See Grand Theft Auto (series) for more on the series and other games in it.
The game allows the player to take on the role of a criminal who can roam around the city freely. Various missions are set for completion, such as bank robberies, assassinations, and other crimes.
The original Grand Theft Auto is made up of a series of levels each set in one of the three cities in the game. In each level, the player has a target number of points to achieve, and five lives to attain the score.
The score counter doubles as a money meter; the player can spend this money on paint jobs and various other things. However, any money spent is of course taken away from the score, making the goal that little bit further away.
On obtaining the target number of points, the player must then drive to a certain location to complete the level, which allows progress to the next one.
Apart from that, the player is free to do whatever he wants. The player can just explore the city, cause death and destruction amid the traffic in the city, or steal and sell cars for profit, although completing a level will almost certainly require the completion of missions. Even in missions there is still some freedom, as usually the player is free to choose the route to take, although the destination is usually fixed. This level of freedom is not found in most action-based computer games.
There are various ways in which to earn the points needed to complete each level.
Some points can be earned by committing various crimes, such as ramming cars (10 points each), and killing policemen (1000 each). The more serious the crime, the more points, but also the more the police will pay attention to the player. Another way to make money is to steal cars, and sell them at the many docks around each city, usually earning several thousand points.
These activities can give the player quite a number of points but they are not sufficient to earn the millions of points needed to complete each level (unless the player has a lot of patience), so it is necessary to take on missions to complete a level. On successful completion of a mission, the player gets 'paid', a large amount of points. A typical payment is in the region of 50,000 points.
Also after completing a mission, the score multiplier is increased by 1. The score multiplier is multiplied by the normal score for something, to get the points actually awarded. For example a multiplier of 3 will mean that the player gets 3 × 10 = 30 points for ramming a car, rather than the normal 10 points. This applies for anything points are awarded for, including the payment for completing a mission.
In the Game Boy port, score multipliers are handled differently. The player can collect floating "X"es hidden in each city, that automatically add a multiplier to his score counter. The first time one is picked up it says "×2", the second time it says "×3", and so on. This only affects points gained after acquiring the multiplier. The points the player already has are unaffected, so it is in the player's best interests to seek the "X"es as soon as possible.
The three cities in which the game is set are modelled after real cities, in terms of landscape and style. They are Liberty City (New York City), San Andreas (San Francisco), and Vice City (Miami).
Those three cities later became the settings for the games Grand Theft Auto III, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, although in the last, San Andreas is expanded from a city to an American state, which contains three cities of its own: Los Santos (based on Los Angeles), San Fierro (based on San Francisco), and Las Venturas (based on Las Vegas).
In most cases, missions are started by answering telephones, although some missions are allocated on the spot, or are triggered by entering certain vehicles. Once a phone is touched, the player is stuck doing that mission until he passes or fails it, but with the cars it is different. The player is told "I've got a new job for you, if you want it. Otherwise get the hell out of my car." He then has a few seconds to jump out before that mission begins.
The payphones all stop ringing while a player is on a phone mission, but the mission cars are still available. By accepting a mission car mission the player can override a phone mission (failing it but without a failure notice) and do that mission instead, but a phone mission cannot override a car mission as the phones stop ringing.
At the start of each mission, the player will be given a series of instructions he must follow. The instructions are given in stages, so the objectives can change in a given situation.
Many of the missions involve tasks that can be completed at the player's own pace, so the player can take a leisurely pace, and observe the traffic laws, although there is always a temptation to cut corners. However, sometimes the game imposes time limits on mission completion, or there may be people giving chase, such as enemy gangsters, or the police, forcing the player to cut corners, to get to the destination on time and/or evade the pursuers. This means running red lights, driving on the sidewalk (risking running over pedestrians), and finding shortcuts.
Whilst the cities have other emergency services, as a criminal you are more likely to notice the local cops.
The police are constantly on the lookout for criminals. The player has a 'wanted' level, which reflects how much attention the police give him. At the start of the game this is at zero and the player is ignored, but when the player commits a serious crime, the police give the player more attention, and the wanted level increases, up to a maximum of four.
At wanted level one, the police tend only to give chase if they are in the area anyway, whereas at four, the police set up roadblocks on major roads, shoot on sight, and send everyone available to the player's location. The more crimes the player commits, the higher the rating goes. Also, sometimes the player automatically gets noticed, if a mission leads to someone calling the police, or in the case of bank robberies that not surprisingly put the police on full alert.
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