GRAND THEFT AUTO ADVANCE / Rockstar / Gameboy Advance
 
 
Gameboy Advance cartridges pack only about 16 MB on their better days, so obviously many of the finer points of GTA were going to have to be cut for this handheld port. No 3D, no radio stations, no voice acting, etc. But the original GTA for PC had none of those things and managed to do pretty well for itself.

GTA Advance tries to follow in its footsteps, down to basically copying the Liberty City map from the first game in its entirety (with a few GTA 3 elements cobbled in.) But it doesn't just lack the finer points of the series; it's lacking in basic gameplay as well.

We start out with a main character and story that are about as uninspiring as it gets in the GTA world (though I will give Rockstar credit for at least attempting to *have* a story with so little cartridge space to work with; the ongoing plot plays out with "talking head" cutscenes and there's even text dialogue in gameplay during the missions.) You play as Mike, some petty criminal apparently rescued from living on the streets by Vinnie, a small-time hood with mafia connections. Mike and Vinnie have saved up some money and plan to blow town and start life over, but a final series of missions from the Mob leave Vinnie dead and Mike on his own with almost nothing to his name. You'll do the usual routine of taking missions from a series of mission vendors while also exploring Liberty City for 100 hidden packages, rampages, street races and cars to deliver to a chop shop.
 


Navigating the world is somewhat clunky. The game attempts to do the camera pull-out when you get a car up to high speeds, but struggles with scaling (a common problem on the GBA) and can't pull out as far or transition as smoothly as the PC original could. Thus get ready for a bunch of Moderate Speed Chases through the streets of Liberty. Driving has also been simplified down to bumper car physics; cars just sort of carom off of each other and there's no indication of damage until one starts smoking. The radar-map in the corner is also singularly unhelpful for navigation; everything that's not a road is simply rendered in yellow, but that includes both impassable barriers and surfaces like grass and parking lots that you can drive across. As with the original PC version - which had no radar whatsoever - you're basically forced to memorize the whole map to survive some missions, and the map has the same annoying mazelike quality in many spots that the PC original did.

When on foot things don't really get better. Movement is just kind of weird-looking in general and there's a jerky imprecision to jacking cars (or just opening the door of your own car.) Combat has no targetting system and is really clunky; swinging the huge-arc lightsaber-esque baseball bat turns out to be a better option than using the pistol in the early going, at least until you can afford the shotgun which doesn't require pellet precision to take out enemies.

The game on the whole is a lot easier than other GTAs, thanks mostly to the total incompetence and low agression of the police. It's also a whole lot easier to spot the rampage tokens and packages in this one, which I actually consider an improvement as I hate fishing around through huge empty 3D environments in the other games for those. But I didn't get too far into this one, and the straw that broke the camel's back for me was the escort missions. Enemies hone in on the escortee and stick to them like sticky rice. If you don't manage to run them all over before the escortee gets dragged out of the car, you might as well reset the game because once on foot it's Mission Impossible as you can't hit the enemies without also hitting the escortee.

GTA Advance is fundamentally not terrible, but too many bad missions and little elements of gameplay jank add up to make it not worth bothering with.
 
 
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