GTA 3 was mind blowing in 2001. It was a whole city at a time when 3D games had only just started to break out of rooms and hallways—it’s only three years removed from the original Half-Life—and unlike most games, it wasn’t sci-fi, fantasy, or kids’ stuff. It was rude. There were swears. You could run people over indiscriminately, but unlike Postal, which was purely about upsetting the media with pointless violence, it took place in a world people lived in, one that seemed to function without you.
Does GTA 3 hold up today? Probably not as well as Vice City or San Andreas, and how well they hold up is itself a question, but we’re curious to see how they feel in the remastered GTA Trilogy collection releasing later this year. Here are the moments we’re most looking forward to reliving:
Flying the Dodo in GTA 3
This isn’t as much my memory as my older brother’s, but wow, GTA 3’s first plane sure seemed like a chore to fly. Aptly named the Dodo, it was a short-winged propeller plane that was never designed to stay in the air for more than a few seconds. I wasn’t allowed to play GTA 3 when it came out (on account of being five), but I watched my older brother play a lot, and one afternoon he became obsessed with mastering the Dodo.
For hours I watched him try to jump the Dodo over a river, jamming buttons to nudge the nose into the air and tumbling into the water every time. That was basically what I thought Grand Theft Auto was for the next few years—a frustrating flight sim in which all the planes suck. Of course, the internet eventually learned how to fly the Dodo indefinitely, and even soar it high enough in the air that you can see all of the Liberty City buildings that have no tops. —Morgan Park
I was one of those Dodo pros, and spent hours exploring Liberty City from the sky. It was a fun endurance challenge—a test of patience where any big move would send you plummeting back to the ground. But with enough practice you could maintain a stable enough flight to leave the city altogether—flying over to an off-map city block known as ‘Ghost Town’, where the game’s introductory cutscene was set. —Phil Savage
Making cars fly
Cheat codes were still pretty common when GTA 3 released, and it set a great baseline standard for how much nonsense players should be able to get up to in open world games. The GTA Vice City cheats and GTA San Andreas cheats that followed kept the tradition alive—Rockstar is one of the few developers that never abandoned it—and I think I’ve spent more time messing around with cheats in GTA games than actually doing the missions. Speed up the game clock and turn on flying cars for the true GTA hard mode. —Tyler Wilde
Shout-out also to the extensive pedestrian AI cheats that let you arm every civilian, set them to riot mode, and turn the entire island into a messy survival playground. An absurdly fun way to mess around in GTA’s sandbox, it’s a shame that Rockstar’s GTA 5 cheats are so tame by comparison. —Phil Savage
Climbing into a Rhino tank
Sure, GTA games are known for their satirical writing, referential mission scenarios and expansive world building, but sometimes you just want to ignore all that and cause havoc in a sandbox city filled with things to shoot. And that’s the joy of the Rhino tank. It’s a near-indestructible beast of violence and fury—letting you roll over cars and fight off whole SWAT teams with ease. Plus you can fire it backwards to gain a speed boost, which is very silly. There’s a handful of showcase missions with the Rhino at the centre, but the real fun is just stealing one from a military base and wreaking havoc in your own time. —Phil Savage
Delivering pizzas in Vice City
As GTA pioneered the open world, minigames that expanded the possibility of what you could do were so novel, it didn’t matter if the missions were actually fun or not. Today I’d probably deliver one pizza in Vice City and immediately drop it as a boring and tedious diversion. Or hell, maybe I’d still think it was funny making Tommy with all his swagger and Ray Liotta anger hop onto a scooter to deliver pizzas at 20 miles per hour.
I remember you had to deliver dozens of pizzas in a row without running out of time to finish the quest chain, and on the final delivery with seconds to go my friend drove through the goal circle, slammed into the wall of the pizza joint, and clipped inside the restaurant, failing the mission as the timer ticked down. I laughed until I cried, and then we went and did a bunch of motorcycle jumps, because there were no motorcycles in GTA 3. It sure didn’t take much to keep us occupied for a whole summer in 2003. —Wes Fenlon
Rolling your ambulance in GTA 3
I think I can one-up Wes when it comes to tedious GTA minigames. As a GTA 3 completionist, my last task before hitting 100% was to complete all 12 levels of the Paramedic mission—picking up patients in the ambulance and dropping them off at the hospital. Each new level added an additional patient to collect, and so, by level 12, there were 12 people randomly dotted around the map. You could only pick up three at a time, and had to do so to a time limit. Oh, and the ambulance was easily the worst vehicle in the game. It’s like it wanted to be sideways, and so would take any corner slightly too tightly and it was guaranteed to roll and then—because this was GTA 3—explode. I’m not planning to 100% the game in the remaster—been there, done that—but I am interested to find out if Rockstar will stay true to the absurd challenge of these missions. Good luck achievement hunters. —Phil Savage
Becoming a business mogul in Vice City
Vice City made a whole bunch of improvements to the template set by GTA III, but—licensed soundtrack aside—the biggest to my mind was the ability to buy and own businesses, unlocking new side missions and new ways to make money. Arguably this was just an extension of the vehicle-based job missions mentioned above, but it’s the framing that made it: of Tommy Vercetti clawing his way back to the top by growing a criminal empire of his own. Suddenly there were parts of the city that were your own—and that let you smuggle, steal or counterfeit for your own benefit. Subsequent GTA games would expand on the idea—GTA Online is almost entirely based around it—but Vice City was where it made the most impact.—Phil Savage
Dogfighting in San Andreas
After trolling players with the Dodo in GTA 3, subsequent games in the series would feature planes that were much more enjoyable to fly. So much so that, once I’d finished with San Andreas, I made sure to leave my save location at Verdant Meadows—the airstrip that CJ buys during the course of the campaign. Climbing in the Hydra VTOL jet, it was a short journey to Area 69—the military base that gave you an instant five-star wanted level the moment you approached. That ensured a constant stream of planes to dogfight against—something I must have spent many hours doing just for the sheer joy of it. —Phil Savage
Recreating the Terminator 2 chase in San Andreas
A lot of the best parts of the GTA games are blatantly lifted from movies. The mission in San Andreas where Big Smoke and CJ shoot a hundred Russian gangsters and escape on a motorbike is a perfect example. You’re pursued into flood control channels for a chase like in To Live and Die in LA or Repo Man or a dozen other movies. “The LA River, for all your car-chase needs!” Then a truck smashes through a railing and joins in, recreating a scene from Terminator 2, while you sit on the back of the bike levelling up your machine pistol skill.
When the truck gets ahead it breaks down and the Russians try to use it as a roadblock. Luckily, like every truck in San Andreas it’s designed for motorbikes to use as a ramp, which is what Big Smoke does. After you jump off it the truck explodes, for absolutely no reason except that it’s cool as hell when trucks explode. —Jody Macgregor
Assaulting a train with a jetpack in San Andreas
When they aren’t just cribbing from film classics, GTA’s other memorable missions give you a fun toy to play with. Vice City gave you a remote controlled helicopter that you used to plant bombs throughout a building site—eventually bringing the whole thing down. San Andreas, meanwhile, handed you a jetpack, and asked you to raid a train full of soldiers in order to steal a jar of “green goo”. What is the goo? That’s not the point. The point is you’ve got a jetpack—good luck not getting yourself killed by it. —Phil Savage
Enjoying the music, man
Inseparable from GTA’s appeal in 3D is the licensed soundtracks and how they’re assembled. Rockstar never just signs a bunch of great songs and sticks them together: it curates individual stations around musical genres, gives the show a host, and runs its own adverts. I could go on about Vice City and the whole 80s Miami vibe for days, but the most special experiences for me were in GTA: San Andreas, which is a game with an absolutely huge map that gets quite desolate at the edges. I’ve always loved hip hop and used to play San Andreas just for the radio. I’d start up the game, get in a car, and just drive out to the sticks with Radio-X blasting out, and keep driving. Whole evenings would pass in bliss. Slowly travelling through these incredible worlds to such brilliantly and carefully assembled soundtracks is honestly the main thing I do and the main reason I love these games. —Rich Stanton