Grand Theft Auto 3 for iPhone and iPad
Rockstar Games didn’t necessarily invent the sandbox genre, but the developer most certainly redefined it with the controversial and innovative Grand Theft Auto. To mark the 10th anniversary of its release, Rockstar unleashed Grand Theft Auto 3 on the iPhone and iPad, and the results are impressive.
Ported by War Drum Studios, GTA 3 is a violent, darkly-humorous ode to mafia films that first sparked controversy (and accolades) in 2001. The game earned the derision of parents, the media, and Walmart famously for the ability to steal a car, pick up a prostitute, engage her services (which was implied but never depicted), and then kill her and steal her money (which was most decidedly depicted).
What most of the critics overlooked was that for every action, there were consequences—even in the corrupt and absurd world of GTA 3. If you commit a crime and the police see you, you’ll be arrested. For every “star” you earn, the forces of law enforcement escalate their pursuit of you: From police cars ramming you off the road to SWAT vans blocking your path to the National Guard firing upon you.
That’s not to say the game has a moral center—GTA 3 can be considered (at best) to be an over-the-top satire of crime dramas and mafia films. At worst it’s just an immature embodiment of society’s worst instincts. In the iOS version, you play as silent thug Claude, who is an amoral criminal previously betrayed by his girlfriend in the midst of a bank robbery. After escaping from jail, you work your way up through the various criminal organizations in the city while unlocking new weapons and new parts of the city.
Controversial subject matter aside, the mobile game is absolutely stunning in its scale and brilliance. GTA 3’s artificial intelligence is believable and entertaining— enemy cars will try to run you off the road while pedestrians will run away from your speeding car. The city is vast and diverse, with humorous radio stations, clever nods to real-life landmarks, and even changing weather patterns. Even if you remove all the shooting and larceny, it’s amazing to just walk around the bustling city that Rockstar has built.
On the iOS, it’s simply amazing to see such a full and robust game on the platform. The game features enhanced textures and models as well as touchscreen controls. If you’re a fan of the original, you’ll think the game looks about on par with the PS2 version, though certain details (especially blood and traffic light effects) are missing.
The touchscreen controls are really what make or break the port, however. The virtual joystick is surprisingly capable of handling the driving and movement functionality of the gameplay, and that’s the majority of your 40-to-60 hour game experience.
But aiming and firing—never a strong suit of the original PS2 version of the game—is a real challenge on the iPad. It’s still possible to do, but you’re about as likely to hit random pedestrians as your intended target. There are some occasional crash bugs as well, but you can restart at the beginning without losing your save.
Grand Theft Auto 3 for the iOS isn’t a perfect port, even with its control shortcomings. But it’s still a fun ride.
[Former associate editor Chris Holt remains a frequent contributor to Macworld.]