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Ron Howard Presents: Grand Theft Auto

With the release of Grand Theft Auto IV this Tuesday I am nearly incapable of writing this blog entry because of my intense excitement. Seriously I am a total whore for Rockstar Games. Plus any game franchise based upon the 1977 Ron Howard classic Grand Theft Auto is alright in my book. Once The French Connection and Matlock are turned into games, my gaming life will be complete. In case you missed it, a video of the trailer follows:

Fortunately the folks at DMA Design Limited, the makers of the original GTA, did not try to adapt Ron Howard’s masterpiece into a game when it was made… It is strange, some might say mystical, that GTA for Playstation was released in 1997 exactly 20 years later. Even more amazing is that the game is still the awesome after more than a decade. Another video follows:

But what does this have to do with portable gaming you say? An excellent question, my most unloyal readers. PS1 LCD combo exists in a grey area of somewhat portable gaming devices. It is true that the PS1 LCD combo does keep you tethered to a power supply and requires an external controller. However, it can be stuffed in a messenger bag and has an attached screen. While certainly not handheld it is quite portable. The screen on the unit is small enough that games on the rather underpowered Playstation look pretty good even today. That said, it’s almost difficult to think of this as the 3D powerhouse that it was once considered. The lack of processing power did not hurt the tiny behemoth which was able to massively out sell the formidable Nintendo 64 almost entirely due to the amazing library of high quality and less expensive games.

The first Grand Theft Auto is a top down driving game that is so graphically simple that it might be one of the more ageless games for the 32 bit Playstation. Cars are very simple rectangles and people are merely peopleishly shaped blobs. It is completely unremarkable and looks like it could have easily been done on the SNES. I still cannot figure out which blob is supposed to be Ron Howard. Only in the Gameboy Color version of Grand Theft Auto is Ron Howard less easy to identify. The gameplay is also nothing to write home about. Firstly the control scheme for moving on foot is almost the same as driving which is weird and counterintuitive. Combat is very clunky nearly to the point of being frustrating. In addition the game is not compatible with the analogue DuelShock controller which was introduced part way thru the system’s 11 year life span. All driving is done with the + pad. That said it is still a compelling and enjoyable game. This makes no logical sense to me. I suppose the automobile physics are somewhat decent and of course the game does have the open world structure that defines the series today. This does not fully account for the fun of the game. Much like all of the games in the series it is far greater than the sum of its parts. Nearly all the elements are there that have defined the series up to now.

The PS1 LCD and original Playstation on the other hand are a bit of an anachronism in addition to not being truly easily tote-able gaming platforms. For one, many of the games that made the PS1 great had equally good sequels on the PS2. Furthermore, most PS1 games are compatible with the PS2 and possibly the PS3 which in some cases is capable of upping resolution of old games. This makes the PS1 LCD a rather nitchy device that should appeal to very few consumers not due to lack of quality games but simply because chances are that a moderately dedicated gamer probably already owns something that plays original Playstation disks.

GTA lovers have several handheld options including the afore mentioned GTA on Gameboy color which I cannot really recommend, Grand Theft Auto Advanced for the GBA, as well as Liberty City and Vice City Stories which are excellent titles on the PSP.

It bears mentioning that it is possible to emulate the PS1 on the PSP and play the original GTA this way. If however you are one of the jerks who has downloaded the leaked GTA IV game, Ron Howard is going to come to your house and shoot you in the face.


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  2. Ah, Grand Theft Auto...Opie's movie for Roger Corman. I'm stoked about GTA IV too, but I have neither a PS3 or an XBOX360.

    Always thought if they were going to do a "racing game" they should base it on the movie Vanishing Point.