Grand Theft Auto III turns 14 years old this year. The series has grown and evolved quite a bit since then. And yet in all that time, a few problems have lingered. No, I’m not talking about the lame guessing-game approach to mission design. I’m talking about the fact that this is what GTA looks like when you’re driving around:
And THIS is what it’s like when you’re on foot:
Fourteen years of this crap. The game isn’t even subtle about it. You’ll hike for two blocks to find a single parked car to steal, but by the time you break in and start the engine, three SUVs and a bus will have pulled up and blocked you in.
For a long time I thought it was just a quirk of their traffic simulation. The game doesn’t actually simulate very much traffic, and it cheats like crazy to keep the number of simulated cars to a minimumAs a programmer, I can totally understand this.. There are never more than a few blocks of traffic running at any given time, and the game will happily delete cars in the distance the moment you look away. Sure, you can look south on the highway and see some cars far in the distance. But if you look to the north and then south again, you’ll likely see different cars in the distance. It’s constantly erasing cars and adding cars just outside your field of view.
So I assumed that when you respawned at the hospital it just took the game a minute to fill the traffic in. The region started out blank, and it would need to materialize some cars in the distance and you’d have to wait for them to reach your location. But after observing the game for a long time I can see this isn’t the case. Traffic really is thinner when you’re on foot and thicker when you’re driving. There’s no reason the game can’t quickly materialize a bunch of cars just before the fade-in, so the streets will start out full.
This is especially blatant near highways in the wilderness. I’ll be hiking through the woods, perhaps following a highway and looking to an opportunity to ascend a steep hill or climb over a fence to reach the road. Lots of time passes, and the game doesn’t seem inclined to generate many cars. But the instant you’re behind the wheel you’ve constantly got people in your way. It works the other way, too: If my car gets knocked off the road by another driver, then by the time I crawl out of the wreck and get back to the road the traffic will have mostly dried up. I can’t think of any reason to do this except to annoy players. It’s just another one of GTA’s obnoxious jackass cheating systems.
You could fix this either way. Maybe leave some highways open so I can enjoy the thrill of really pushing this sportscar to the limit without worrying one of these asshole cars might do a last-second left-hand-turn in front of meSometimes I drive while obeying the traffic rules, and I’ve observed that cars are FAR more likely to pull out in front of the player than they are to pull out in front of each other.. Or fill all the roads in so that I’ll always have access to a car and don’t end up hiking long distances. Or go the simulationist route and have traffic density based on where you are, so downtown roads are dense and rural roads are sparse. But this approach of modulating the traffic to deliberately inconvenience the player is not fun or interesting. It’s just another stupid pain in the ass when I’m trying to enjoy my videogame.
Then again, being on foot gives you more time to savor that unique GTA worldbuilding flavor…
Having gotten all that off my chest, I will say this is my favorite GTA of all. It’s never as fun as my beloved Saints Row, but there’s a lot to like here. This is probably the most interesting story since they began their push for “cinematic” storytelling. The heist system is a fantastic idea and forms much better narratives and coherent mission structure than the old “Boss of the week needs you to go to X and kill all the dudes and drive out without dying” thing they’ve been doing.
 As a programmer, I can totally understand this.
 Sometimes I drive while obeying the traffic rules, and I’ve observed that cars are FAR more likely to pull out in front of the player than they are to pull out in front of each other.
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