Oftentimes, older video games are looked upon with rose-colored glasses thanks to the magic, memory-altering powers of nostalgia. I was a bit worried that today's release of the PlayStation 2 classic Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas -- which, upon its release in 2004, quickly became one of the most popular games of all time -- wouldn't be quite as fantastic as history would have us believe. Fortunately, that's not at all the case.
Like the rest of the Grand Theft Auto franchise, San Andreas is set in a fictional region modeled heavily after real-life counterparts. In this case, you'll be exploring various cities and suburbs drawn from the cultural memory of early '90s Southern California and Las Vegas. The story is long and winding, touching on everything from gang rivalries and police corruption to the street car-tuning scene.
Just like in the original console release, there's really nothing you can't do within the confines of the game's setting. Want to grab a burger, hit the gym, start a police chase or simply take a scenic drive? Go for it. San Andreas is yours to explore, and it looks fantastic on a Retina display.
The game is compatible with iPhones starting with the 4s, and tablets starting with the iPad 2, so there's a chance you may not be playing this on a Retina device. But if you are, you're in for a treat. The buildings, vehicles, foliage and just about everything else look quite good and remarkably sharp. Unfortunately, the character models -- which, keep in mind, were designed for the PlayStation 2 -- can appear a bit awkward at times, and this is only magnified by the HD resolution we are now treated to. This isn't anywhere close to being a deal breaker, but you may occasionally get a laugh out of a strange gait or goofy facial expression.
Music is another high point, with classic '90s tunes filling the fictional radio stations. There are almost too many songs to even keep track of, but if, for some reason, you want to listen to your own tunes, you can do that as well through the game's custom playlist feature.
San Andreas offers a few different control options, including virtual analog sticks, virtual digital buttons and so on. The game also features MFi controller support for devices like the Logitech PowerShell and MOGA Ace, though I haven't yet been able to test this feature (we'll be running some comparisons soon, so stay tuned). The virtual analog method feels the most comfortable of the options available, and with a little practice, it's easy to replicate the feeling of using a proper gamepad.
Whether you're a seasoned GTA veteran or you've never touched the franchise before, GTA San Andreas is the perfect place to start, and it's practically flawless on iOS. The game is US$6.99, which is a bargain considering you could play the game for well upwards of 50 hours.