Over the last few years, the Grand Theft Auto series has become one of the most controversial yet popular series across all gaming consoles. Naturally, Rockstar decided to bring the series to the handheld market with Grand Theft Auto Advance. Due to hardware and media limitations, Grand Theft Auto Advance devolves to a resemblance of the first two games in the series, which can now be downloaded free from Rockstar's site. Due to the technological limits of the Gameboy Advance platform, the things that made Grand Theft Auto such a hit are no longer present. There is no soundtrack, no massive 3D city, and the semi-nonlinear gameplay is gone in favor of a strictly linear game. How does this game measure up?
The first thing noticed when starting up Grand Theft Auto Advance is that the view is back to the traditional birds-eye top down view. This is not a big deal, although the game actually looks slightly worse than the original Grand Theft Auto. The world looks overly simplistic, and there are only a handful of different cars or people in the game. While the game world does boast several islands of Liberty City, you do not really have the same sense of a large living city.
The story of Grand Theft Auto Advance is told using the pop art present throughout the more recent Grand Theft Auto games on the console. However, the major problem with the story is that the game is extremely linear. Your character jumps from faction to faction doing missions. Once you're done with one faction, you are immediately pushed into the next faction. While other games in the Grand Theft Auto series allows you do perform act D before act B, Grand Theft Auto Advance only lets you perform actions in an A-B-C-D order. Even the earlier Grand Theft Auto games had a sense of non-linear gameplay in them, making this outing seem simply weak.
The missions of this game are assigned by a crime faction leader. Don't worry, you won't have to explore looking for these factions since the game is linear and you are literally dropped on their doorstep when you need them. Mission objectives are usually displayed as circles on the game world that you need to walk into. Once you step here, you trigger either a story cutscreen or an event. The problem is that the game just turns into driving from one leader to a checkpoint and back to the leader. There's no real variation in the game, and this can get tiring quickly. Players can bring in random rampant destruction in the game world by hijacking cars and buying guns, but it doesn't have the same effect as doing the same thing in any of the Grand Theft Auto games on the home consoles.
The sound is fairly weak on this title. Car effects aren't bad, and generic traffic sounds aren't bad either. The game does have a generic music playing when you get in vehicles, but these tracks are often very obnoxious and are reminiscent of older gaming systems attempting to put in some "hip" music. Gamers coming off the current crop of console Grand Theft Auto games will be sorely disappointed with the music in this game.
Grand Theft Auto Advance actually has excellent controls. This has much to do with the simplistic control scheme. Simplistic in this case allows a player to get into Grand Theft Auto Advance fairly quickly without having to learn a ridiculous amount of controls first.
The overall difficulty of this game is hard to gauge since it varies from mission to mission. Some missions are easier than others are, while some are close to impossible to get without plain luck. To make it even worse, the save feature can only be used during certain points…usually before or after a mission. However, some missions do not allow you to save between them. This just comes off as obnoxious to me, especially considering that this is a portable game that I'm not really intending to play for extended periods. While the next problem isn't frequent, I have experienced a few lockups, usually when trying to step into an objective point.
I think my major problem with this game is that it simply feels dumbed-down from the rest of the series. There is no variation in any of the missions, and it basically comes down to "go here, kill someone, come back." While one could easily argue that this is the same premise of the other Grand Theft Auto games, I wasn't forced to do it in an A-B-C order in the others. This, to me, is the prime selling point of the Grand Theft Auto series. This game doesn't seem like its worth the price of admission, especially when you can get the original two games for free from Rockstar's official site. I think Rockstar would have done better by just adapting GTA I or II to the platform. This game simply comes off as a way to cash in on the success of GTA 3, Vice City, and the recent release of San Andreas. The linear, dumbed-down gameplay ruins the Grand Theft portable experience.