By Don Spencer
The open world crime story fulfils many of the repressed fantasies of the gamer. Money, luxury, power, influence and some not so civilised behaviours are vast and plenty. Since the late 90's, Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto series has championed this format to perfection, leaving most of its counterparts in the dust.
That said, whilst Rockstar are the industry trailblazers, they are by no means the only game in town.
As the long and almost unbearable wait for even a slither of news about GTA 6 continues, today we look at 7 GTA clones that are absolutely worth your time and money.
1. The Godfather (2006) - EA Games
Anybody with a thumb on the movie world knows that the first two Godfather films are considered two of the greatest cinematic achievements in history (we thought the third film was ok too). When the films were released in 1972, 1974 and 1990 respectively, gaming was either non existent or limited to a few pixels, and so it was right to wait until technology could do the series justice.
When EA acquired the rights to The Godfather I.P. the weight of expectation was very much upon them to not butcher the beloved source material, and EA delivered in creating an experience balanced enough to respect the canon whilst also letting the player carve out their own narrative into the game. Actors Robert Duvall and the late James Caan returned to reprise their roles as family lawyer Tom Hagan and roughneck bruiser Sonny Corleone respectively. Unfortunately, Al Pacino's likeness was not provided for Michael Corleone, but a reasonable replacement in Joseph May does the job.
EA's The Godfather introduces new character Dominic Corleone - an orphaned adoptee into the Corleone crime family working his way up the ranks in his continued search for influence as well as revenge on those who murdered his father. The game incorporates a scaled down but convincing open world 1950's New York as the backdrop for your journey, with each section of the city under the control of one of the five families (Corleone, Stracci, Tattaglia, Cuneo, Barzini). Expect to see fashion, weapons, motorcars, music and advertisements around the city reflective of the era.
The level system is based on the actual structure of mafia families of the time. You start of as an 'outsider' and by working through missions you will work your way towards becoming an associate, enforcer, underboss and eventually Don. The game also allows you to become the 'Don of New York' after completion, by taking over enemy outposts and shaking down the owners for money. The Godfather's third person control system uses the analog stick as your limbs to shove, throw and strike your enemies as well as a duck and cover system for large scale shootouts.
For those looking for an open world crime game as gritty as it is enticing - look no further. For those looking to see your favourite movie scenes brought to life through the eyes of a new player - go right ahead. Just don't bother with the sequel...
2. Scarface (2006) - Vivendi Games
2006 was clearly the year of classic mob movies being brought to life. Despite its mixed reception and criticism for its absurd amount of profanity and violence, Brian De Palma's tale of Cuban refugee Tony Montana fighting his way to the American Dream has become a cult classic. Montana's character has provided inspiration for rap music as well as an endless supply of ruthless and humorous quotes.
Vivendi games took a fresh approach to the game. Instead of recreating events from the movie, the opening mission is the iconic shootout at the end of the movie, but in this timeline Tony survives his assassination from scores of Columbian hitmen. Whilst you live to tell the tale, your reputation, money, drugs, and mojo all return to zero and you must rebuild your empire from the ground up by reuniting with old allies, and settling old scores.
*END OF SPOILERS*
1980's Miami is given a vast and believable flavour, with the interiors and textures feeling truly lived in and part of a wider world. Scarface manages to hold its own ground here, never feeling like a GTA: Vice City rip off. Al Pacino's likeness, but not voice was also offered to this game.
Scarface gives you many of the tools that GTA games offer. You have the opportunity to build an enormous supply of weapons and sports cars and also have a (very old) phone. Scarface even included features way ahead of its time, such as the ability to completely pimp out your living space and have your vehicles delivered on demand. Such features were not included in GTA until its online element was released in 2013. Scarface also featured a rage mode where you go into first person and become immensely more powerful... sounds like GTA V could just be a Scarface clone.
Scarface also includes a ''balls'' feature (yes, we know). Tony is rewarded balls points when he attacks enemies and can trade in his points at... yep, a sperm bank. Not only that, but you can also part take in drug deal mini games where landing your meter in the right zone rewards you a better deal on cocaine scores. Definitely not one for the kids, but a novel concept indeed.
3. Mafia II (2010) - 2K Games
After an eight year gap since Mafia came out the gates with its tommy guns blazing, 2K games brought to life a much demanded sequel. 2K games' usual projects had been the likes of Borderlands as well as a slew of yearly sports games, and so the new mob project definitely piqued the interest of the gaming world.
Thankfully, 2K delivered what is now considered the best in the Mafia series, and a game that went on to be worthy of a remaster a decade later. Whilst still set in the same universe as Mafia I, Mafia II sets itself apart with a new setting and a breadth of new characters.
Set almost ten years after the first game, Mafia sees a concoction of New York, Boston, L.A. and San Francisco put together into one amazing city - Empire Bay. You'll be treated to the towering heights of New York one minute, and thrust down to the dingey harbours of Boston the next. Even with the multiple settings, the immersion never once feels broken and the feel of a real 1940's/50's city with all its sights, sounds and atmosphere are present throughout.
The narrative follows protagonist Vito Scaletta, fresh out of the army and reunited with his childhood friend Joe Barbaro. Vito is almost immediately drawn into a dark criminal underbelly, starting with paying back his family debt and spiralling into something much darker. The chemistry developed between the Clemente crime family is believable and rich, and 2K games clearly researched the customs and phrases used in real mafia circles. Expect to see subtle and not so subtle nods to the likes of The Sopranos, The Godfather and Goodfellas.
Mafia draws on GTA tropes such as a third person combat system, open world mission markers, change of appearance and more. At the same time, the noir art style and classic setting sets it apart. Mafia is perhaps a more linear experience than that of Grand Theft Auto games, but the three expansive DLC's from a new character's perspective make the world of Mafia II bountiful and memorable.
For the best Mafia experience, get the Mafia Trilogy which includes a complete remake of the first title, a remaster of Mafia II and the latest version of Mafia III.
4. Sleeping Dogs (2012) - Square Enix
Those who can cast their minds back to Activision's True Crime series will know the origin of Sleeping Dogs. True Crime: Streets of LA and its successor True Crime: New York City were two sprawling open world thrillers set from the other side of the law.
Sleeping Dogs, the spiritual successor to True Crime, focuses once again on a police officer protagonist, but this time as an undercover agent seeking to infiltrate the Sun On Yee triad gang. Officer Wei Shen was praised for his voice acting (Will Yun Lee) but the real star of the show in Sleeping Dogs is Hong Kong. During development Square Enix did extensive field research in HK with over 25,000 photos taken - the result is an enormous and beautiful island with ample opportunity for fighting, driving and shooting with textures and assets tuned for gameplay.
Hong Kong is a welcome reprieve from the overcooked and recycled L.A. and New York settings too often seen in modern gaming. Walking through the city stands up today as one of the best and believable game worlds, with endless neon signs and idle chatter of the locale never seeming out of place or too obnoxious.
Sleeping Dogs came out towards the end of the PS3/Xbox 360 lifecycle, taking full advantage of the hardware and incorporating a deep and intuitive combat system with spectacular animations that are reminiscent of the Batman Arkham series - perfect for roundhouse kicking machete clad triad enemies.
With a game as expansive and intricate as Sleeping Dogs, it would have been easy to neglect the story, but the developers focused heavily on the plot and character development too. The satire of GTA is not really present here, and the events of Sleeping Dogs are actually loosely based on real life triad conflicts. Perhaps above all else, the narrative succeeds in humanising its protagonist, who struggles to toe the blurred line between federal agent and criminal.
Get Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition with reworked visuals and all DLC included.
5. Watch Dogs 2 (2016) - Ubisoft
Watch Dogs 2 is a diamond in the rough, shall we way. It was a shining sequel that nobody really asked for, but we're glad of it. After the mixed reviews from 2014's Watch Dogs, all with its clumsy controls and limited hacking options, Ubisoft Montreal went on to fix almost every complaint from the original.
For those unfamiliar, Watch Dogs is an open world action adventure game from the perspective of a hacker protagonist, the development of which came from a new game in the Driver series. The first game focused on Aiden Pearce, a lone hacker seeking revenge for the murder of his niece.
The sequel follows an exciting and perhaps more upbeat narrative, with hacker Marcus Holloway and his fellow gang of hackers this time working collectively to bring down ctOS - an advanced and malevolent surveillance system that is destroying lives in San Francisco. Watch Dogs 2 is a hybrid between a GTA clone, but sets itself apart as an immersive sim. Almost every mission can be approached in several different ways, be it hacking, stealth hacking, or outright violence.
The collective effort of Marcus and his eccentric gang make Watch Dogs 2 a fun, rewarding and intellectually stimulating challenging experience, with sunny San-Francisco as a visually pleasing backdrop to a great story.
6. Saints Row 1+2 (2006, 2008) - THQ
We know we're cheating here by putting 2 entries in but hey, they make a great combo (plus the follows ups left much to be desired).
For the GTA player that loves the wacky, colourful and over-the-top elements of open world games, the first two Saints Row games are for you. You won't find the gritty or grounded atmosphere found in the likes of GTA IV, nor the polished gameplay. What you will find is an action packed thrill ride that is a shot across the bow at GTA.
Saints Row 1 and 2 take place in the fictional city of Stillwater, with the first focusing on gang warfare and the sequel focusing also on fighting a shady corporation exploiting the city. In both games you are given full autonomy on the sex, race, size, and distinguishing features of your character, with one of the most extensive and wacky character creation suites in gaming history. You can create a generic gangster if you wish, or play as a big green alien with no teeth and a perm.
For combat, expect to see the likes of broomsticks, AK47's, samurai swords and dildos - and you won't find yourself alone. The gang mechanics in Saints Row are woven throughout, and you can call on the 3rd Street Saints to fight alongside you in your hour of need, with each animated member having their own unique selling point.
7. Red Dead Redemption 2 (2018) - Rockstar Games
Red Dead Redemption 2 has been described as ''GTA on a horse.'' A case which is hard to argue seeing as it's also made by Rockstar and the games' respective easter eggs indicate a shared universe. When looking at the marvel that is Red Dead 2, the player can quickly understand and forgive the long wait for GTA 6. They've clearly been busy.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is 2018's follow up to 2010's wild-west open world adventure game Red Dead Redemption. The story acts as a prequel to the events of the first game, with five fictional U.S. states as the setting in the dying wild west. Protagonist Arthur Morgan and his gang of miscreants are on the run from the law after a botched robbery in the town of Blackwater. As the dawn of a new era looms upon the gang, Arthur is forced to negotiate the inner turmoil of his friends and their dubious loyalties, whilst trying to survive in a world no longer meant for his kind.
Red Dead 2 showcases not only a perfect game to play instead of GTA, but objectively one of the greatest games of all time. The graphics are unparalleled in any open world game and the choice to live as an honorable outlaw or a ruthless villain feels meaningful and is reflected in almost every interaction with your gang and the wider world.
Nothing in Red Dead feels contrived or like filler content, and everything unfolds in an organic way. Take for example encountering a man in the countryside building a house with his sons, as time goes on when you return to the house it will be more and more complete, and killing any of the builders will be reflected on your next visit... Long story short, RDR2 is a game that remembers.
The amount of detail is almost absurd in Red Dead 2, from changing foliage with the weather to your horses testicles shrinking in the cold, nothing has been overlooked in making it the most detailed and impressive game ever made. We hope GTA will continue in this spirit for the next entry.
To enjoy Red Dead at max settings, make sure you have the best components.