In Review: Grand Theft Auto III for iOS

If you’re not sure what the words Grand Theft Auto and iOS are doing in the same sentence, it might be worth crawling from beneath the technologically deficient rock that you’ve been hiding under and catching up on some of the most exciting gaming news of the year. 

Judging by the sheer mountain of opinion articles that are floating around on the interwebz, I’m not the only one that has been thinking that Apple’s iOS devices are likely to begin drastically altering the gaming industry and the way that developers approach video game production (if they haven’t already). Mark December 15th as a crucial moment in the massive mobile gaming revolution, as Rockstar have successfully and impressively ported an entire console game (a console game with both a huge map and a huge storyline) onto a device that fits into the palm of your hand.

But how does GTA III for iOS hold up in comparison to the original PlayStation 2 version? There are quite a few points of contrast to consider. Graphically, it seems that the developers have managed to match the (albeit outdated) power of the PS2 and improved it slightly. On the iPhone 4S and the iPad 2, blocky hands are now rendered as wrists and fingers, lighting adds appropriate depth and clothes are smooth and realistic. Improvements are less noticeable on previous generations of iOS devices like the iPhone 4, in which framerate problems become more apparent and the pain-in-the-ass issue of lag becomes a factor when you, for example, get a text whilst you’re playing (the missus will have to wait, you’ve got hookers to kill). 

Considering the array of actions at the gamer’s disposal (shooting, punching, running, jumping, carjacking, weapon switching, etc.), it’s no surprise that the UI is slightly cramped (see below). However, the game is actually quite easy to get to grips with. The D-Pad on the left appears wherever you place your thumb, and even on the iPhone screens the smaller action buttons are just about easy enough to whack in a mad rush. Quickly switching weapons with L2 and R2 on the PS2 made gameplay a doddle, but swiping across the weapon icon in the top right hand corner makes this process a little more laborious.

A common complaint in the user review on the App Store has been the driving controls. In place of the D-Pad, you’re presented with left and right buttons. Driving simply becomes a case of lightly tapping each directional button as you accelerate and slow down accordingly. However, this means that when cruising down in Portland at breakneck speeds in that beautiful Cheetah you nicked from the petrol station near 8-Ball’s house, it only takes the slightest tap to send your vehicle rolling across the road and engulfing itself in flames. Perhaps the physics engine has been altered in some way from the original, because as far as I remember the driving was never as temperamental as it is on the iPhone. Despite all this, with a little adjustment and time getting used to the new controls, it becomes only a minor issue. 

The major flaw with the app instead lies in the shooting. Understandably, Rockstar have done away with the manual aim that has been present in Grand Theft Auto games since GTA III, and you’ve got not choice but to rely on the auto-aim function. This is great when the game can accurately determine which (probably innocent) character you’re trying to gun down, but when you’ve got an angry, murderous mob leader armed with a pump-action shotgun inches away from your face and the game decides to swing you around and start firing at elderly shoppers absent-mindedly milling about hundreds of metres away, you’ve got to question how easy (or annoying) it makes the game to play. It’d be nice to see an update in the future that maybe provides a fix for a problem that is so simple to fix and has such a huge impact on the way that game’s played (I’ve resorted to running over the bad guys during missions instead of shooting them, saves the fiddly fuss).

What is very helpful is the auto-save feature that’s always been missing from the GTA franchise. Whilst the feature of saving the game at a safehouse is still present, it’s no longer necessary to trek all the way across Liberty City to make sure you don’t lose everything you’ve done in your session. Even standing in the middle of the street, you can close the app, force it to exit from the multi-tasking screen and then reopen it later to find yourself in exactly the same spot. A very handy addition.

However, remember what it is you’re playing here and bear in mind the price. A full port of the original Grand Theft Auto III game on your phone. If you’d have told me that I’d be running errands for Luigi, chuckling along to the satirical and sarcastic marriage advice of Fernando Martínez and hilariously arming cars with 8-Ball’s infamous explosives on my phone (remember Snake!?), I’d probably have called you insane. Rockstar have achieved a brilliant thing, and whilst the game doesn’t offer the breathtaking graphical value that is now standard on current generation consoles (newcomers to the game who are used to more modern gaming standards might find the aesthetics a bit underwhelming), if you’ve ever played a Grand Theft Auto game or you like idea of open-world roaming in Liberty City on demand, GTA III: 10 Year Anniversary Edition for iOS is unmistakably a heaven-sent application for you, especially for killing time over the holidays. Grab it now whilst it’s still a part of the Christmas sale; £1.99 really is cheaper than a Hot Coffee

GTA III: 10 Year Anniversary Edition on iTunes

Sam Hardy

Sam Hardy is a writer for KingLoaf and music journalism site AltSounds.