If you need proof of just how far gaming has moved on in ten years, consider that Grand Theft Auto II was a flagship title for the PlayStation 2 back in 2001, and now it’s available for your mobile phone. Not only that, but it actually looks better than it did back then, thanks to Rockstar tweaking the graphics for this 10th anniversary release.
In GTA III you play Claude, a silent low-life who is framed by his girlfriend during a bank heist. After being busted out of a van on his way to prison, Claude swiftly gets to know the criminal element in Liberty City, but never lets revenge fall far from his mind.
In the game you’re presented with a variety of missions, given to you by different characters you meet along the way. You’re free to choose as and when you take them on, although they eventually lead to you unlocking new areas of the map, where new challenges await.
Although it was the third game in the series, it was the first to use 3D graphics and to fully exploit an open sandbox world. The two previous Grand Theft Auto games were viewed from the top-down, and didn’t provide the player with their same degree of freedom as subsequent titles.
It’s famed for the excellent voice work, the introduction of a continuous, user-definable soundtrack to the series, and a fair degree of controversy thanks to the in-game violence and the loose morals of the central character. Of course, for those not of a Daily Mail persuasion, it was all these things combined that made GTA III so compelling.
So, has this new release been watered down, stripped of its bite in this politically correct world? Thankfully, no, it’s still the same old Grand Theft Auto you remember, but with some slight differences both visually and in the control department.
Rockstar has taken the old graphics and smoothed out a lot of the edges, resulting in faces looking a little more natural than I remember, and the various cars trundling around the city considerably shapelier than before. Liberty City itself still looks similar though, and has the same dreadful weather it did ten years ago. The visual tweaks really show off the difference between an iPad and an iPad 2, as much of the shadowing, smoothing and flashy lighting effects can’t be seen on the old tablet.
Whether playing on the iPhone 4S or the iPad 2, it’s the same smooth experience. However there are still some situations where vehicles appear out of nowhere and the camera gets itself in ridiculous positions – but all this was present in the original PS2 version, so it could almost be passed off as another part of the iOS port’s accuracy!
All your old favourite radio stations can be listened to while on the move, including the original appearance of Lazlow on Chatterbox, plus the repeated use of songs from the Scarface soundtrack. GTA III was one of the first games to use high-profile actors to voice in-game characters too, and the talents of Frank Vincent, Michael Madsen, Joe Pantoliano and Debi Mazar amongst others are all very welcome, adding considerable heft to the numerous cut scenes.
But, Grand Theft Auto was always played with a controller, so how has the control system dealt with the transition to a touchscreen? The answer is: Better than expected, but still some way off from being perfect. On the good side we have the virtual joystick for controlling Claude, and a virtual accelerator and brake for controlling your car. Things start to go downhill when choosing the way to control your car’s direction.
It’s a choice of either accelerometer control, or a pair of left/right buttons on the screen. Using the accelerometer is near-impossible, as it feels like every car’s steering rack has been salvaged from the QE2, and extreme high speed turns made me think my arms would end up in a Tom and Jerry-style twist, ready to fling the iPad across the room as they sprung back to normal.
The buttons aren’t much better, and are so sensitive that even a feather-light tap results in your car spearing off towards oncoming traffic, and any corrections you may make sees it fish-tailing up the road like you’re auditioning for the 2012 Drift Championships.
Admittedly you get used to the buttons, but there’s definitely room for improvement. The same can be said for the combat controls. As blasting people in the face is an integral part of Grand Theft Auto‘s gameplay, it’s important to start doing so quickly and accurately. Unfortunately, although the system is quick, it aims automatically, meaning you’ll often be shooting pedestrians rather than a gang member. Worse still is the inability to switch targets, so even though you’re pumping bullets into the bloke with a baseball bat, you can do nothing about the other guy standing a few feet away doing the same to you.
Seeing as nearly all GTA III‘s missions involve driving, shooting or both, you’ll find yourself repeating them far more than on the PS2. To make things easier, you can save as often as before, and Rockstar has added an instant mission repeat option for when you fail too.
It’s a tribute to just how much fun Grand Theft Auto III is to play, that the slightly annoying controls don’t really matter. Everything else is here, from the hidden packages to the rampages, to the taxi and paramedic missions and even certain cars hidden in the same places they were before.
As for value, it’s priced at £2.99 and contains the same amount of missions found on a full-price console title, so you won’t be completing it in a hurry. It’s a hugely impressive conversion, especially on the latest hardware, so buy it, then take your time to explore Liberty City to learn and adapt to the controls. It’s worth it.