Reviewed: June 6, 2000
Released: May, 2000
Grand Theft Auto 2 (GTA2) is the long awaited sequel to the original criminal driving game from a few years back. Now available on the Dreamcast, all of your criminal exploits can now be realized in stunning 3D graphics (actual 2.5D) and beautiful dynamical lit and colored cityscapes.
I never played the original GTA game and I approached this game with a bit of apprehension. I seldom like to play a sequel without having experienced the original, but I decided to make an exception and give it a shot. The first thing we need to clarify is that this is an "adult" game. Rated "M" by the ESRB, you won't be finding this game at Walmart or any of those other stores that are refusing to sell mature titles. The rating is not unfounded. Choked full of drugs, killing, armed robbery, muggings, assault, car-jacking, and vehicular manslaughter on a scale not seen since the last version of Carmageddon, this game is a parent's worst nightmare and an armchair felon's dream come true.
GTA2 puts you in the role of an aspiring gangster. You are plopped down into a huge living city, which is under the control of three rival gangs. As you wander the city performing various illegal acts you will start to earn respect which allows you to get more jobs with the gangs and more money and weapons, etc. Since the gangs are opposing forces in the city quite often working for one gang will reflect negatively with the other two. You may find yourself caught in the wrong part of town with dozens of rival gang members trying to "bust a cap in yo ass".
You get your missions from phone booths scattered about the city. Often your objectives are across town so "requisitioning" the appropriate vehicle will be required. Generally you can hang out at any intersection and wait for a red light then "jack" the car of your liking. The possibilities are endless and range from a wide variety of sports cars and sedans to more exotic vehicles such as limos, buses, fire engines, and even cop cars. Ditching your ride and getting a new one is essential when the police start pursuing you. If you have the funds you can also pull into one of the "chop-shops" around town and get your car painted or upgraded.
As your career in crime progresses your "Wanted Status" will slowly increase. A friendly police pursuit can quickly turn into a roadblock or helicopter pursuit. Eventually you will almost always get caught or wasted. Neither of these endings are permanent and you will find yourself outside the hospital or the police station ready for more illegal activities - usually at the expense of some cash and/or weapons.
You might think this game is an arcade game at first and in many ways it is, but as you progress through the later levels you are required to use your brain as well as your reflexes making this a strategy game for all practical purposes. If you don't plan your missions, learn the city map, and plan your escape route you will never win this game.
Controlling your man or whatever vehicle you happen to be driving can be rather difficult. The analog stick is very touchy and each of the vehicles handle differently making it practically impossible to become proficient with any one car. The limited view of the cityscape will require the sharpest reflexes to navigate the maze-like city.
GTA2 is played from a top-down perspective. The camera zooms in and out based on the speed at which you are moving. The faster you go the further ahead you can see, but it never seems far enough. You will quickly realize that memorizing important landmarks and hidden alleys is crucial to the success of your missions.
As you wander the city three colored arrows indicate the various gang territories. Once you have enough respect from a gang you can accept a "job" from a phone booth in their territory. Jobs range from blowing up a radio station to blowing up a pizza parlor because they keep screwing up the bosses' order. You can also drive the getaway car in a bank heist, supply the corner drug dealer with new product, steal a cop car to pick up an inside informant and "whack him," or just go on a killing spree in rival gang territory. The possibilities are unique and almost endless and all of the 70+ missions are extremely violent.
Purple arrows indicate mission objectives so you have a basic indication of where to go to get required items and complete your mission. Along the way you can pick up addition items such as weapons, ammo, and body armor. Scattered about the city are some fun little challenge icons where you are given x-many seconds to kill x-many civilians using x-weapon. While these don't affect the outcome of your primary mission, they are great fun and very difficult.
Even though GTA2 is presented in a top-down 2D mode there is incredible depth and a 3D feel to this game. The zooming camera is partially responsible for this effect, but the detailed and dynamic lighting and colors contribute to the 3D effect more than anything. The matchbox-like cars and tiny people moving around the city all have a life of their own and go about their business until you interfere. Walk into traffic and some cars may stop or swerve but a bus or truck will likely hit you and send you to the hospital.
Special effects are excellent. Explosions light up the surrounding buildings and police lights strobe their blue and red pulses as they speed through town. Drive down an alley and scrape the wall and sparks will fly off your car. Hit too many objects and smoke and eventually fire will billow from your vehicle. This is a good indicator to ditch your ride as it is about to explode.
The top-down perspective also presents some annoying problems. As stated earlier, the amount of zoom is determined by the speed at which you are moving and it never seems to be far enough out. This makes most car chases relatively short since you will smash up your car or get caught by an unseen roadblock all too soon. The city is also very vertical with stairs and ramps leading up to higher levels of the city. These are not always that obvious and the twitchy controls can often send your character falling off the side of the stairs.
The city is also very dark. I find this to be a popular (and annoying) trend in many of today's games. The darkness in GTA2 however is done rather nicely giving the game a dark and criminal feel. It also makes all the colored lighting stand out that much more giving the game a classic Tim Burton, Gothom City, Batman feel.
The sound in GTA2 is great and you can tell the designers put a lot of care into the soundtrack and ambient noises. Just standing in the street sounds like it would if you were standing on the corner downtown. Cars whiz by and the occasional car horn and the "Get outta the way." You will sooner or later spot the guy in the orange shirt that runs up to you and says "Give me all your money" right before you pummel him into the pavement.
The music changes based on which part of town you are in. If you are hanging out in the Yakuza section then you will get the oriental themed tunes. Whenever you carjack somebody you get some theme music based on the type of vehicle you are driving. Steal a pickup truck and you will get some country music; steal a sports car and get some rock and roll. All the music is presented under the guise of a radio station broadcast complete with a rambling Wolfman Jack DJ who frequently comments on the increasing crime wave in town.
The cars all have unique sounds and even car horns and sirens. People scream in terror and run when you whip out that flamethrower and torch a crowd of pedestrians at the crosswalk. Toss a few firebombs off the roof and listen to the satisfying explosions as parked cars explode below you while other nearby cars trigger their alarms from the shockwave.
There is something about GTA2 that is strangely addictive. I really don't like this game that much but I keep finding myself playing it. There is something that is just so easy about starting it up and taking out your frustrations on this computerized world. There are over 70 missions to complete if you want to finish this game, and the average missions can take 5-15 minutes. You will die often and get arrested even more, so you can expect to replay many of these missions until you get it right. The casual gamer can expect about 30-40 hours of gameplay. Once you've finished GTA2 (assuming you ever do) there is little reason to play it again. In reality there is little reason to play it all the way through the first time. The missions become somewhat boring and repetitive after the first 20 or so, making this a definite rent-before-you-buy title.
Grand Theft Auto 2 will certainly appeal to that certain niche in society of violence-loving adolescents and send concerned parents off to email their congressmen. Everything GTA2 offers, it offers well. It's just the few things it lacks that keep it from being the quality game Take2 Games was striving for. The lack of any real story to bind all the missions together, poor twitchy controls, and repetitive gameplay are the curse of death for any game and GTA2 is no different.
Fans of the original GTA will almost certainly love this game the moment they start it, but the violent themes that make this game any fun to play also give it the"M" rating that could keep it out of the hands of the very kids who will want to play it. You will be impressed at first then amused for the next few hours, but once the shock value of the violence and the beautiful graphics has worn off you will be left with a hard-to-control, frustrating strategy game that most of you will have to force yourself to finish.