Every so often a videogame comes along and really revolutionizes the industry, indellibly altering the games that come after it. There are plenty of wildly popular games that do nothing but tread familiar ground - for all the love it receives, Halo is still just Doom on steroids - but the real classics are the innovators. After Street Fighter II was released, arcades were filed with fighters; after Metal Gear Solid, consoles got tons of semi-stealthy shooters; and after Grand Theft Auto III, the boundless sandbox of wicked violence was opened for everyone to play in. But despite its fame (or even its infamy), GTA3 never got the action-figure love. Not the way the others did.
Last year, however, this oversight was finally corrected, at somewhat.
Rockstar Games, in conjunction with Japan's Medicom, released an exclusive set of five GTA3 Kubricks. Thing was, there was almost no notice the set was coming out. It showed up at SDCC05, but didn't make it onto any of the official lists of show exclusives. Rockstar offered 50 of the sets through their online store, but the word only went out to people who got their newsletter (which makes sense, with such a limited quantity). These were the first-ever figures from one of the most popular, best-known games ever, and no one was talking about them? That's nuts!
The set is packaged in a large black box with the same graphics as the game's packaging - heck, when I ordered it, the guys at the shop thought they'd gotten software in. It's a fifth-panel window box, so the front flap lifts to reveal the five figures: 8-Ball, Misty, Donald Love, Salvatore Leone, and the nameless lead character. The inside of the flap features the big picture of Misty that shows up on so many load screens during the game.
The first character you meet in the game is 8-Ball, the explosives expert who introduces you to the (under)world of Liberty City. He takes our hero along with him when he escapes police custody because, as he says,
"I know a place on the edge of the Red Light District where we can lay low, but my hands are all messed up - so you better drive, brother."
This 8-Ball is seen wearing his orange prison jumpsuit and his hands, up to the elbows, are badaged. The uniform has a bit of detailing, but nothing extravagent: thin black lines detail his pockets, zipper and prisoner number - 010012 - and his shirt is a separate piece that floats above a black chest block. He doesn't have the Kubricks' usual block head, though; since he's bald (get it? a black guy can't be "bald as a cue ball") he's got a different block, with a rounded top and little ears sticking out the side. The set includes a small detonator 8-Ball can hold, ready to blow someone's rigged car to smithereens.
Through 8-Ball you meet Luigi Goterelli, who has you pick up one of his girls, Misty, from the free clinic. Misty's a hooker with a heart of gold
and boobs of plastic. Despite her prominent place in the promo art, Misty disappears from the game pretty quickly. You drive her twice, she introduces you to a new contact and promptly becomes little more than scenery.
Misty's wearing her working clothes - high black boots, a hot pink jacket and a matching bra and thong. Classy! Her brown hair is cut short, and molded from a separate piece that fits on her head. Her face is detailed really well, with a slight smirk on her lips and way too much blue eyeshadow. Her cleavage and bellybutton are painted on, but her free-floating shirt is molded to give her a bit more chest. She doesn't have any accessories, but considering that she's a prostitute, that's probably for the best. I mean, "ew!" They could have given her a stack of bills or something, at least.
The next scumbag you meet, chronologically, is Salvatore Leone, head of one of Liberty City's most prominent crime families. You meet him while pulling chauffeur duty, and then you spend a chunk of time driving his woman around town. That doesn't sound like a bad job, until he turns out to be paranoid and suspicious.
Sal's wearing a snazzy grey suit, which is mainly built from the big, sculpted block that serves as his torso. Like 8-Ball, he's got ears sticking out the side of his head, but he also has a bit of sculpted hair - his receeding hairline is lovingly detailed.
These figures aren't based on the in-game models, but the game's stylistic artwork. That's not a problem for most, but Don Salvatore actually varies quite a bit between the two. In-game, he's a pumpkin-headed guy with a big bushy moustache; in the art, he's got a taller, thinner head and no lip adornment. Barely even looks like the same guy. The face is detailed nicely with a minimum of paint - it's just that you see him more in the game than out of it.
Throughout the game, as you listen to Liberty City's various radio stations, you'll hear them announced to be part of the Love Media network, owned by mogul Donald Love. Suprisingly, he shows up later in the game, looking for some help - the kind of off-the-books stuff that only a rising criminal star like you can provide.
The Donald is wearing a snappy khaki suit with a light blue shirt and tie. He's got a streak of gray in his hair and a surprisingly detailed face.
Like Salvatore, the Donald Love figure is based on the opening credits and load screens: though he looks like a sharp-dressed man here, in the game he's a dishevled mess. Somebody really should have made sure the art teams were on the same page. Love has a small book that he can hold, and his long overcoat is removable.
The final figure in this set is you! Well, okay, your stand-in in the game, the silent, nameless protagonist of GTA3. Though there's some speculation (and a few clues) that his name is Claude,
there's nothing at all official to say that he has any name at all. Call him whatever you want - he'll still drag you out of your car and cause you some greivous bodily harm.
Mr. Strong and Silent, here, is wearing his leather jacket and dark cargo pants. The top of a white t-shirt pokes out of his jacket, but he wore black in the game. They did a really nice job getting the right sort of point on the front of his hair, and even though we just see the back of his head, his face is looking good. All the pockets on his pants are painted on, but the details of his jacket are sculpted. No-Name's got the first weapon you're given in the game: a baseball bat.
Made from (mostly) identical bodies, Kubricks are 6cm tall, and move at the neck, shoulders, wrists, waist and hips - they're certainly not the most mobile little block figures around, but the breadth of licenses they get is daunting; comics, movies, tv shows, bands... anything can get Kubrickized. The name is supposed to be a combination or contraction of "cool bricks," but when you hear the name, what you really think of is Stanley Kubrick - though, oddly enough, none of his movies have gotten Kubricks, yet.
In any case, Grand Theft Auto III was long overdue for toys, and even these little guys are welcome - but Rockstar and Medicom really needed to promote them better. There's one upside: you can still pick this cool set up online, because not enough people knew about it. Check out places like Kid Robot, and get this one before it's sent back to jail.
What's your favorite GTA3 radio station? Tell us on our message board, The Loafing Lounge.