It doesn’t feel like it’s been just over a decade since Grand Theft Auto III landed on the PlayStation 2 and went on to be the watershed game for 3D sandbox titles, make Rockstar hundreds of millions of dollars, and blah blah blah. Now that they’ve added support for PowerVR-enabled phones, I’m now finally able to get my hands on this former juggernaut. Like literally, my thumbs are touching the game itself. So how does it fare in its transition to mobile? Read on…
If you’ve never played the GTA3 in its variety of iterations over the years, you’re enlisted as Claude, a silent protagonist that breaks out of jail in the opening cutscene and ends up working his way up the ladder of crime organizations while the stakes become increasingly dangerous. The game’s tutorial, which felt pedantic on a console or on the PC, feels right at home on a phone. If they had you shooting up dudes from the get-go, you’d probably delete this game immediately. Movement is handled by a virtual stick on the left third of the screen while your other controls pop up as contextual icons in the bottom right, whether you’re on-foot or driving. Analog options are available for precision control, but I found myself more trusting in the standard digital options, especially as the game would shudder during an incoming e-mail or phone call (yes, this is best played in Airplane Mode whenever possible.)
What you’re playing here is almost note-for-note what you played with a dual-stick controller ten years ago. It’s shocking in the same way that playing SimCity 2000 on a PocketPC in 2001 was also really cool. This works with and against you as the game fails to take advantage of the many advances the franchise encountered in succeeding installments. For example, the dive from a moving car that was added in Vice City would’ve been a great addition here. The lack of dual-stick movement is still a drag as the camera is still wicked slow to pan you back to where you’re facing. You can actually swipe over Claude to rotate the camera, but you have to move your thumb to the center of the screen to do so, which is hardly practical in the middle of some action, or worse, a gunfight. (The game came out a month before the original Halo, which taught the industry how to handle dual-sticks in a shooter. Yes, it was jarring coming from Dead Space to this.) You still have to go to a garage to save your game (annoying, especially as your battery drains so quickly running the game) and even on a large screen, the UI elements that weren’t made specifically for the touch controls are incredibly small. I had to squint to see where my mission objectives were as the marker is probably 4 pixels large as it swivels around the ring of the map (you can click the map to get the full sized version, though). Switching radio stations is also only possible by swiping across a sliver of real estate below your car’s controls and you’re not given the option to set a default station, either.
In many ways, this port feels like a slapdash move to mobile that hardly takes advantage of the platform, but there are some highlights just in how the game was built originally. Aside from the great setup learning the game, the missions are perfectly sized for quick gameplay sessions, playing any more will simply fatigue you. These missions maintain their sometimes diabolical difficulty from older formats, so be sure to firmly grip your phone as it will simply fly out of your hands as the frustration begins. Another cool point: all of the cutscenes, radio stations, and voice-overs are exactly as you left them.
Even if it feels like a square peg cropped to fit in a round hole, the experience is still authentic enough that it’s worth sticking with. For $2.99, you can’t go wrong revisiting Liberty City. Just be sure to check that your phone works with it as only Tegra and PowerVR-based phones are compatible with the game.