Field Report: Grand Theft Auto 3 (iPad)

There's something timeless and magical about driving atop sidewalks through groups of horrified civilians as the song "Scarface (Push It to the Limit)" blasts over the radio of a stolen vehicle.

Grand Theft Auto 3, the Rockstar classic, is now available for iOS and select Android devices. When the game first launched in 2001, it pushed the PlayStation 2 and game design. That tradition continues today, proving mobile platforms can feature wild, expansive worlds I never thought possible.

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I still recall fond memories of playing Grand Theft Auto 3 when the game first arrived in stores. At the time, I didn't own a video game console, but I had friends that did. Soon after I was first exposed to GTA3's splendid chaos, those friends became "best friends." I used people with complete disregard the way GTA3's silent protagonist used his fists to solve problems: often and happily. It was a drug.

Ten years later, the game is still a treat to revisit, and while the iPad 2 can handle the game's environment and gameplay, it has difficulty playing by GTA3's rules.

On iOS, GTA3 has a multitude of control options for on foot and in vehicle action. Though I was able to adjust the position and size of on screen buttons using an iPad 2, the gameplay zone almost always felt claustrophobic. Once I eased into the on foot action, I was transported back to a time where I'd stalk the streets of Liberty City, weapon in hand, creating mass hysteria with a smile on my face. Then, I'd get into a car, and the hysteria would leap out of the screen and into the real world.

Whether I used analog steering, specific left and right buttons, or the iPad 2's accelerometer, I continuously had issues driving vehicles. GTA3's game design doesn't really give you much time to get better, either. Many of the game's first missions must be completed in a certain amount of time. The pressure associated with achieving goals in a specific time period on console may be a good way to direct player advancement, but it only serves to harm the mobile player.

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Often, I'd be forced to restart missions because I ran out of time. In one particular mission, I had to steal a car, rig it with explosives, and return it in pristine condition within five minutes. Perhaps others will handle the scenario with deeper calm, but being unable to drive the vehicle better than a pinball forced restarts countless times.

I feel like Rockstar decided the game could work on mobile, but failed to consider some of the strict rules employed by the team in 2001 to direct player focus during missions. GTA3 offers players a sandbox to play with, but its missions are walled off gardens.

I've been practicing driving throughout the world, and I'm getting better at controlling the game. Running around the city is fun. Some of the missions are a blast. But, the game isn't suited for the platform with timers pushing players to the limit of their frustration. This entire thing may be alleviated by playing the game on the Xperia Play, which includes PlayStation-style controls on the device; however, I have no experience with this version of the title.

I only played a few hours of a preview build, and much of my enjoyment has been one soaked in nostalgia. Grand Theft Auto 3 on mobile devices is labeled as an anniversary release, celebrating the game's ten years of existence. Like at a dysfunctional family Thanksgiving dinner, you remember why you're supposed to love it, but the game makes that very difficult.

Grand Theft Auto 3 is available on select iOS and Android devices for $4.99. For the purposes of this preview, Rockstar loaned Shacknews an iPad 2 with the game pre-loaded on it.


Field Reports provide our first-hand experience with the latest games, but should not be considered a review.