Grand Theft Auto Advance
The Grand Theft Auto series makes its debut on the Game Boy Advance, bringing all the characteristics and action the series is known for.
Way back in college (circa 1997/1998), my roommate was playing the first Grand Theft Auto, and although he loved it, I failed to see the appeal. I liked the concept, but the top-down perspective was very annoying. Flash forward to 2004, and Rockstar's just released a stand alone GTA for Nintendo's Game Boy Advance, and while it uses the same camera view that I loathed years ago, I like this game a lot! It's a great action title for numerous reasons, most importantly, because it fuses some of the old with some of the new.
The old portable GTAs were merely shoddy versions of the old ones, but GTA Advance is an all-new adventure set in the fictitious Liberty City, the location of GTA 3. The story revolves around Mike and Vinnie, two thugs working for the mob. Great friends, they work together for several missions, but in an unexpected twist, Vinnie gets smoked! Falsely accused of his friend's death, Mike gets the heck out of dodge and embarks on a mission to track down and slaughter Vinnie's killer. It's an adventure that spans three different city sections, over 300 missions, as well as numerous side quests (such as tracking down 100 hidden packages). GTA Advance is absolutely huge, meaning you'll definitely get your money's worth.
Like the first two games in the series, GTA Advance is played from a top-down perspective, and it works quite well on the Game Boy Advance. You'll never get stuck on objects, and when on the run, you (as well as your pursuers), can jump over cars. It's not the most realistic of maneuvers (you can jump a 30 foot bus), but it's very cool to do.
The point of GTA is to complete missions and cause total mayhem, and in GTA Advance, Liberty City is your own personal playground. There are numerous cars and trucks in the game and you can steal them all. Just walk up to a vehicle and tap the Left trigger and you'll toss the poor driver onto the pavement and jack their ride. All of the vehicles handle and sound different, and they take damage (and will eventually explode). Also, as in all of the GTAs, pedestrians are everywhere doing various things (like getting into gang fights), and it's your decision as to whether you should turn them into street pizza. If you do, their bodies make a satisfying squish, and their carcasses lie in a pool of their own blood, and whatever money or weapons they were carrying will be left behind for you, though it'll all disappear if you don't collect it fast enough.
Of course, you can get out of your car and beat/shoot people, but the police won't sit idly by and let it happen. Like the other games, the higher your star meter, the more intense the cops will pursue you. You can get to four stars in a hurry (though six is rather difficult), and at that point the SWAT team will try to take you out and there will be road blocks waiting for you down the street. Running from them and causing wanton destruction is cool and all, but if you're trying to complete a mission, it's best if you don't annoy them.
Speaking of missions, there are over 300, and while they're not as amusing as some of the ones found in the PS2 games, they're entertaining in their own way. Most of the time you're just tracking down enemies and killing them, though acquiring a specific car, getting a new paint job, and racing spices things up a bit. The game never gets boring, especially since the side quests from the other games make an appearance in this GBA title, in particular, the challenges you can activate if you jack a police car or ambulance. There are also 100 secret packages to discover and lots of weapons to use (including a shotgun, sub machine gun, rocket launcher, and a mini gun, among others) so don't worry about gameplay length. GTA Advance is going to keep you happy for a long, long time.
GTA Advance's graphics aren't the system's best, but they're certainly passable. Developer Digital Eclipse did a good job faking 3D on the system, as buildings, street lights, and trees rise into the sky. This effect is also seen when you flip cars and make turns. It's not real 3D that you're seeing, but it's a neat effect.
Unfortunately, the people aren't well-detailed, but that'd be impossible given the perspective as well as the Game Boy Advance hardware. However, there are several nice touches, such as Mike's bloody foot prints after he's walked through a massacre, and the splatters of crimson that appear when you run someone over. Also, the cars look great, and you can tell for the most part which real-life vehicles they represent.
While GTA Advance's sound isn't as cool as in San Andreas, the game does a good job immersing you in its world. Different music plays depending on which car you hop into, and while you can't change the stations, the game's soundtrack is fun to listen to. Also, there is a good amount of voice clips in the game, the best of which is the police radio. They'll actually call out the color of your car and where you are. Lastly, I can't talk about sound without mentioning the crunch you hear when running over pedestrians. Sometimes, you won't even need to do anything, as the determined police will plow into a group of innocent bystanders in their relentless pursuit.
Despite its good points, GTA Advance suffers from annoying flaws in its design. For starters, the game occasionally slows down when too much is going on, but it's not horrible and won't really affect the outcome of the missions. However, it's really annoying that you can't save during missions. It's not easy getting back to safe houses (there are three for each city section), and being unable to perform a quick save undermines the purpose of playing a portable game. It also takes you out of the story, because in order to be safe, you need to save after every mission.
Grand Theft Auto Advance is a quality action game packed with most of what makes its console brothers so excellent. It's brutal, bloody, and jacking all of the cars puts it way over the top. It has a couple of nagging flaws, but don't let them stop you from picking this up. It's the perfect companion game for San Andreas, and completes the ultimate two-pack gift for the holidays.
What's Hot: An all new experience that perfectly fits the license.
What's Not: You can't save during missions. Wha?!