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Column: An ode to Grand Theft Auto

It’s that time of the decade again. At the time of writing this, we’re four days away from GTA D-day. Not that it makes much of a difference to me. As a PC gamer, my mind is subconsciously tuned to filing away “GTA excitement” in a dusty synaptic cabinet for anywhere between 6 to 12 months from the actual release date. I’d get started on a tirade about Rockstar consistently giving PC the cold shoulder, but the resulting column would end up longer than a George R.R. Martin novel. However, late release notwithstanding, I am supremely excited. Call it fanboyism if you will, but Grand Theft Auto is where gaming really began for me.

gta-3Grand Theft Auto III

A rich friend came up to me in 2002 and said with an air of annoying wealth, all-knowingness, and general douchery, “You haven’t played Grand Theft Auto or what?”

We’ve all had our favourite videogame franchises over the years, but few would disagree that the excitement that leads up to every Grand Theft Auto title is almost universal. To me, GTA is something of a unifying force in the world of gamers. Its technical brilliance, ridiculously high production values, and overall awesomeness form what is possibly the ONLY opinion that a vast majority of gamers are willing to share. Unless, of course, you work for Hillary Clinton. *takes a sip of hot coffee*

My GTA journey started much the same way as most Indian gamers. A rich friend with an overly generous “relative in the US” came up to me in 2002 and said with an air of annoying wealth, all-knowingness, and general douchery, “You haven’t played Grand Theft Auto or what?” At the time, this sounded to me like a futuristic version of the childhood favourite Chor-Police, which somehow involved a rickshaw. I must point out, at 13 years-old and with no rich aunts, my definition of cutting-edge gaming was a hilariously childish arcade game called Virtua Cop 2. So I took permission from my mother to use the internet (those were the days, huh?) and 35 hours of dial-up modem sound-effects later, found out just what GTA was all about.

gta-vice-cityGrand Theft Auto: Vice City

It made me believe that ramming into slow moving cars and pedestrians, then getting out and chasing them with a chainsaw was the most awesome thing ever.

My mind was blown. A game with an entire open city for me to explore? Stealing cars, running over people and getting chased by the police? This was the sequel to Carmageddon I’d been waiting for all my life! I have to admit, however, I didn’t finish GTA III. For two reasons. The first being, the ripped copy I procured had no audio. The second, I was too busy driving around the city blowing shit up for me to be bothered about anything else. It made me believe (and perhaps this wasn’t the best influence on my teenage years) that ramming into slow moving cars and pedestrians, then getting out and chasing them with a chainsaw was the most awesome thing ever. Now that I think about it, I think I know where my road rage stems from.

When Vice City came along a year or so later, it took the country by storm. Which is to say, around 500 people played it. I believe it’s still the most widely played and popular GTA title in the country. It’s still on display at every pirated DVD store. I’m relatively sure it’s still a bestseller at the likes of Crossword and Landmark. Just a year ago, I was on a Mumbai local train, listening to a conversation between college kids who claimed to have just discovered this “crazy new game”. Vice City’s cult status in the country, even to this day, is hilarious, but strangely heart-warming at the same time.

gta-san-andreasGrand Theft Auto: San Andreas

I’ve lost track of the hours I spent trying to clunkily control a helicopter, customising CJ to the hilt, and building an empire that truly felt like it belonged to me.

GTA IV was fantastic, with Rockstar’s Euphoria engine, and the overall realism. I’ll still never get over how shooting a stationary car’s driver would make his head collapse onto the steering wheel and make the car veer out of control. The attention to detail was the stuff of orgasm. However, as great as Niko Bellic’s journey was, it’s GTA: San Andreas that really defined, and in my books, continues to define the open-world videogame genre. As an overall package, to me it’s pretty much the most perfect videogame ever created. My fingers would tingle with anticipation every single day on my way back home from college. The sheer size of San Andreas was beyond anything I could ever have imagined in a videogame.

It’s arguably the best Grand Theft Auto story ever told, with the most memorable characters, and plot twists that were properly gut-wrenching. But it was just SO. MUCH. FUN. I’ve lost track of the hours I spent trying to clunkily control a helicopter with my keyboard and mouse, customising CJ to the hilt, and building an empire that truly felt like it belonged to me. I knew the roads of Los Santos far better than the roads of Bombay. It felt like a part of me lived there. I sound like a 13-year old with a crush, I know, but I can’t overstate the effect of San Andreas on the evolution of my taste in gami

gta-vGrand Theft Auto V

I can just never conceive a way in which a Grand Theft Auto title could disappoint me.

And it’s on that soppy, emotional note that I must state, once again, just how much I’m looking forward to wasting away another 50 hours of my life immersed in GTA V. I’ve stayed away from as many trailers and gameplay videos as I could, because I’d prefer every little thing to be a surprise, feeding the latent criminal within me. With most videogame titles I look forward to, there’s invariably a little voice in the back of my head whispering worriedly, “What if it sucks monkey balls?” I have no such issues when it comes to GTA. I can just never conceive a way in which a Grand Theft Auto title could disappoint me. It never has in 11 years, and I don’t expect that to change now. Just 6 to 12 months to go! *sobs into keyboard*

azeemAzeem Banatwalla is a writer and stand-up comedian. He spends bewildering amounts of time and money adding things with fans and blue lights to his gaming rig, refusing to play any game below the maximum visual spec. He’s a PC gaming snob, but he does occasionally miss playing old-school Sonic on his Sega Mega Drive 2. Views expressed are Azeem’s own and do not reflect those of IVG’s editorial staff.

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