It's hard to believe that Grand Theft Auto III was released on PS2 more than 19 years ago. Having played the original Grand Theft Auto just prior to playing this one the core gameplay of driving around to do missions felt familiar to me from the 2D games, but the shift to three dimensions definitely makes the game much more compelling. Almost two decades later the violence seems relatively tame and the open-world aspects don't pack nearly the same punch, but I can see what the initial mass appeal of the game was.
As with the original, in Grand Theft Auto III you can go up to any car that you want and steal it, and in this game there's a good variety of options including taxis (providing a Crazy Taxi-like mode), ambulances (which also provides a change of "gears"), and some huge rigs. As in the original, you can also go on the crime spree of your dreams and run around shooting anyone you want. Unlike the original in this game there is a story, and it involves rival gangs and working your way up the ranks. The story and characters are pretty stock and not particularly memorable, and the missions that I got through didn't have a ton of variety either. Also, as in the original, cop chases usually don't usually go well and are kind of annoying, but there aren't really any penalties for dying or getting busted, which alleviates some of the tedium of having to repeatedly retry some of the more finicky missions, some of which require try-and-die memorization. There are some minor combat options on foot, which are kind of slow and annoying, but the main focus of the game is definitely on the driving.
As someone who greatly prefers plot and characters to open world games I wasn't particularly drawn into Grand Theft Auto III, and I didn't find the realistic cityscape or the gang life compelling either. I can't really say I have much interest in trying out any of the other games in the series, although I can appreciate this game's historical significance. The entry on DS was one of the few in the series that have appeared on a Nintendo console, and it got great reviews even though it featured a return to a 2D top-down perspective. I'm a big fan of Nintendo's handhelds, including the DS, so I'll definitely have to give that a spin at some point.