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Let's just get things straight right off the bat: fitting a game as massive as Grand Theft Auto III on a mobile device is really impressive. It's even more impressive to make the game a faithful port, containing all of the content and character from the original. However, it doesn't change the fact that touchscreen devices really aren't suited to this game.
The lack of face buttons on iOS and Android devices (I reviewed the game on an iPad, by the way) means that Rockstar had to devise a new set of controls. What they decided to do was place a series of virtual buttons across the screen. For example, you hop into a car by pressing the car door button, leap over bushes by hitting a jump button, and so on.
This system would work well enough if the controls for the game weren't so complex. Jumping, running, honking the car horn, shooting, and punching all required their own buttons. The result is a large bank of buttons on the left hand side of your screen. Couldn't they have just had virtual buttons resembling, say, the PlayStation 2 controller? Four buttons whose functions vary by context (in the PS2 button, the square button was for car brakes or jumping) would be a lot easier to learn and use. As is, I had to take my right hand off the device to get the more hard-to-reach buttons.
Driving itself has five different buttons: one for brakes, one for gas, two for left and right, and one for the handbrake. These buttons are split into two small banks on the bottom left and right of the screen, so driving feels a bit like you're holding a gamepad. The illusion is broken once you actually try to drive quickly. The controls just feel too touchy, especially with turning. In my first half-hour with the game, I flipped my car more times than I probably ever did in the dozens of hours I spent with the PS2 original.
To be fair, the game gives you options. However, neither of them are appealing. You can drive by using your device's acceleromotor but tipping your iPad back and forth is even more prone to jerky movements. The other option is to use your finger like an analog stick (this is the default control for walking, too) but still felt too loose.
Considering the game is centered around driving, poor vehicle controls are kind of a kiss of death. I had to drive at "granny speed" to mission objectives or risk inadvertently ramming cop cars or pedestrians - both scenarios result in a chase with police. If you are getting chased by the police, by the way, good luck. You're not going to be able to pull off the quick, precise driving moves that you hope to.
The shooting controls are even worse. You press a "shoot" button and pray that the game locks onto the right target. One time I was being chased by a cop and my car caught fire - a sign that it's taking too much damage and is about to blow up. I slammed on the brakes and hopped out. The police officer did the same. Eager to dispense some street justice, I turned toward the cop and start mashing my "shoot" button. When the camera swung around to catch up with my movement, it revealed that I had shot two pedestrians and one gang member. The cop was having no such trouble, though, and quickly gunned me down.
If you die during a mission, you'll be given an option to retry it from the beginning. This saves you the time it would take to commute to the briefing from your safehouse. Still, checkpoints within the missions themselves would've been preferable. It's frustrating enough to flip your car in the last leg of a mission; being forced to replay the mission from the start because of this mistake will make you want to throw your iPhone.
It's a shame that the shoddy controls make GTA III so hard to enjoy. GTA III is a massive, hilarious game with a lengthy campaign and plenty of side missions. The 10 Year Anniversary Edition is just as huge and funny but it's an inferior copy. Yes, it's impressive that they fit such a big game onto such itty-bitty device but that doesn't mean it's worth playing. Rather than wrestle with this version, you'd be better off grabbing the PC edition off Steam or finding the original in a bargain bin. Alternately, you can buy a game like GTA: Chinatown Wars that was designed from the ground up with mobile devices in mind.
Platforms: iOS (reviewed), Android
Developer: Rockstar Games
Publisher: Rockstar Games
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