As tempting as it is for me to put Shenmue, with its tenuous claim to not be a game of the 90s, on the pedestal again, when I think about it, the game of the decade just gone has to be Rockstar’s generation-defining crime epic. Above Metroid Prime, Resident Evil 4, BioShock, Halo, Half-Life 2… Only World of Warcraft comes close to such influence and commercial success, but I’ve never been able to get into that, so I’ll leave the celebrating of that game’s achievements to more interested parties.
Like it or not, GTA III defined gaming in the 2000s, setting the PS2 on the path to a generation of complete dominance in much the same way as one of the 90s’ iconic games, Tomb Raider, had done for its predecessor. It was a revolution, essentially launching its own genre – we still don’t seem to have a universally accepted term for the open-world crime shooting/driving genre – and becoming the talk of workplaces and classrooms all around the world. It also brought terms like ’emergent gameplay’ out of Edge columns and into a form where anyone could see what it was about. I remember chatting to people about what insanity they’d caused the night before for weeks afterwards, and in my circle a person’s achievements in GTA III almost became small talk, such was its universal popularity.
I still have so many memories about this game. San Andreas is largely lost to my memory in all but the vaguest of terms and I probably wouldn’t pass the Knowledge in Vice City, but I can remember this incarnation of Liberty City like the back of my hand. The sequels have it beaten in every respect on paper, but this one is still my favourite. This is when GTA had that sense of fun that made it famous but before it lost focus in pursuit of scope and bullet points on the box; before it started down that slippery slope of being a bit too focused on its storytelling – this essentially pointed your pleasantly silent protagonist in the right direction and let you go; before it got completely bogged down in imitating Rockstar North’s favourite films.
Were the later games better, though? Maybe you’ve got a shout with Vice City and possibly GTA IV, but this was first, and for the above reasons, it’s my favourite, and it’s undeniably the most influential – the one that started it all. Vice City was like it was made for me as a child of the 80s – well… I was born in the 80s but know that it is the greatest of all decades – and I’m a staunch defender of GTA IV against the baffling backlash that it seems to have had, and yet none of them have captured lightning in a bottle as well as this did. Even though both its PS2 sequels sold more, GTA III is the defining one. When this game came out was the moment that the PS2 generation really started, and as that has to be the console of the 2000s, surely this is that decade’s game?
I’d be interested in anyone else’s opinions and personal picks. Just for God’s sake don’t make me read another top ten of the decade.