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Hands-On Preview: Grand Theft Auto III for iOS

It has been ten years since Grand Theft Auto III hit the PlayStation 2 and showed the world that video games aren’t just about rescuing princesses.  Its anti-hero sandbox gameplay pushed subject matter to new levels, but also stood as a showpiece for the technology behind the newfangled PS2.  What once strained the might of Sony’s cutting edge console will soon be available in the palm of your hand as GTA III hits iPhone and iPad for the game’s 10th anniversary.  Default Prime got some hands-on play with the new app at the New York Comic Convention.


While GTA: Chinatown Wars was a fine game, and good addition to the iPhone’s library, GTA III is a full-fledged port of the original Playstation 2, not a streamlined iPhone re-imagining of the title.  Although not in its final state, the game was playable at the New York Comic Convention and the mostly complete game was impressive.  It offers the full GTA III experience as advertised, with slightly improved graphics too.  The fact that it has been squeezed onto a handheld platform in its entirety is quite a technical accomplishment.

The major differences that long-time fans will notice are in the controls.  The iOS edition uses a virtual joystick, or a virtual D-pad for movement on foot, and a set of left & right buttons for steering in cars.  There are no shoulder buttons for aiming or hand-braking, so these functions are mapped to buttons near the right thumb. The Radio station is changed by swiping the station logo at the top of the screen. This set up is customizable for players who don’t care for the default set-up.


While it might appear to be a case of “Just what it says on the box”, GTA III for iOS actually has some new features that weren’t seen in the original game.  It will use the accelerometer to let players steer when driving a vehicle and will allow players to use their iTunes song list as an in-game radio station (Although Rockstar has said that this function might come as a post-release update).  A new aiming system has been implemented, and players can hit a button to lock on to nearby targets, then swipe the screen to cycle between other pedestrians within range.

The 10th anniversary is yet another sign that the game industry has grown up, and what was once viewed as a dangerous “murder simulator” has now become a quaint, retro classic for your phone, much like Tetris and Pac-Man.  Older gamers can grab it to enjoy the nostalgia that comes with exploring the comfortable streets of Liberty City once again, but younger gamers have the chance to learn about the history of their favorite pastime through this resurrected classic.


Pricing and release date haven’t been set at the time of writing, but November 2011 is the current estimate. It will be priced competitively with other iPhone games.  Grand Theft Auto III will be available for iPhone, iPad, and Android.  Check back at Default Prime for updates in the weeks ahead.  You can see the announcement video HERE.

Charles is a proud contributor to Default Prime, as well as the Xbox/ PC Department Lead at Player Affinity, a reviewer for The Indie Game Magazine, and a Special Agent at the U.S. Department of Electronic Entertainment.

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