Has it really been that long? Next week marks the 10th anniversary of Grand Theft Auto III, one of the landmark games that literally changed everything for gamers. At the New York Comic Con, Rockstar tried hard to ensure that you’ll want to indulge in the open world mayhem of GTA 3 all over again – on iOS devices like the iPad2 and the iPhone 4S.
With all the stunning new games being offered every week, why would gamers want to revisit the old game? Aren’t those graphics ancient now, so much so that the game should be nothing more than a wonderful, salient memory of a time gone by? That kind of thinking makes sense. But if you saw what I saw, you’ll probably be psyched to play those classic courier missions all over again.
As I indulged in the game’s second mission, I saw that it had been given the HD treatment, and everything from character models to cars to the gritty urban streets look new. You can think of it as urban nostalgia with a nifty 2011 upgrade. “This game really shines because today’s devices are about twice as powerful as the best Pentium PCs that were state of the art when the game was first released,” says producer Rich Rosado of the demo code that was completed just hours before the Comic Con began.
Rosado pointed out that Claude, the game’s silent protagonist, really had no fingers on his hands in the original version. “His hands were kind of club-by,” he says. The updated game not only has hands for its anti-heroic characters. It features faces with cleaner, more human-like facial detail. And Claude doesn’t lunk around as you control his gait. He moves with more fluidity, less robotic inhumanity. That attention to detail applies to the world you traverse as well. I really wanted to jump to the Callahan Bridge area just to check out the city’s vista at night. There’s subtle shading and a looming foggy look at you walk or ride down a street. The polished sheen on car paint now shows off real-time reflections of the nearby environment as you pass.
The controls, not all of which are on screen at the same time, feel smooth and natural. On foot, you can move left, right, sprint, jump, shoot, punch, and lock on. When you jack a car, you have controls to speed up, enter, exit, brake, handbrake, shoot, and one for the horn. Want to switch weapons? Swipe lightly over the weapon icon at the screen’s upper right. Double tap an icon and a new car falls magically from the sky. It fun to do, and I wanted to just tap and tap to check out all the vehicles. And thankfully, the cars and trucks drive differently. The Linerunner truck I tried felt heavier and steadier than the souped-up convertible, which drove more loosely, like it would be fun for a night of speedy, girl-watching fun.
If you find yourself using one control feature more than another, you can increase the size of an icon so that it’s easier to find on the screen. And you can eschew the onscreen controls and use the internal gyroscope to drive. It all just seemed easy, intuitive, and a breeze to control, certainly more so than playing it via a PlayStation controller.
Those famous radio stations packed with well-mixed pop music will return as well. If you’re done with one, swipe across the top middle of the screen to change stations. Done with all of Rockstar’s stations? You can import your iTunes playlist and use that as a radio station.
“It’s still not quite complete,” said Rosado. Even as we spoke, new artwork for control icons was coming in via his iOS device. Rockstar also confirmed that they will eventually optimize GTA III for earlier, single core iOS devices like the first iPad, so that's nice too.
By Harold Goldberg