The likelihood of the GameCube receiving a GTA game anytime soon grows unlikely with each cry of "GameCube is for kids," but luckily for the handheld gamers, a round of crime on the go is well at hand. Here GTA has been taken back to its roots, opting not for the 3D perspective, but the top down view found on the original PlayStation and PC games.
GTA has always stood out from other games thanks to its open ended gameplay and huge cities to explore. This aspect of GTA has been perfectly ported over onto the GBA cartridge and as soon as the game starts, veterans will feel right at home, while newcomers will easily pick up the controls, which are scribed across the screen when needed. Set in GTA 3's Liberty City, you play as Mike, the lovable thug who will kill anyone and do anything, in exchange for money to help him get out of the city he hates so much. But hey, he likes children, so he really is a nice guy at heart. But when his mate Vinnie falls to a car bomb along with all his hard earned money, Mike has to work the gangs, from the Mafia, Cartels, Yakuza's and Jamaicans to find Vinnie's killer. To be honest though, the plot is so weak, you forget about the whole revenge theme and just accept the missions from the crime bosses with little question., including racing around the city through check points, killing various people and delivering all sorts of illegal goods.
Liberty City is split into three areas which you unlock as you check off each mission one by one; Portland, New Port and Shore side. (Thought it was going to be port again didn't you?) The cities are full of traffic and pedestrians to give the busy city effect, and the various buildings, shops, warehouses and other structures are different enough in style to make the city seem real. Although the attempts at 3D cranes and aircraft tend to pull the realism down. Within the city there is usually so much going on at once that it is impressive the GBA can handle it all, as cars burn up smoke and dirt, on the street a gang wars break out. Petrol bombs are then lobbed at cars that erupt into fire, while someone lies on the street in a pool of their own blood. The various animations and touches really are cool, like running over a dead body will make your footsteps red for a few seconds and leaving skid marks on the road. A new addition to the GBA version is the ability to turn over cars either by fast ramming or sharp hand braking in heavier cars. Sadly when this is done, the car has a tendency to explode. At times though, the game encounters some very bad slow down and it is nearly always at the worst possible time. Against this is the problem that some cars are too fast for the camera to keep up with, so while the camera struggles to keep the car in the centre of the screen, oncoming traffic has made short work of you.
At times GTA Advance seems to have been a rush job, as glitches start to crawl into the light; cars mysteriously pile on top of each other, icons you need to pick up become impossible to touch and when driving parts of a vehicle just vanishes and only the road remains. Admittedly this game was made to coincide with the launch of San Andreas so given more time these glitches should have been ironed out, but their presence does make the game look shoddy.
Unfortunately the GBA version does not include the usual great radio stations found previously, but instead has rather muffled and repetitive tunes, that are individual to each car. Despite the sirens, gun shots, roaring engines and explosions all doing the correct job, GTA could be played with the volume off and it would not make a great difference. This is partially due to no voice recording in the mission cut scenes. Instead there is a portrait of Mike and his temporary employer, basically the concept art used for all the GTA games, and text underneath. What is more, the usual hilarious gritty lines of GTA have been cut out for weak stereotypical dialogues that get old after the first time. Although one saving grace, when colliding into other cars the passenger sometimes hurls abuse at you, from "I got sommin' for yo ass!" to "Watch ya 'self, man." Brilliant stuff.
As has been GTA's trademark for years, the aim of the game is to steal cars, kill people and generally irritate the police. Walk into the middle of the busy road; tap the L-button next to any car and you can steal anything from a monster truck to a nice limousine. Unfortunately at times you don't steal the car you are right next to, but the one next to it, which is a problem when that car is in fact a police cruiser. The handling of cars varies on weight; with the smaller ones being faster and agile and the bigger ones slower and harder at taking corners, but tougher against gunfire. Use of the hand brake is vital; with the help of the R button you can negotiate tight corners with ease and often pass missions with those vital seconds to spare. Which you will need as the driving has its flaws; sometimes when it seems there is enough room to manoeuvre around a car, there is actually something in that gap of space preventing movement forwards, so the car has to be realigned, which is costly especially in timed missions.
But it is not all about driving, our man Mike has to get his hands dirty by breaking out the weapons from his hideout or the gun shop Ammu-nition, anything from a baseball bat, katana, flamethrower, rocket launcher, mini gun, shotgun and Molotov cocktail can be used to score kills. After each mission is done, money will be handed out which can enable the buying of more weapons, sadly however the use of weapons is a little trickier than you expect. If one of Cisco's boys comes up and gets in your face, sadly you can't blow his face off with a shotgun. Instead you have to sprint away with the B button and shoot him as he follows. For some reason at point-blank range you cannot kill someone, contrary to original belief. This can be huge setback when fighting large numbers of thugs, and often makes the baseball bat a weapon of choice. Along with this, with some weapons you have to line up exactly to shoot someone, and by that time they are already hitting you.
Do any crime in GTA and the police will know about it and come after you. This is shown by your Wanted Level, the tally of stars on screen. One or two stars; and after a while, if you do not commit a crime, the police will forget about you, but continue and soon the SWAT Teams and army will come after you. Luckily you can hijack a tank so that is a bonus. Police Bribes are also scattered around the city, and running into one of these will take the wanted level down a notch. Alternatively if you are a wanted man, heading to the spray paint icon on your map and getting your car fixed and painted, will result in the wanted level being reset to nothing. However this all costs money, and missions can not pay for it all, so alternative incomes can be found in illegal street racing wherever you see a chequered flag, or commandeering specific vehicles and doing these bonus missions, such as rescuing people in an ambulance, taking down criminals in a police car, putting out fires in the fire engine, or just getting fares in a taxi. Bigger money is made through rampage missions, shown by the charming green skull icon. Run into one of these, and you have a time limit in which you must kill a set amount of people or do something less pleasant.
Scattered around the city are a 100 hidden items, and for each tenth item you collect a new weapon is added to your hideout. The main mission itself is challenging enough and the other bonus missions, that can increase your paramedic, vigilante and fireman levels and get your extra items, makes GTA a long haul for any gamer. The huge scope of the city itself is reason enough to continue searching just so you can see everything at least once. And even with the game done, there is nothing quite like taking a flamethrower, going on a rampage and seeing how long you can keep the police after you, without getting busted.
Controlling the cars feels easy and handles well, but the one or two set backs disrupt the gameplay more often than is acceptable. And the gun firing is really under developed and has glaring weaknesses. Nonetheless it is extremely addictive and most importantly non-stop fun.
The city, traffic and people all look great and do their job well, serving as a backdrop for the game, and are only let down by moments of clipping and vanishing acts. The mission cut-scenes are also nice additions.
Nothing ever tries to be heard, the repetitive GTA tunes are tiresome and the city background sounds tend to be forgotten easily, however it does aid with the city theme. The omission of the radio stations is a great loss, though.
The game is huge and can be played for ages on end, and still not have everything completed. With so much to collect, do and see, GTA is a GBA game that does not need multiplayer to stay played; it just needs one enormous city and the ability to do anything.
This game is nowhere near perfect, it is easy to see that it was job rushed out and not properly looked after in the ways it should have been, and while the presentation is not exceptional and there seem to be problems in most places you look, there is no denying the game is very fun and very addictive. The scope of the game makes it one that will not get boring soon, and cruising around town or blowing up stuff in a rocket launcher is simply too fun to ignore. Besides, it is the closest Nintendo will get to GTA this generation, might as well enjoy it.