Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition allows players to go through GTA 3Vice City, and San Andreas in whichever order they please, but there’s one game that should be experienced first. GTA 3 was the first 3D GTA title, bringing the series to a new level of success, and it’s no coincidence that it serves as the best starting point for players either replaying the GTA Trilogy or experiencing the new version for the first time. GTA 3 took players to Liberty City and laid the foundations for all future entries in the series, meaning it makes the most sense to start with it first.

GTA 3 was released in 2001 to commercial success and universal acclaim, becoming one of the most influential video games ever thanks to its open-world design and revolutionary sense of freedom. It made its predecessors, GTA and GTA 2, feel primitive in comparison, and every subsequent game in the series has innovated on the features it introduced. The game has been ported several times over the years, but the version included in GTA: The Trilogy has faced backlash from fans upset with its graphics and buggy gameplay. Others have appreciated the visual overhaul and control-scheme improvements made by The Definitive Edition, but regardless of whether players are playing the remasters or the original releases on the sixth generation of consoles, GTA 3 should be played first.

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While Vice City and San Andreas are beloved for their retro settings and ambitious designs, GTA 3 remains the best first stop for those considering playing through the GTA Trilogy. This is thanks to the game’s groundbreaking design, which incorporates the freedom of its open-world into the core gameplay more successfully than many of the titles and Grand Theft Auto clones it inspired. While later releases refined and streamlined its formula, GTA 3’s particular blend of unlimited player freedom and open-ended mission design is an endlessly enjoyable crash course in what makes open-world crime games so fun.

Playing Grand Theft Auto 3 is crucial to understanding the innovations of more recent GTA games, and should be the first title players experience on the GTA Trilogy. GTA 3 doesn’t include many of the features that the GTA series is now known for, such as being able to enter a large number of buildings or character customization, but it’s clear that Rockstar learned from the game’s shortcomings. Its varied and hilarious radio stations paved the way for the even-bigger soundtracks of GTA: Vice City and San Andreas, and its multitude of side activities offered a glimpse at the incredible scope of Rockstar’s later efforts, such as GTA 5 and Red Dead Redemption 2Vice City and San Andreas used GTA 3’s blueprint to finetune the franchise’s core gameplay, ultimately paving the way for the more ambitious HD Universe entries in the series, GTA 4 and GTA 5. In that sense, although GTA 3 is still loads of fun to play, experiencing it right after Vice City or San Andreas could be underwhelming, as it lacks both the cinematic scope and gameplay depth of those titles.

The first 3D Universe Grand Theft Auto game’s emphasis on freedom also makes it the perfect choice to play first. GTA 3’s Liberty City is a no-holds-barred playground that gives players open-world gameplay in its purest sense. Subsequent releases may have more set pieces and focused narratives, but GTA 3 was unique in how it let players decide how to approach missions. The game gave fewer directions, meaning that players could complete objectives on their own terms.

Although Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition has its shortcomings, GTA 3’s simplistic but effective gameplay still shines through. Without any handholding, it’s up to players to discover that an assassination target can be taken out using a car bomb or the perfect sniper shot from an adjacent roof. This is refreshing in 2021, where most action video games put players on a more linear path during missions, including those developed by Rockstar Games. This potential for creative problem solving makes GTA 3 perfect for players looking to get acclimated to the endless possibilities of the franchise’s gameplay, as well as giving them a greater appreciation for the more cinematic Vice City and San Andreas.

Next: Why Rockstar Killed The Best Version Of The GTA Trilogy

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Author: Henry McKeand