Not to be too indulgent here, but it's no stretch to say Grand Theft Auto is one of the few titles out there that rates the kind of visceral, first-time-ever memories that people usually have of events in the real world. The first song you heard on the game's radio, isn't it bizarre that it takes you back — just like a song popular in junior high — except it takes you to a place inside a video game?
These were some of the reactions we at Kotaku had as first-time players ourselves. We'd like to hear your feelings in the comments, too.
But I think it's all because GTA, widely accepted as the progenitor of the sandbox genre, is one of the few non-RPGs to deliver a real sense of place in its virtual worlds. It's not just knowing your place on a map in a shooter, either. In the lobby of the Ocean View Hotel, with "La Vida Es una Lenteia" playing on a scratchy radio, you are in Vice City, 1986, and there's always a beat up Oceanic parked out front, that you can get in to drive to Rosenberg's office in Washington Beach. Go north, first left, right at the T-intersection. That sort of thing.
It helps that all of the titles have been evocative of real cities, of course. But even in the fictional wastelands of Bone County, for me one of the real powerful memories is standing under a moonlit sky and watching the contrails of passing jets overhead and feeling almost like I was having the greatest summer ever lived.
Here are some of Kotaku's memories of the series.
Back in the late 1990s, a friend of mine at school started telling me about this awesome game called "Grand Theft Auto." Why was it awesome? Spectacular firefights, unbelievable police chases and AI that sounded like it could kick Big Blue's arse. Flying through town at 80 mph, my crazed military friend would zig zag through traffic, think he lost the cops, and then be greeted by a barricade. Busted.
Brilliant! One day after school, he loaded the game for me to see on his PC.
This was the original top-down game. Oh, the heartbreak. Even for the late 90s it looked like shit. His criminal escapades were so much better in my head than on his 15-inch CRT.
But when GTA3 came out, I'd assumed that the series' rights had been sold to another company because it looked so amazing. For the first time, I felt like I was interacting with a real city ... in a video game. — Mark Wilson
The radio spot for Pogo the Monkey from GTA III made me realise how much detail was packed into the game. Just having commercials was impressive enough, and most of them were funny. But Pogo poked fun at platform action games, with a little dig at EA in there too — so here was Rockstar parodying the gaming industry from inside the game. I stopped whatever car I was driving in the middle of the street and switched stations trying to find that commercial again. — Noah Robischon, managing editor, Gawker Media
When I first started working at Kotaku, we'd get like three or four emails daily that were like "Can I haz Hot Coffee code, kthanxbai." And we got these emails pretty much everyday for months. And when we didn't get emails, I was getting IMs from strange internet people. Apparently people then didn't know how to Google very well! — Brian Ashcraft
I've never actually completed a Grand Theft Auto game. Every time I buy one I get so caught up just running around exploring, listening to music, and killing people that I don't have time to actually move the story along. When Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas came out, I literally spent 8 hours in a cul de sac, just killing anyone who happened along. — Michael Fahey
Death Row, Vice City. Most impossible, controller-throwing-fit mission ever. One night I went after it hammer and tongs, playing it nearly 24 times, I think, utterly determined to pass this roadblock. The shootout required no less than choreographed timing and movements. Even after rescuing Vance in time, I still had no shot against the relentless Sentinels, bashing me and running me off the road on the way back to the hospital. I seriously considered spawning a tank with a cheat code. And then it hit me to get in the garbage truck. I shrugged off the attack cars on the long drive back, dropping Lance off at the hospital as the sun came up — in the game and in real life." — Owen Good
My absolute favourite part is the radio, of course, to the extent my boyfriend and I have memorized some choice snippets from the "advertisements" and the talk shows. When the situation calls for it, we're prone to reciting them, much to the confusion of family and non-gaming friends. Try blurting out in the middle of your family dinner, "Dad! No one wants to hear your stupid Vietnam stories!" or, when things don't go your way, "I'll cry when I'm done killing." Classic. — Leigh Alexander
A single moment in Vice City, involving a getaway, a rainy night, an aqua-blue motorbike, pink neon lights and Jan Hammer at full volume. For a minute, I wasn't playing a game set in the 80s, I was in the 80s. Real, honest-to-goodness time travel. Can't think of another game that's pulled that off. — Luke Plunkett