Grand Theft Auto 3 is a lot more than just an outlet for your sociopathic impulses. When it was released for PlayStation 2 in 2001, it was one of the biggest, most ambitious games ever made. Almost single-handedly it created the open-world genre that we know today. It features the voices of big-name actors and makes no apologies for trying to elevate videogames to the level of classic crime epics. And now it’s available on your phone.
If you played the game when it was released a decade ago, you’ll probably get shivers when you boot it up on iOS. It’s the whole great big game you remember– radio stations and all– and it’s on your iOS device. Like in every entry in the series, you start out as a small-time criminal, taking jobs and earning the trust of a motley assortment of crime bosses. Your map indicates which bosses have new jobs for you, and you can take the assignments at your leisure. Or, if you’d rather, you can just drive around the city, running over pedestrians and creating as much chaos as you can before the cops bring you down.
The big questions about bringing a game of this magnitude to iOS are A.) how well does it run, and B.) how responsive do the controls feel? We’ve played the game on a fourth generation iPod Touch, an iPhone 4S, and an iPad 1, and the game runs very smoothly on all of those devices. And thanks to it being stored on flash memory, it even has shorter load times than the original PlayStation 2 version.
Frankly, we’re surprised by how great the controls feel. There are lots of control inputs in Grand Theft Auto 3, and fitting them all on such a small screen is no easy task. When you’re on foot, you have a “floating” D-pad to walk and buttons to run, jump, attack, switch weapons, and steal cars. When driving, you can turn, brake, accelerate, handbrake, shoot, honk, exit the vehicle, change camera angle, and toggle ambulance or taxi missions if applicable. All that stuff takes up space onscreen, but they’ve done a remarkable job of keeping the UI as clutter-free as possible, while still making the buttons large enough to press.
Armed and dangerous.
The app is universal, but we found the best play experience to be on the iPhone or iPod Touch. On the smaller screen the buttons are a little harder to hit, but we found the smaller D-pad on the iPhone preferable to the larger one on the iPad. But the buttons are customizable, and even on the iPad we got used to the controls fairly quickly. And if memory serves, most of the control issues with this version of the game were problems with the PS2 version as well.
Another more minor problem is that, from a graphical standpoint, it’s obvious this is a 10-year-old game. The textures are muddy and there’s occasional graphical pop-in as you drive around. The pop-in is distracting on all iOS devices, but the blurry textures are much more noticeable on the iPad 1. However, the graphics on the 4S are significantly better. It has advanced lighting effects on car lights and street lights, as well as shiny paint jobs and occasional lens flare. All that goes a long way toward making the game look new.
Just another day in Liberty City.
None of these minor downsides take away from the fact that Rockstar Games has done something fairly incredible here. They’ve taken one of the biggest, best, and most important games in the history of the medium, and ported it, fully intact, to a cell phone. This is a game that pushed the limits of the PlayStation 2 when it came out 10 years ago, and recent iOS devices can handle it without breaking a sweat.
Grand Theft Auto 3 is great for so many reasons– the snappy R-rated script, the professional voice acting, the satirical radio commercials, the catchy soundtrack, the wide variety of missions, the endless amount of mayhem you can cause– that there’s no doubt it’s a game for the ages. Not to sound greedy, Rockstar, but you’re working on Vice City next, right?