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Review: Grand Theft Auto 2

November 11, 1999
Web posted at: 8:57 a.m. EST (1357 GMT)

by Peter Olafson


(IDG) -- In Grand Theft Auto 2, developer DMA Design delivers precisely the same concept, and makes precisely the same mistake, as it did in the original GTA last year. This top-down action game is a pleasant distraction, but its lack of depth inhibits repeated play.

Like the original 1998 game (and its London '69 add-on), GTA2 is a criminal spin on police-oriented action games like APB and Hill Street Blues from the late '80s and early '90s. You're an aspiring crook, operating in a wide range of vehicles and on foot, who must make his way in the underworld by performing missions for six gangs and a mysterious corporation spread across three sequential sections of an immense city.

While wheels are provided for some of these excursions, you'll usually have to make your own ride…by forcibly extracting the present occupant of a vehicle from the driver's seat. The streets are fairly thronging in opportunities to leave tires marks on pedestrians and in vehicles to steal--from pokey sedans to sports cars to emergency vehicles to truck cabs to buses, each handling and accelerating appropriately. You'll give transport associates, distribute drugs, follow snitches, drop off bombs and put the hit on other cars while collecting advanced weapons and power-ups both practical and demented.

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Initially, you're an unknown quantity, and an organization will you offer missions only if you've accrued a sufficient level of respect (as recorded on meters in the upper-left corner) with that particular outfit. Since what pleases one outfit is likely to tick off another, you'll eventually come under fire from gangs you've rubbed out the wrong way.

And the police, while forgiving of minor traffic offenses, will give chase if you commit a crime within eyeshot--or even just rear-end a squad car a little too hard. (You'll die if you run through your five lives, but the penalties imposed if you're caught are comparatively modest: You lose your weapons and the modifier applied to the points you accumulate is cut in half...)

This sounds fun--the bad boy is always a coveted role--and, for a while, GTA2 is a rather barbaric brand of fun. You smush pedestrians. You steal cars. You elude police (or worse).

The problem: GTA2 doesn't age well. It doesn't mature or progress so much as go on. The missions get harder, the distances that must be traveled grow greater, and the targets begin to move. But the raw material of the game--an outdoor cycle of driving, running, shooting and searching--remains substantially the same, with the only variety appearing in the screen-bottom mission text. While the graphics are generally sharper--unlike GTA, GTA2 requires a 3D card--one part of the cityscape looks and plays much like any another.

Moreover, you save only at the single church on each level, only if you have $50,000 to spare, and only if you're not on a job. And while GTA2 uses a range of colored arrows to direct the player to mission objectives and the phone booths where assignments are dispensed, no arrow points to the church. An in-game map isn't provided, and the printed ones that came with the original GTA have vanished.

On the other hand, the sound is wonderful--from the basics like the low rumble of a van's engine and the profane bellows of drivers you've cut off to a musical score (playing through the radios of the vehicles you've hijacked) that should win an award for its delightful parodies of U2, punk and girl groups from the '50s and '90s.

The multiplayer game is breezy, simple fun even with just two players screeching around, dodging the cops and each other.

And GTA2 does throw out some signposts to the fascinating, complex mechanism it could become. You can haul cars to the crusher, pick up passengers as you drive a taxi (with your money total turning into a rolling meter) and ride the public transit system all over the city. The pricier cars have alarms. Ambulances respond to accident scenes, and the police response to your crimes is enjoyably elaborate. They'll try to cut you off, throw up roadblocks, call in SWAT units (who, regrettably, don't seem to add anything to the game tactically) and, eventually, call out special agents and the Army.

More of this, and these individually engaging pieces might one day add up to an engaging whole.


* Drive conservatively unless the clock is running. Cops won't nab you for running red lights or driving on the sidewalk, but if you mow down a pedestrian or rear-end them at speed, they'll be on your tail.

* Few vehicles are zippier than a police car. But the cops aren't the best wheelmen, and you often throw off pursuit with a quick 180-degree turn.

* You'll have an easier time finding the church (where you can save your game) if you leave a trail of burned-out cars at nearby intersections.

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