If video games were like the mafia, Grand Theft Auto 3 would be the Godfather.
Carjackings, murder, prostitution and a total disregard for public safety are on full display.
Extremely violent? Yes, but such is the life of a street thug working his way to the top in organized crime.
The newly released PC version of GTA3 brings more expansive levels and some visual polish to the top-selling crime game, which has been available for Playstation2 consoles since last year.
You begin in the island of Portland, part of a three-island megalopolis called Liberty City. Armed with your fists, a baseball bat and street sense, you're hired to do crime family dirty work -- knocking off enemies, planting car bombs and escorting prostitutes between gang hideouts and night clubs.
Building your criminal savvy advances you to trickier levels on GTA3's other two islands, where time constraints and a heavy police presence can make your profession extremely difficult.
If you prefer the good side of the law, you can do that, too. Drive a fire truck, sirens wailing, to extinguish blazes, or live the exciting life of a cabbie.
Good or bad, you'll get paid for every job you complete. Harder tasks reward you with bigger payoffs and better weapons.
The city is complete down to the tiniest details: pedestrians lumber about the sidewalks, sometimes getting into petty arguments with each other. Traffic jams spur horn-blowing and shouting matches. Even scraps of newsprint swirl about as you ply through the streets.
The freeform nature of movement is perhaps GTA3's best and most revolutionary aspect.
The PC version is better than the PS2 version in about every respect. The graphics are sharper and more vibrant and the streets have fewer dead ends.
You're also not limited to the preset radio stations in the vehicles you obtain through theft or violence. I loaded a playlist of my favorite MP3s and went cavorting through the city, electronica tunes blasting.
Another plus: the controls. You can use a game pad and play GTA3 as you would on a console, but the PC's mouse-keyboard combination is far more precise and customizable.
Unfortunately, there's still one maddening hangover from the PS2: limited game saves. Instead of saving the game whenever I wanted, I had to drive to my hideout, park my vehicle, then save.
This brash $49.99 game isn't shy about using system resources, either. The publishers and Rockstar Games recommend a 700 megahertz processor, 128 megabytes of memory and the latest in high-end graphics cards.
There's no doubting the exceedingly violent nature of GTA3. Parents definitely should keep their kids away from this one.
This is an adult game, akin to movies like "Taxi Driver" and "Goodfellas."
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