By Andrew Wallenstein

April 2, AdWeek

I have a shocking confession to make. I have never once played a Grand Theft Auto game.

With the impending release of Grand Theft Auto IV, it's time for me to play the series that turned the world on its head. The series is notorious for becoming the media's favorite whipping boy of violent videogames. But it is also responsible, perhaps more importantly, for the popularization of non-linear gameplay in action games and "sandbox" worlds that let a player explore with no particular goal in mind.

Now, it's not entirely true that I've never played any GTA title. When I was studying in Kanazawa, Japan, one of the great pastimes in the international dorms was Grand Theft Auto 2. But the first two GTA games were quite different from the ones that gained such notoriety. Though they too featured the adventures of a criminal tearing up a city, they were arcade-style, 2-D titles.

We had a great time with that game's networked multiplayer modes, and this led to me being incredibly wrong a year later, when I looked at the first screens of Grand Theft Auto III and decided that it could never work, because the move to over-the-shoulder 3-D meant you lost the overhead city view from whence blossomed the entire gameplay of the original.

And it's true that it did, but Grand Theft Auto III was like the birth of an entirely new, and far more appealing, game series. The original games were moderately successful. GTA III was a phenomenon. As of last month, publisher Take-Two said it had sold 14.5 million copies of the game.

As the years passed and the games' notoriety built, I knew I should try them, but I was writing about Japan at the time and GTA didn't really fit in to that area of coverage. Also, I'm weird: If I don't do something immediately, I generally never do it. I like Haruki Murakami, but I've still got my day-one copy of Kafka on the Shore sitting unread on my bookshelf, for example.

I have since made what I consider to be a successful effort to broaden my gaming horizons, but I left the Grand Theft Auto series untouched even as I've played other sandbox urban crime games. As I said: I am weird.

But enough of that. With Grand Theft Auto IV's April 29 release date fast approaching, I've resolved to play the games I've missed. In doing so, I'll try to turn a negative into a positive: When was the last time anyone wrote about GTA with truly fresh eyes? Will I come up with some brand-new observations about the series, or just the same stuff everyone else has?

Either way, tune in every Tuesday this month for thoughts on another game. Today: Grand Theft Auto III.

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