Why Grand Theft Auto 3 Deserves a Remake

Rockstar is getting ready to celebrate Grand Theft Auto 3's anniversary, and we can think of no better celebration than a full remake of the revolutionary title.

Grand Theft Auto 3
Photo: Rockstar Games

Rockstar recently confirmed that the next-generation version of Grand Theft Auto 5 will be released on November 11 for PS5 and Xbox Series X/S, but the GTA news that’s catching everyone’s attention at the moment is this section of a recent GTA Online update blog post:

“In honor of the upcoming 20th anniversary of the genre-defining Grand Theft Auto III, we’ll have even more fun surprises to share — including some specifically for GTA Online players.”

While recent years have taught us to not get our hopes up in regards to impending GTA announcements (and GTA Online players may end up getting the bulk of any new content), players can’t help but hold out hope for some kind of new GTA release, even if it’s only the rumored remaster of GTA 3 that’s been floating around for the last few years.

However, I think that GTA 3 deserves more than a remaster and a couple of themed GTA Online items. To be more specific, I think that GTA 3 deserves a remake on the level of Resident Evil 2 and 3‘s recent remakes, or even a remake as ambitious as Final Fantasy 7. You may be saying “Oh, of course it does,” but the reason that GTA 3 deserves a full remake is less about how great it would be to play any kind of even vaguely new GTA game and is more about how GTA 3‘s worst qualities deserve to be fixed just as its best qualities deserve to be celebrated.

GTA 3 is the Most Important and Influential Game of the Last 20 Years

I was lucky enough to get GTA 3 as a Christmas present in 2001, and I’ll never forget describing the game to a friend. I was trying to explain how you could steal nearly any car and then drive around the city in it, but he just couldn’t understand. He kept assuring me that I must be mistaken and that you could only steal some of the cars and that taking one somehow loaded a “driving level.”

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At a time before “sandbox” and “open-world” became shorthand for that kind of experience, GTA 3 was just this game that people had always dreamed of but still seemed to be years away from actually being possible. While there were open-world games before GTA 3, nearly all of them made compromises designed to help hide the fact that they couldn’t quite offer the nearly seamless free-roaming experience that they sometimes presented themselves as.

After years of false starts and false promises largely caused by technological limitations, GTA 3 was suddenly just there and waiting to be experienced. It wasn’t just that the game offered a large area to walk around in; it was the fact that the game successfully convinced us that you really could do anything in that world. Of course, it managed to convince us anything was possible because it actually made so much possible.

More importantly, GTA 3 was an action-adventure game whereas so many notable early “open-world” games were RPGs that depended on slower gameplay to compensate for the inherent limitations of their worlds. Even better, GTA 3 was a full-blown crime epic released at a time when you could count the worthwhile crime video games that had ever been released on one hand. It wasn’t just the scope of the chaos; it was the chaotic nature of the entire idea and the way that the game’s open-world design allowed Rockstar to realize that vision in a way that no other format could have.

While you could certainly argue that the modern gaming industry is a little too obsessed with open-world titles and have made them feel more standard by turning them into the standard for Triple-A design, you can trace most of the key elements of Triple-A game design in 2021 to GTA 3. It was a bolt of lightning that made us ask new questions about what was possible, and it made every other developer in the industry spend the next 20 years looking for the answers to those questions.

Honestly, the game deserves a proper remake on the basis of its historical significance alone.

GTA 3 Still Does Some Things Better Than Any Other GTA Game

Most people talk about GTA 3 as a historically significant game above all else for reasons we’ve already discussed and reasons that we’ll soon talk about, but GTA 3 really does do some things better than any GTA game since.

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While I’d argue that GTA 3 still has the best talk radio station in any GTA game (Chatterbox’s script lives rent free in my mind) and some of the most memorable side characters in GTA history, the game’s biggest asset is undoubtedly its “pure” sandbox style.

As the 3D evolution of the original GTA titles, GTA 3 retained the more chaotic nature of those original games. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever spent as much time running around and getting into trouble in a GTA game as I did with GTA 3. Granted, that has something to do with the lack of sidequests and other distractions found in later GTA games, but there’s something to be said for how GTA 3 was clearly designed with open-world chaos in mind.

The GTA 3 may have been experimenting with a more cinematic style that would later play a bigger role in the GTA series, but years later, it’s easy to be fond of GTA 3‘s more arcade-like nature if for no other reason that so many of the great open-world games that followed would struggle to replicate the simple pleasures of the game’s often cheat code fuelled chaos.

Speaking of which…

GTA Vice City “Replaced” GTA 3 a Little Too Quickly

Considering that it’s been eight years since GTA 5 was released, it’s incredible to think that GTA Vice City was released just one year after GTA 3 and improved upon the previous game in a lot of notable ways.

While you’ll never hear me bad mouth GTA Vice City for more than a minute, it’s always been a little tragic that Vice City‘s ’80s vibes, world-class soundtrack, and high-profile voice actors made Vice City a viable GTA 3 replacement at a time when we were still processing how revolutionary GTA 3 truly way.

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Again, that’s mostly because GTA Vice City was a better overall game than GTA 3, but that’s kind of the point. Rockstar so quickly addressed so many of GTA 3‘s problems with Vice City that it feels like we barely had time to talk about GTA 3‘s characters, settings, most memorable lines, fun quirks, and all the little things that simply didn’t exist in Vice City.

Maybe it’s inevitable that a remaster or remake of GTA 3 will ultimately just make people ask for a remake or remaster of Vice City, but in a way, that’s all the more reason to remake GTA 3. While you could give Vice City a new coat of paint and earn the praise of many GTA fans, GTA 3 needs a little more love to properly stand out in the modern era and feel like the revolutionary game that it very much was.

To put it another way, Vice City was (in a lot of ways) already a kind of remaster or reimagining of GTA 3, which is part of the reason it was so successful. It let Rockstar use the core design principles they established with the previous games and focus on the embellishments and intangible elements that would put Vice City over-the-top. What I really want to see is how Rockstar can enhance the core GTA 3 experience with help from the knowledge of everything they’ve learned and accomplished since it was released.

A GTA 3 Remake is the Best Way to Return to Liberty City

When most people talk about GTA 6‘s map, they tend to focus on its potential size (as well as the game’s location) and their hope that GTA 6 will be significantly bigger than GTA 5. While that’s certainly understandable, it’s a little sad to think that escalation in that area of game design mean that we might never get another GTA game that focuses as heavily on a single major city.

That’s honestly maybe the biggest reason why I’m rooting for a GTA 3 remake. While GTA 4 offered a glimpse at what a more modern version of Liberty City would look like, video game technology has advanced so much since then. I’d absolutely love to see what Rockstar could do if they were tasked with using the best next-gen technology to build a slightly smaller map designed to showcase an incredibly detailed version of Liberty City that may very well become the definitive portrayal of arguably the most important city in the GTA universe.

There is a “Lost” Version of GTA 3 a Remake Could Restore

In case you didn’t know, a fair bit of content was cut from GTA 3 not long before it was released. In fact, some fans have tried to restore that lost content to the PC version of the game over the years.

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Granted, it sounds like the cut content wouldn’t have drastically altered the final product, but it’s especially interesting to note that most of the content that was cut from the game was cut due to concerns related to the 9/11 attacks that occurred just weeks before GTA 3‘s intended release date. The rest of the missing content just consists of things that were lost along the way for one reason or another.

While Rockstar has said that GTA 3 would only have been about 1% different from what we eventually got if that content had been implemented, I’d still love to play the “original” version of GTA 3 via a remake that restores whatever originally cut content is appropriate.