When Grand Theft Auto III was first released 10 years ago, all mobile phones sported monochrome screens and were mainly used for (strangely enough) making phone calls. Fast-forward to 2011 and most phones and tablets have transformed into little computing powerhouses, with an entire multibillion dollar industry springing up purely for mobile games. But even with their increased grunt, can the mobiles of today handle a gaming classic like Grand Theft Auto III? With the 10 Year Anniversary version of the game set for release on Android and iOS devices next week, we checked out a preview build of the game (on an iPad 2) to see just how well one of gaming's most revered titles has fared in the transition to the mobile world.
First impressions count, and on starting up GTAIII on an iPad 2, it was apparent that the visuals had received an impressive boost from the console versions. Rockstar says the mobile version of the game has twice the resolution of the original, with the draw distance being roughly equal to GTAIII's PC version. It's certainly not to the same graphical fidelity of something like Infinity Blade II, but GTAIII still manages to impress with the amount of detail it's able to show while in the open world of Liberty City.
When it comes to content, GTAIII 10 Year Anniversary Edition is an exact mimic of the console classic, meaning the misadventures of Claude as he works his way through the various criminal organizations of Liberty City play out exactly as you'd remember them. Rockstar has made some tweaks, however. The game now features an autosave, for example, making it more gaming-on-the-go friendly, and it has also instituted a mission retry option should you fail at a specific task. The camera, too, is now fully controllable (in a car or on foot) and can be adjusted by swiping the center of the screen.
But the biggest change has to do with controls. With no physical buttons available on touch-screen devices, all of the various actions available to Claude in GTAIII have been translated to virtual buttons. These are context sensitive; the virtual button layout onscreen changes, depending on the action onscreen. If you get into a car, for example, an accelerate and brake button will appear, as well as a left and right button for steering. If you equip a grenade or Molotov cocktail, a throw button pops up.
Thankfully, button layout and even size are fully customizable. Digging into the game's options will allow you to move buttons around to better suit your preferences, as well as increase or decrease the size. You can use your device's accelerometer to steer (or not--it felt better not to during our play session), and the virtual D-pad for controlling Claude while he's on foot will automatically shift to where your thumb falls on the screen. Selecting weapons or changing radio stations while in a car was also easy to achieve and is done by simply swiping left or right on the weapon icon in the top right of the screen (or the radio station name in the bottom left).
GTAIII generally played well during our play session, and despite the lack of physical buttons, it was easy to keep control of Claude. The biggest hurdles we faced had to do with the changing location of buttons, depending on what we were doing, but that's a problem we're confident will disappear with more play time. Targeting enemies was also a little problematic, especially those off camera, but the game does auto-target threats, making it less vital to have an exact bead on an enemy.
Because our play session was on an iPad 2, there was also plenty of screen real estate in which the numerous virtual buttons could sit without obstructing our view of the action. On a smaller screen, all of the buttons could look somewhat crowded, but we'll have to reserve judgment until we see the game running on a device like an iPhone.
Despite these niggles, the important takeaway from our brief session with GTAIII 10 Year Anniversary Edition was how faithfully the game seems to have been translated for mobile devices. All of the dialogue, cutscenes, and music of the original have made it across, and we're looking forward to spending some more quality time with the game when it is released on December 15. Be mindful, though: While the game is slated for the iOS and Android, there are specific devices on which it can be played.
Apple iOS devices: iPad 1 and 2, iPhone 4 and 4S, iPod Touch fourth generation
Android phones: HTC Rezound, LG Optimus 2x, Motorola Atrix 4G, Motorola Droid X2, Motorola Photon 4G, Samsung Galaxy R, T-Mobile G2x
Android tablets: Acer Iconia, Asus Eee Pad Transformer, Dell Streak 7, LG Optimus Pad, Motorola Xoom, Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 and 10.1, Sony Tablet S, Toshiba Thrive