148Apps Network Post
Developer: Rockstar Games
Price: $4.99
Version: 1.0
App Reviewed on: iPad 2

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★★½
Game Controls Rating: ★★★★☆
Gameplay Rating: ★★★★★
Replay Value Rating: ★★★★★

Overall Rating: ★★★★½

Grand Theft Auto III popped into the public consciousness a decade ago, in a flurry of controversy and outrage.  Ten years later Rockstar has decided to revisit the genre-defining classic and open world sandbox pioneer, with a level of care rarely seen applied to iOS games.  But really, would you expect anything less from the studio that has developed some of the most financially successful and critically acclaimed games of the last fifteen years?

The Grand Theft Auto franchise should be nothing new to the iOS audience.  Chinatown Wars, a retro throwback title very reminiscent of the first couple of installments in the series, has been available on the platform since January of last year.  While the sharp edged dialog and penchant for mass-murder remains consistent in-between the games, the similarities end here.  Grand Theft Auto III: 10th Anniversary Edition is a complete re-creation of the PlayStation 2 (and much later, Xbox) classic.  Though commonplace now, fully rendered three dimensional game worlds were widely unseen in that era.  The iOS port remains steadfast to this vision, recreating the original game’s visual style with an extreme attention to detail.

Running through Liberty City feels like a trip down memory lane, while the lively metropolis actively bustles around the character.  Much like it did ten years ago, the player’s seemingly mute protagonist feels like a tiny cog in the machine of a much bigger world.  Throughout the campaign, the main character comes across a wide variety of unsavory types scattered throughout each of the city’s boroughs, many of whom will provide help along the way.

Planted directly in the middle of an organized crime war, mission types involve anything from transporting prostitutes to teaching mob bosses “a lesson they will never forget.”  Rockstar pulled in some big name actors to help lend more credibility to this world.  Calling on the likes of Joe Pantoliano, Michael Madsen, and Michael Rapaport drove home the Italian Mafioso characters more effectively than any run of the mill voice actors ever could.  At the time this was fairly unheard of, not to mention a calculated risk.  Luckily it paid off tenfold and help establish a trend that is still fairly commonplace nowadays.

Another trend that Grand Theft Auto III helped to establish was the presence of a wide variety of radio stations, each with their own unique playlists, DJs and hilarious advertisements.  It was the model for how to integrate music into games, and featured an amazing laundry list of artists to draw from; pulling from numerous different genres.  Even though the tracks are older than dirt, they still stand as an effective time-capsule glimpse back at the popular tastes around the turn of the century.

Without delving too much into the story, it goes without saying that this still can hold its own ground as one of the most compelling gaming experiences found on any platform, even a decade later.  The wide variety of mission types, character interactions, well-written dialog and cutscenes that draw the player in, all help to flush out the lush storyscape that is Liberty City.

But as is the case with anything that is as old as Grand Theft Auto III, there are still some issues that come up when transitioning a game to a portable platform like iOS.  The visual aesthetic is a perfect example of that, especially considering that they are a product of the PlayStation 2 era.  In an age where the Unreal Engine can deliver stunning animations and eye popping detail, Rockstar’s engine looks dated and lackluster.  Draw distances are just as terrible, rendering a block ahead of a moving vehicle, if the player is lucky, which also makes navigation difficult as well.

Another aspect of the game that is sure to draw the ire of many is the lack of camera control.  As hard as it may try, the engine’s choice for viewing angles are far from optimal under many circumstances and the only other option is a top down perspective that greatly effects the game’s level of immersion.  However, these are issues that have existed since the title’s original launch, so it shouldn’t really be penalized for standing behind the original design document.

The one area where Rockstar was forced to take a fresh look at things is in the interface design and controls.  There have been a series of context based controls added to the right side of the screen for running, jumping, jacking cars and attacking.  Behind the wheel, these items are replaced with buttons to accelerate, break, hand break, attack and leave the vehicle.  To navigate the car itself there are left and right buttons used to steer, which can be replaced by a virtual joypad once leaving the vehicle.  Though these certainly seem like the most elegant control options for traversing Liberty City, as is the case with any on-screen type controls, they are far from optimal.

Something that will stand out above all else is the performance of Grand Theft Auto III, especially on the higher end iOS devices.  What could once only be achieved on high end home consoles can now be played on a piece of hardware that can fit in your pocket.  The experience is replicated perfectly, with special attention paid to animations that are smooth as silk and action that is as active as ever.

For most games in the App Store, a $4.99 price point would seem a bit high.  However, for a game of this caliber and influence, the only crime would be depriving yourself of a milestone in portable gaming.  This is a trip back into Liberty City that shouldn’t be missed.

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