The original sandbox of gang-land delights still feels as fresh now as it did back in 2001…
I can think of only a selection of games that can do this – Ocarina of time being one of them. Games that can still deliver, despite their technical shortcomings compared to today’s games.
Just like Mario 64 did for 2D platformers, GTA3 was an outright success in bringing the cult loved GTA series crashing into the new millennium in all its new 3rd-person glory. Not since riding around Hyrule on Epona did gamers feel so much freedom. For the first time you felt like you really had the power to go anywhere and do anything.
Now, lets not forget that despite it’s sprawling city, with life-like traffic systems and the local populace happily going about their daily lives, GTA 3 was not with out its technical problems.
It’s all too easy to forget that fact, with most memories being that of pure joy. But in order to give this iOS version a fair review I dusted off my PS2 (yes I still have one) and fired up the original. To my amazement it looked like ass, and proved just how much we take for granted in this HD era. Jaggies as far as the eye can see – which isn’t that far thanks to pop-up – as well as the road seemingly disappearing under your feet or tyres at times. More amazing still, is that despite this it was still as fun as ever.
It’s interesting then that despite the advancements in technology, specifically in the smartphone and tablet sectors, we have yet to have a true challenger to this game. Yes we’ve had the excellent GTA: China Town Wars, but that game is a throwback to the original top-down GTA’s. I’m talking of course about Gameloft’s Gangstar games, a series that has managed to do almost everything right. They have great graphics and great controls (perhaps even better than GTA), and of course the obligatory violence and swearing. So why then do they fail to live up to a ten-year-old game? Well, it all comes down to that usual bugbear of mine, and that is bad story and bad writing.
Compared to many of today’s big console games, the voice acting and writing in GTA3 is perhaps a little antiquated, it has certainly got cleverer and funnier in recent years (see Portal 2). But with Appstore titles from even the big guns like EA and Gameloft, the voice work and story in GTA3 is like that of a Martin Scorsese film by comparison.
It’s this that makes GTA3 stand the test of time, even if the graphics and gameplay mechanics don’t quite make the cut by today’s standards.
Of course, Rockstar have not simply dumped the Playstation ISO on to the Appstore and said “Oi mate! hand-over ya f***ing money”. Instead, we possibly have the best-version of the game to date.
Sure, you don’t get the advantage of physical controls (though who actually likes the Dual Shock?), but their virtual counterparts do a great job thanks in part to China Town wars’ excellent implementation before – though it is a shame they couldn’t add in more touch-based elements that made China Town Wars so good.
The game has never looked better in my opinion – yes, even better than the PC version, which famously had display issues despite the higher resolution. It’s clear that Rockstar have utilised the textures and models that came in the 2003 special edition release on XBox. It doesn’t quite hold up to Gangstar or 9mm in terms of detail, but then it doesn’t make the game any less immersive… and for once it runs as smooth as butter.
For me, though it’s not the HD overhaul that is the biggest improvement, it’s the loading speeds. On PS2 there was quite a wait as the game-world was loaded from disk to memory, but on iPhone or iPad it’s very quick. I timed it, and on first time load you can be from your home-screen to the the streets in 16 seconds!
So in terms of a port, it’s one of the best. But what of the game itself? Well, if you have never played a GTA game then you are either ten years old or younger, and so this game really isn’t for you. Or, you have had your eyes and ears removed and your brain has been kept in a jug of formaldehyde on a dusty shelf for ten years.
If that is the case, and you have been successfully reunited with your body, let me summarise…
Grand Theft Auto is set in a fictional city called Liberty (based loosely on New York). It sees you play as a guy who after being set up in a bank robbery gone wrong, must start from scratch and climb up the ladder of Liberty city’s underworld crime network, be it with the mob, the triads or the local gang-bangers.
The game was one of the first sandbox-style titles. Which allows you to pretty much go anywhere and do anything within the confines of the city. Activities are all crime-related of course, and centres around the main theme of the title, steeling cars. With every car in Liberty at your disposal you can take on the multitude of missions from the city’s finest thugs. Be it taking out rival gangs; rounding up and pimping out prostitutes; drug drops; and illegal street racing… You know, just everyday things really!
If there is one gripe with GTA3 then it’s the on-foot aspect of the game. Getting around on-foot is just not as fun as it is behind the wheel. And the main area of fault is the combat. It’s horrendous no matter what control system you are using, be it controller or touch. Trying to accurately take out a specific person in the game is not easy, and instead you better hope you have enough ammo, as you’ll be spraying bullets all over town in a bid to take out one guy.
As i’ve already said the controls on iOS are very good, thanks to GTA:CTW. However, If I was to recommend an iOS device to play it on, then it would have to be the iPad. On the iPhone the buttons are a little fiddly. Yes, you can customise them and make them bigger, but then you sacrifice the screen space for viewing the game. Also I think the default car controls are not the best, it’s too easy for your thumbs to slip off the button’s target area, resulting in you missing them completely. Instead I recommend you switch to the same virtual analogue set-up used for on-foot controls. Just like many Gameloft games, the analogue stick resets its centre to wherever your thumb lies, allowing you to enjoy the action without constantly checking your thumb positions. If you have a Fling stick-on stick, I recommend you use it.
I’ve also already mentioned the great voice work in the game, but another aural highlight is the soundtrack. Whenever you enter a car you’ll be able to hear the in-game radio stations. The music caters for all tastes and is complimented by some genuinely hilarious spoof radio ads and DJ commentary.
It’s a shame then that Rockstar didn’t implement the ability to play your own music over the radio, something that the Xbox version of the game allowed, and more recently China Town Wars did on iOS.
Overall, GTA3 is a terrific addition to the growing library of console quality games. A perfect way to experience a classic, be it with fans of the original or for complete newcomers. If you want the best sandbox on the AppStore then I would still recommend China Town Wars over this, which perfectly blends the GTA world with the touch screen. But if you want the more realistic 3rd-person perspective, then GTA3 is for you. Add to that the fact that this game is only $4.99 and cheaper than the lesser competition, then owning GTA3 really is no-brainer.
I was initially thinking of splitting my final rating into two scores, one for the game and one for the port. However, I have come to the conclusion that neither one lets the other down.. and so without further ado here is the one score.
Grand Theft Auto 3 is out now as a universal app for $4.99. Get it on the