Grand Theft Auto III review (iOS)

Be honest: who doesn't get nostalgic for games from the early 2000s? With that in mind, Rockstar Games has released a 10-year anniversary edition of Grand Theft Auto III for iOS and Android ($4.99), meaning all the crime, violence and betrayal you so loved in 2001 has made its way to an iDevice near you. The guns have been collected, pedestrians have been run over, crime bosses have been obeyed and betrayed and prostitutes have been visited to help restore health points. So is the game as good as you remember? Head past the break to find out.


Just as with the PS2 original, GTA III on iOS starts out with our (anti)hero broke, unarmed and betrayed by his girlfriend mid-heist. From here, you're free to roam about, begin working for a gang or stop at any time to take on a mission. As the founder of the series' contemporary incarnations, the game naturally features the same blissful open-ended gameplay it introduced. Sure, you can lead your hero through the story, but you can also have him steal a car, join a gang or mercilessly plow through a crowd of innocent bystanders. Hijack a taxi, police cruiser or ambulance, if you like, and earn money on the side by transporting people, killing a few criminals or rescuing the injured. Ain't no thing.

We'll admit, cruising the streets of Liberty City felt a bit strange, sans PS2 controller, but it works -- just mind the learning curve. Mobile gamers familiar with onscreen touchsticks will feel at home with the game's touchscreen setup -- running, jumping and basic movements feel natural, and the touch toggles for throwing punches and busting caps are easily accessible via the onscreen buttons. Still, the loss of the controllers' tactile reassurance is noticeable -- we (accidentally, of course) riddled a few poor pedestrians with bullets when all we really wanted to do was steal a car. Newcomers to mobile gaming might find the interface odd at first. It took us about 20 minutes to commit the controller's touchscreen substitutes to memory, but over time it felt natural enough. If the default controls don't work for you, there are a few alternative options, allowing you to invert the view controls, mirror the setup for lefties, use the accelerometer for pretty precise tilt-based steering while driving, or even rig up a one-handed control scheme.

Graphics and Sound

Grand Theft Auto III hit the PlayStation 2 with crisp, detailed graphics, and while its eye candy doesn't seem as sweet when sidled next to games like Infinity Blade II, it definitely has a nostalgic flavor. The grime, glory and guts of liberty city are will look as good on your mobile / tablet as they did on your old console. As usual, Rockstar did a killer job replicating the original title's sound work; every gunshot, squeal and screech keeps you grounded in the game's world. Hop in a car, turn on the radio and you'll be treated to classic songs off the "Scarface" soundtrack, along with ads for dystopian consumer products and terrible relationship advice, courtesy of some fictional Dr. Ruth type.

It was the physics that always made GTA III amazing to play and they're everything you expect them to be under iOS. The car you hijack will still lurch into motion and pick up speed, becoming easier or harder to control given its weight, the terrain, weather, etc. It's during such escape scenes that the physics engine truly shines -- what feels like a clean getaway becomes a nightmare as cars full of opponents attempt to run you off the road.


GTA III currently stands at version 1.0, and while some bugs need to be fixed, none of them are deal-breakers. For the most part, the game ran smoothly on an iPad 2 with iOS 5.0.1, although we encountered a few crashes toward the beginning of our testing. These crashes eventually subsided, and while some users have complained about gaps in the cityscape and missing sounds, we didn't notice any such bugs. Perhaps our biggest gripe is the need for grammatical and spelling corrections in various cut-scenes. This element of the game felt rushed -- there were times where the audio didn't sync with the subtitles or someone says a completely different line than what the subtitles are reporting. The PlayStation 2 version did this perfectly and where the other elements of the game felt crafted and polished, this felt like something that got lost in translation or, worse, simply slipped through the cracks.


Even with a pinch of bugs, control issues and bad editing, the game you loved a decade ago has made a clean transition to iOS. And while it feels a little strange to be playing it this way, it's still a (mostly) seamless trip down memory lane. It's not perfect -- the controls occasionally feel clumsy and some bug fixes would be much appreciated -- but for $4.99 on iOS (and Android too) it manages to be almost as guilty a pleasure as the original.