Tag Archives: Niko Bellic

Grand Theft Auto III, my college days landmark in videogames

gta3 for the ps2 one more try

Everyone was going crazy for Grand Theft Auto V yesterday, which I guess makes total sense, considering that’s when it released to the foaming-at-the-mouth world. Personally, I’ve not been interested in GTA games for a long while, and my strongest emotions for the series revolve around Grand Theft Auto III, and that’s because I consider that–without a doubt–my college game. No other game save for Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy, which came out a year later, reminds me so strongly of my dorm days, of long weekends avoiding papers and drinking the night away. Though the latter title also makes me think of shoulder-high snow walls and a desperate grab for mac and cheese, but I’ll save that tale for another time…

In 2001, I was a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed freshman in college, a hopeful art major at that, and my suite-mates got a copy of GTA III for their PS2 the day it dropped. At that time, I was still clinging to my PS1 and treasured copy of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, but college is all about sharing, and so we’d huddle together in our tiny, cramped dorm rooms and just lose ourselves in Liberty City, each taking turns never really doing any missions. It was all about stealing cars and running from the cops and watching your vehicle fall to pieces as your getaway plan went from grand to gravel as you smashed into everything in your way. That game encouraged emergent gameplay at every turn and rewarded you with a good time laughing like loons with friends.

Last night, I decided to remind myself of those golden days, popping in Grand Theft Auto III into my still-chugging PlayStation 2. Actually, first I checked my memory cards to see if I had any saved data on them, but alas, no. Not for any of my PS2 GTA games, which is a bummer as I distinctly remember getting pretty far into Vice City. Anyways, story-wise, the game begins with the silent criminal Claude being betrayed by his girl Catalina and getting arrested. After being sentenced to 10 years in prison, Claude  is transported across a bridge in a prison truck, which the Colombian Cartels fortuitously ambush. From there, Claude escapes and makes ties with the Leone mafia crime family as he tries to build himself back up in order to find Catalina and learn why she abandoned him.

I kind of forgot how purposely blurry the cutscenes in Grand Theft Auto III are. They actually really hurt my eyes, enough so that I had to look away during the opening moments, and I have to assume that 2001 Paul saw them as amazing and cinematic. After that, I found the game easy to pick up, and just as easy to go off the rails with, which is my favorite thing to do. I did the first few missions, which all act like tutorials. You drive and pick up a hooker, you drive over to some guy and beat the life out of him with a baseball bat, and you steal a car and get it repainted so the cops won’t know any better. After that, I drove around a bit, listened to some radio chatter, and explored the streets, which are pretty barren by today’s standards. Oh, and I noticed that the cars fall apart super fast. Like, two or three hits/collisions and you’re smoking and stalling in the middle of the road. Also, Liberty City is littered with trash. I think this was Rockstar’s way to try and fill in the empty spots, but it is weird to see the same piece of newspaper flittering by Claude every five seconds. We can also blame the limitation of the PS2 though, I guess. Maybe I’ll dip back into Vice City or San Andreas at some point, too.

Anyways, back to current affairs. Grand Theft Auto V looks like fun. Really, it does. I like the idea of three main protagonists that you can bounce around from to progress the plot and take on different mission types. But there’s a rub. I absolutely hated my time with Grand Theft Auto IV–not bothering to link to any specific articles, but if you search around Grinding Down, you can certainly find some less-than-praising remarks from me about Niko and the difficulty that game throws at you unfairly–and calling back to GTA III, a lot of fun is playing the game with others and being goofy or laughing at all the mistakes. That forthcoming online aspect might be ripe for that. Or maybe not. Until then, I’m more likely to pick up Saints Row IV first, which is more my thing these days: a weird, funny game that embraces its weird and funny bits and doesn’t need a room full of onlookers to be immensely enjoyable.

Niko Bellic, the jerkiest jerk that ever jerked

Niko Bellic: Life is complicated. I… I never thought I’d live like this.
Ileyna Faustin: No?
Niko Bellic: When the war came, I did bad things, but after the war I thought nothing of doing bad things. I killed people, smuggled people, sold people.
Ileyna Faustin: And you don’t worry about your soul?
Niko Bellic: After you walk into a village and you see 50 children, all sitting neatly in a row, against a church wall, each with their throats cut and their hands chopped off, you realize that the creature that could do this doesn’t have a soul.

I really do loathe him. How could someone not? The above passage–so far–is about as honest and human as Niko gets, and even then it’s not saying much. See, we’re supposed to feel bad for the 30-year-old mysterious ex-soldier pursuing “the American dream” in Liberty City, but with each subsequent mission it becomes harder and harder to take him for more than anything but a cartoony videogame avatar controlled by us to explore a city, shoot people in the face, and generally cause havoc. He is not real. He is that creature without a soul.

Some seem to think Niko’s a real charmer. Especially every girl he dates. Must be heroin in the soda. All I see is cynicism and a down-to-business attitude, which would not be the worst thing in the world…y’know, if said business was not extreme violence. He came to Liberty City to see his cousin Roman for a better life, and now he’s all tangled up in a dozen different plots, all full of murder and betrayal and heartbreak. Boo hoo. He could stop at any point. Really, there’s enough Internet cafes and TV shows to keep him busy 9 to 5. But he doesn’t because, and I’m paraphrasing here, “I need the money, and I’m good at what I do.”

That is, being Mr. Jerk.

It’s not like other protagonists for Grand Theft Auto haven’t been cruel and unkind. It’s just that this one is unwilling to be anything else. Even his chuckling is malevolent.

I suspect I’m halfway through Grand Theft Auto IV now. It’s kind of hard to tell, especially since I haven’t had a Roman-centric mission in awhile. I’m guessing those are more of the main storyline ilk while everything else I’ve been doing is like side missions and BS time. I’m trying to complete the game as straightforward as possible, saving all the silly exploration and stunt jumps for later. I’m even actively avoiding hanging out with friends in-game to keep the momentum going, but now that I think about it, we can just chalk that up to Niko continuing to be the jerkiest jerk that ever jerked.