A look back at the plot and mechanics of GTA and GTA 2. Where the main crime series began

27 September 2023
Mad Knight

Today the whole world is waiting for new bits of information about GTA 6, the series has become a living classic, and Rockstar Games — the guarantor of the result, but it was not always so. The first two parts are very strange projects that got the attention of gamers not thanks to, but rather in spite of. In this article we will discuss the plot of Grand Theft Auto and GTA 2, analyze how far the developers have gone from the initial vision, and what has remained unchanged.

What the very first Grand Theft Auto

The first GTA was an experiment, a playable concept that bore little resemblance to a full-fledged story project. Technology in 1997 did not allow Rockstar Games (then called BMG Interactive) to realize 3D-graphics, so the perspective was from above. This naturally made driving cars and generally getting oriented in the world very difficult.

In addition, Grand Theft Auto boasted a truly hardcore difficulty, which in today's reality can easily give a hundred points ahead of any "Soulslike". The whole passage was divided into chapters, to move between which allowed only after reaching a certain number of points-money. Failed tasks could not be replayed, accumulations were taken away for being caught by cops, and progress was saved only between chapters.

The average gamer could find himself in a situation where the available tasks had run out, but the required amount was still missing. The solution was quite trivial — steal and resell cars or search for currency in the open world. The fascination of such activities is easy to imagine.

If it were not GTA, but any other game with less freedom — the project would have long ago fallen into oblivion. The only thing that saved Rockstar Games' creation was the fact that no one had ever before given gamers the opportunity to do literally anything. A very simple concept turned out to be not so easy to realize. But what about the story?

You will be surprised, but in the very first Grand Theft Auto was quite a rich choice of characters. However, it did not affect the story. Our hero is an ordinary bandit, who does not care about anything but personal profit. All the quests he received over the phone from various crime bosses. This is one of those concepts that survived in different forms in absolutely all games of the series.

The missions were very diverse, from contract killings to bank robberies. However, no staging or planning, of course, has not yet been realized. All the player's activity was reduced to simple things — shooting and traveling by cars with different conditions.

Reaching the right number of points, the protagonist changed the location and the employer, cutting all ties with the previous ones. And in one of the chapters the hero was found by a corrupt prosecutor and threatened to put him behind bars if he did not cooperate. The result of such blackmail was a conflict, in which our gangster was helped by more powerful gangsters, and the prosecutor was killed. Not a very high level of drama, but for the game industry of those years — quite enough.

The ending, though, was a bit of a long shot. You make fame and money, then disappear forever. A perfect path of a maniac on the career ladder — no more, no less. But in Grand Theft Auto introduced three cities, which later became the main locations for sequels: Liberty City, San Andreas and Weiss City. If in the first part all the locations differed only conditionally, then after a few years players were able to appreciate the cities in full 3D.

In many ways, GTA laid the main pillars of the entire series. The developers quickly realized what points players liked most of all and began to actively develop them: freedom of action, interesting tasks and urban sandboxes became the hallmark of the sequels.

However, to call Grand Theft Auto a full-fledged game is a stretch. Gamer was given only a basic motivation for progression, and the high complexity made most people enjoy not progression, but rather the process itself. This is roughly how children play modern GTA today — shooting and driving cars is more interesting to them than immersing themselves in the story. Rockstar Games' creation was still far from being a real drama.

What was Grand Theft Auto 2 about

The sequel was released only two years later, in 1999, and is considered to be the weirdest game in the series. You still had to watch what was happening from above, shooting and car rides also remained, but in everything else the project changed a lot.

Locations taken from real metropolises were replaced by Anywhere-City, and the overall timeline of events shifted to the not-too-distant future. Although the official time frame of the second part was 2013, the story featured corporations, experimental weapons, clones and other attributes of real cyberpunk. At the same time, vintage cars drove on the streets, which made the setting even stranger. Probably, such experiments over time transformed into the same optional random stories, which were in abundance in GTA 5.

The choice of protagonists was removed, leaving only one protagonist — the mercenary Claude Speed. In a small explanation to the character said that Claude was hired by one of the influential factions of the city. Now he has to secretly work with others to eventually eliminate the bosses, collect money and become the king of the underworld.

The enrichment process has been reworked. The city is divided into three large neighborhoods, each ruled by one of three gangs. The gangs themselves are much larger. When you run errands, you increase the reputation of those with whom you become allies, but decrease the reputation of others.

The higher your reputation, the more dangerous missions you can take on. Phone booths for talking to NPCs and getting information about missions remained, but were now differentiated by color. Green ones meant very easy missions, yellow ones were medium, and red ones were difficult. The exploration of the area ended with a large-scale skirmish with the leaders of all three gangs.

Rockstar Games was not too creative, so they diluted the usual formula from the first part with details. For example, other criminals appeared in the city, who could rob you. The sandbox has noticeably increased in realism: often gangs faced the police without direct participation of the hero, and any of his actions always had consequences — immediately came the police, ambulance or fire truck. Even nowadays not all developers make such detailed open worlds.

Gameplay is noticeably simplified, so it became easier to fulfill the main goal of the game and accumulate the necessary amount of money. There were even saved in the church, but for 50 000 dollars. The cherished bills were given for almost any action, and if you managed to find a tank, the financial issue was solved in an hour of real time.

Although GTA 2 failed to win universal love, it was a significant step forward. The third part was revolutionary for the series, finally defining the formula for future projects. However, it was the second game that demonstrated what an open world should be like, as well as introduced a number of new mechanics that are still in use today. Only Rockstar Games decided to abandon the reputation system, although with modern graphics and a focus on story, the story of a triple agent could have become something really cool.


The first two Grand Theft Auto games are not games with an outstanding story. It was a test run and a series of linked mechanics on which young developers honed their skills. Much of what was in GTA and GTA 2 is still in the series, something has changed in form, leaving the essence unchanged, and only a small part of the developments have not passed the test of time. However, the most important thing is that everything that is happening now has a meaning. The powerful story component brought the series to a whole new stage of development, forever cementing its cult status.

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