as games in general go – GTA2 is a bit lazy, a bit disappointing, and generally a bit crap. You could stop reading here if you like, but please don’t – I’ve put at least as much effort into writing this review than went into making the game itself.

Surely there’s no law against firing your gun at a wall? Oh, there is, apparently.

Okay, maybe not, but I still don’t like the game – and here’s why. First up, for some reason they’ve changed the contemporary setting of the game and proceedings now take place ‘three weeks into the future’ – which allows a few daft sci-fi clichés to be thrown into the mix. For example, your player has just awoken from a state of ‘cryonic sleep’ having been released from prison, and the city is now run by a number of rival gangs (more on which later) who each all have their own patch, silly logo and fleet of extremely conspicuous vehicles. This kind of thing has its place, but it detracts from the real-world appeal that the original GTA had.

The graphics have also been altered to reflect this new scenario. The game defaults to a preposterous ‘dusk’ setting that means you have to play most of the game in semi-darkness, which I guess is supposed to make the whole thing seem a bit more ‘edgy’ – or something. If you turn this effect off though, the game looks pretty much identical to the first one, and the cynically-minded might suggest this is the real reason for the darkness-by-default. One area in which the graphics have changed is the vehicles, which have now been redesigned to look a bit more futuristic. In actual fact, they look a bit retro, and the police cars in particular call to mind something from one of the 90s-era Batman films. Although they look perfectly all right, from a practical point of view it’s not actually that easy to tell which of them are high-speed sporty numbers and which ones are lumbering pieces of crap. I guess this is something you can learn as you go along, but the vehicles were certainly more distinguishable from each other in the first game.

Well done me. And a nice explosion to finish.

All of this would be reduced to mere grumbling if GTA2 had actually managed to fix some of the more significant flaws in its predecessor’s gameplay. Unfortunately, though, they’re mostly present and correct. Navigation is still a bit of a bugger, there’s still no in-game map, and missions still tend to go wrong because your car gets stuck on a lamppost or a bit of the scenery. Collisions still bring you to a grinding halt, and no cars will ever, ever, flip over. While there is a mid-city save feature, it costs you a significant amount of money, and you can only do it in one specific place (a church) which you have to find yourself. Boo! On the slightly-positive side, fouling-up a mission now has less-significant consequences, and each phone will keep ringing until you manage to successfully complete the job in question.

The missions themselves are pretty similar to the ones found in GTA. The one new twist this time around is the various gangs around the city and your relationship with each of them. On release, there was lots of PR-guff about earning ‘respect’ on the streets, and this is indeed a major part of the game. Initially, you’ll be free to choose between the easiest jobs on offer in each gang – although during the course of these jobs, you’ll actually be pissing off your employer’s rivals and they may not be so willing to offer you work in the future. It quite simply, really: do a job for one gang and they’ll offer you more work, do something that pisses off a gang and they won’t. If you get confused about what you’ve done for whom, there’s a handy respect-o-meter in the top left corner of the screen throughout the game.

Picking up a couple of hoodlums. Now let’s get a-crimeing!

If this all sounds a bit gimmicky, well that’s because it is. To get jobs, you no longer answer ringing phones located in the park, you actually have to go to the HQ of the gang you want to work for…and then answer a ringing phone (eh?). While it’s true that successfully completing a mission does increase your respect with that gang, it sometimes isn’t enough to access the harder missions, which usually means you have to go down to a rival gang’s patch and gun down 20 or so gang members to ensure your respect-o-meter clicks up to the next level. The same goes for when you’re in a gang’s bad books – just go to their HQ and fire off a few rounds and you’ll eventually be forgiven. Not only is this all very silly, it also ups the body count considerably, and while the original GTA certainly allowed you to indulge a number of violent fantasies if you so wished, here there’s something about having to mow down a not-insignificant number of people every five minutes that just seems a little bit gratuitous.

Despite everything we’ve said, there’s certainly plenty of people out there who’ll get some enjoyment out of GTA2. Whether you’re one of them depends on how you got on with the previous game. So my advice is – start at the beginning and play the first one. If you really, really get into it, and by this I mean, you play it for hours and hours, do all the missions, and get pretty close to the end, then by all means try GTA2 – you’ll probably enjoy it a lot. If, on the other hand, you like some of the ideas in GTA but never really progress that far into the game itself, then playing GTA2 will be a largely pointless experience. Go straight to GTA3. Do not pass ‘GO’ and do not collect £200.