I’m not a violent carjacking type, but I can’t ignore how much fun it is to act as if on the small screen. So thanks to the recent revival Grand Theft Auto III by Rockstar Games, it’s “game on” again on the unsuspecting populace of Liberty City and “war declared” on those that dare get in the way.
Timed perfectly for the tenth anniversary of its original release all the way back in the dark ages of 2001 when the PlayStation 2 was still king, and appropriately dubbed Grant Theft Auto III: 10 Year Anniversary, GTA3 does one thing that most players will be incredibly grateful for – it doesn’t try to improve upon the experience. True to the very nature of nostalgia, GTA3 has been released for iOS and Android platforms in all its retro glory, which comes as a pointed reminder of just how ahead of the times the game was when it was released.
If you’ve never played GTA3 before, here’s a little backstory – although in all honesty, you really don’t need to know much to enjoy the mayhem that ensues once gameplay begins. The main protagonist is a convicted bank robber who gets inadvertently set free when an explosive chain of events unfold during his routine transfer from county jail to prison. Once on the loose, our lead character is enlisted by the underground criminal element as a goon taking on various thuggish assignments like stealing cars and beating people up with baseball bats. Ultimately, the deeper into gameplay you go the higher up the underworld food chain our anti-hero rises, leading to a number of interesting scenarios. All details of the GTA3 backstory are brought to entertaining life when you launch the game, playing out like a mini-movie complete opening credits and a 70s-crime-drama influenced theme.
You’ve got to hand it to the guys and gals who slave over games like GTA3, because it can’t be easy. Especially when it comes to taking a game that’s been traditionally played with hand-held controllers and adapting it for use on a touchscreen device. The game developers did just about the best job they could possibly do in the case of GTA3, however, even putting forth with some intuitive controls like the ability to “look around” by sliding a finger from left to right on the tablet screen. To accomplish the character’s on-foot movement, there’s a virtual analog stick that’s accessed by tapping the left hand side of the screen. On the lower right side of the screen there are touch controls for punching, jumping, running, shooting (when your character’s got a weapon in hand), and getting in and out of cars.
Once behind the wheel, additional touch buttons appear for acceleration, reverse, e-brake, and horn. But it’s the steering controls that offer the most varied and equally frustrating experience. Depending on how you establish your settings in the Options menu, you can either opt for analog stick steering, accelerometer steering, or standard left/right arrow steering. Where GTA3’s touchscreen controls are concerned, it depends entirely on preference, but I discovered that I had the best amount of control on my 10.1-inch tablet when utilizing the analog stick.
Of course, “control” is a relative term when it comes to GTA3 on a touchscreen device. The standard control option of left/right arrows are almost impossible to control for perfectionists who want to at least make an effort of getting from Point A to Point B without killing any pedestrians or sideswiping moving cars, and the accelerometer control wasn’t much better. This is the option that lets you steer by physically turning your tablet like you would a wheel, and while it’s a fun novelty to try out, it’s not exactly the most conducive to achieving gameplay objectives – especially if you’re tasked with simultaneously manipulating the on-screen touch controls.
Driving and walking control buttons can be adjusted and moved around the screen for a more personalized experience, but it takes quite a bit of adjustment to learn how to play GTA3 on a touchscreen. For those that don’t even want to bother trying, there’s good news. It’s possible to play the game using an Xbox 360 controller on your Android tablet, provided you have the proper USB inputs or adapters which delivers much greater control over gameplay. I did not test the PlayStation 3 or any other USB gamepad with the device, but a quick search online reveals that at least the PS3 controller works with some tweaking and button mapping.
Those playing GTA3 on the iPad are out of luck and there is little-to-no gamepad support for Apple’s tablet, sans a few apps that turn an iPhone or iPod touch into a buttonless controller.
As mentioned earlier, the graphic look of GTA3 remains mainly unchanged from its original 2001 release and what’s truly shocking about that is that it still manages to somewhat impress. From the opening credits to the storyline that establishes the game’s premise, and from the short vignettes between missions to the actual gameplay itself, the video rendering is superb. There are only the occasional instances of minor screen glitches to remind you that you’re using a mobile device and not planted in front of your Xbox, which is really a miracle of technology that this gamer does not take for granted. However, I played this on a dual-core ASUS Transformer. Early reviews from original iPad owners reveal the game is buggier on the older iOS tablet.
Moving around the game, you discover that its designers paid close attention, as evident by minute details, like an appropriately placed “Badfellas” movie poster. Even the rain effect is, well, effective, as are the lip movements of speaking characters and the bodily motion of the main character as he races, runs, kicks, slugs and shoots his way from one violent altercation to another. Granted, textures are a bit flat and people are still blocky, but it all still works. GTA3 is not Infinity Blade, which is really a graphical showcase more than fully-realized game, but it certainly does not look as dated as its 10 years would suggest.
Finally, the driving visuals are excellent in their fluid motion and every crash, head-on collision and vehicular homicide answers that burning question that lives inside the mind of every normal, sane driver: “What would happen if I did THIS?”
The presence of removable subtitles for character voices makes it possible to play GTA3 with the sound off, but doing so would only take away from one of the most entertaining parts of the game. Sure, it’s a blast to move from one violent carjacking to another, tearing up and down city streets on various menacing errands. But without the audio cranked, you’ll be missing out on one of the funniest and most entertaining game soundtracks in years. For one, GTA3 comes with a killer soundtrack of original and licensed songs that play courtesy the fictional radio station, Flashback FM, that’s always playing anytime the lead character hops into a car. But the music is not all Flashback FM has going for it, and it’s nothing short of miraculous and refreshing to know that the funny DJ voiceovers and satirical commercials weren’t sacrificed for the tablet release of GTA3. The only thing missing from the tablet/android version of the game is the ability to make custom soundtracks using your own music.
Then of course there are the various character voices, some of which have been credited to notable talents such as Michael Madsen and Joe Pantoliano (AKA “Joey Pants”). However, it’s actually the voices of the city passers-by that offer some of the funniest and most random commentary (like the delivery driver that screams “Learn how to drive!” just moments after you’ve driven away with his van and wrecked it). There are the horrific screams of law-abiding citizens as they’re dragged out of their vehicles, the racing of car engines and the shrieks of police sirens, the crashing of metal against metal and the squealing of tires… and should we even talk about the splats and crunching sounds that you’ll hear every time you accidentally mow someone over?
Yeah, maybe it’s best to play this one with the volume cranked and your earbuds planted firmly in place – tablet speakers tend to suck, after all. The only bugs discovered were occasional pops from the tablet speaker that took place at random intervals anytime the game was minimized and not fully exited.
For $4.99, GTA3 is well worth it… either a fun trip down memory lane for those lucky enough to experience it for the first time 10 years ago, or a necessary history lesson for those too young to give it a go in 2001. A gamepad is recommended as the clumsy touchscreen controls cause actual in-game car accidents on top of the intentional crashes – but since crashes add to the overall sense of Grand Theft Auto III mayhem, it’s not a horrible thing.