The Magic of GTA III
Truly, the Liberty City we found ourselves scrabbling around in during GTA III couldn’t be more aptly named. It was gaming’s first true dystopia. Running your finger across one of the city’s streets you would come away with grime under your fingernails, yet the streets were alive in their filth – they bustled and lived and breathed, and murdered, and stole, and, most importantly, they ignored you. They came alive with possibility but never rubbed your face in it, never concealed the corrupt foundation it all swayed on, celebrated it in fact. Though there’s been little tweaks here and there – new cities, new protagonists, and hell even new hardware – the core principals remain.
What’s urban is what’s intimate – it’s what we know and how we feel. The Liberty City of GTA III was an instant cipher for where we were: the blank cheque of a new millennium with all the stiff cynicism and fear necessary to gaze forward with any real purpose. Its billboards and in-car advertisements pointed to the ugly beneath the facade; it brought the mirror up to your face.
Some places live on in your mind, given life by a few signature images, a smell, a color; you won’t remember every single detail and crucially you won’t remember everything right, but you’ll have a vivid lie in your mind and this is far more important. It’s in this way that Liberty City excelled: it didn’t give you everything, and it wasn’t the biggest map you’d come to call home – not by a long shot – but it had character, richness, and the right combination of colors and details to deliver just the right emotional spike to the vein. Everything about it had the illusion of vastness, and of complication; when in fact what was there was simple and uncluttered. The best modern comparison is Arkham City – what it lacks in size it makes up for in teased layers of depth and character. It feels like Gotham and that’s the point. It’s the silent understanding that runs underneath it all like a current.