Welcome to Liberty City, portable style! Rockstar teamed up with Digital Eclipse to bring out the first portable rendition of this highly accessible franchise to try and accomplish what it’s console brothers did just a few years ago. GTA: Advance is one of a few action titles on the GBA that reaches for something that it cannot be.
In keeping with what seems to be the Grand Theft Auto standard, we are treated to a modestly derivative storyline. Your homeboy gets murdered, you seek revenge, add a small plot-twist or two and viola: storyline! But we all know it is not GTA’s award winning storytelling that keeps us playing, it is the action and thrill of engaging in naughty no-no activity. The game play is exactly what you would expect it to be. Killing, thugging, robbing, stealing, car-jacking, drug running, it is all here once again. If you’re looking for a fresh GTA experience, you might be disappointed. Rockstar knows the formula that works, and they are sticking to it.
Regardless of the unwavering adherence to GTA’s standard game play style, there are some minor tweaks and adjustments that make the transition from console to portable a little bit smoother. Since this version utilizes the same 2-D/pseudo 3-D top down perspective of the flawed PS1 originals, I was expecting the same caliber of terribly awkward controls and horrendously boring activities. Nevertheless, Rockstar managed to fine-tune the character controls so you no longer maneuver on foot the same way as you would while driving. To make gunplay more user friendly, they added a strafe maneuver and a portion of the arsenal from GTA 3 makes a return with a few additions (like the coveted KATANA!).
Driving is the name of the game though. GTA: Advance tries to present a tight driving mechanic and a somewhat loaded cache of cars. But the cars suffer from lacking any real sense of weight or speed. As usual, each auto has its own strengths and weaknesses. Bigger trucks are slower but take more damage with the opposite being true for smaller cars. The feeling of speed afforded by the sportier cars is only slightly apparent on the GBA’s tiny screen. The game suffers from major frame rate reduction as you zoom along at an unrealistic 200mph. But, I guess that’s to be expected from pushing some moderately impressive 3-D models at “high speeds” on a machine designed specifically for 2-D.
The biggest complaint I have is that a majority of the 300 plus missions are nothing more than that of the simple errand-boy type. There are not many original or compelling assignments which that quickly leads to stale game play. While the monotony can be broken up by stealing some public service vehicles or searching for secret packages, these are only side quests that do little to add to the overall experience. For those of you unfamiliar, by stealing a police car, ambulance, fire truck or taxi cab, you can choose to become a vigilante, rescue worker, put out fires or escort civilians, respectively. Again, these are nothing more than mini-game style diversions, but they do add to the overall percentage of game completion on your progress screen and puts some extra coin in your pocket as well.
The GameBoy is given yet another work out in 3-D with this title. Though, by all means a 2-D game, GTA: Advance squeezes plenty of three-dimensional perspective out this tiny cart. The top down view is given a real sense of depth through the use of modeled and textured 3-D buildings and other landmarks like delivery cranes and junkyard compactors. The designs and aesthetics are easily comparable to the originals’ that debuted on the PS1. It is too bad that all of these pretty sights are marred by a terribly choppy execution. Now, a word of advice: refrain from using your GameBoy Player with this game. Oh, the horror of superfluous pixilation!
Aside from the bright, colorful in-game graphics, GTA: Advance’s menus and cut-scenes carry on with the stylized thick outlined comic-book chic set by its big brothers. While the dialogue sequences contain nothing more than motionless talking heads, they look as if they had been lifted straight from GTA 3. Some lip animations or at least having the heads address each other’s presence would have been a nice addition.
GTA: Advance has some bumpin’ tracks, but you can only feel them with some headphones or through your stereo with the help of the GB Player. But please do not subject yourself to the repulsive sights for the sake of improved sound! The game gets some props for creating a diverse and realistic feel with a few bits of random dialogue spoken from passers-by. Commentary is even given from a police scanner that details what crime you’ve committed and even what section of town you’re in. Disappointingly, the voices suffer from digitization but the sound effects are comparatively clear. The gunshots are fairly satisfying, and the squish from running down pedestrians is downright gross.
As I said before, GTA: Advance brings little or nothing new to the established style of play. The game easily becomes tedious and boring, even with three decent sized islands to explore. The storyline is banal and predictable and can hardly be thought of as an incentive to keep playing. Plus having only one save point per island all but removes the on-the-fly gaming experience that the GBA affords. On the plus side, the game is delivered in a tight and cohesive package. She looks pretty and everything about the game screams “cool.” The animations are, at times, fluid, the cities are believable and it’s honestly fun, in that mindless high-energy kind of way. Unfortunately, none of these are a saving grace for this fundamentally trite contribution to the series.
With nothing truly new or original to be offered, many hardcore gamers may be put off, but if you’re looking for light-hearted or semi-quick gaming sessions GTA: Advance is perfect. This is a game for the mainstream video game market. It is solid in that it gives plenty of what GTA is known for; it has flavor and mountains of superficial appeal. GTA: Advance brings the franchise to the portable community in an ambitious offering at least worthy of a mention. As a solid game though, it misses the mark.