GTA San Andreas (iOS) Review

The last of the Playstation 2 era Grand Theft Auto games goes mobile. It’s an expansive game that offers a lot of value for the asking price, although mobile isn’t the ideal way to play.

GTA San Andreas (iOS): On the plus side

GTA San Andreas was the last of the PS2-era Grand Theft Auto titles, and there is something mindblowing about being able to play it on a mobile platform. Yes, I know that Rockstar’s previously released GTA III and Grand Theft Auto Vice City, but still, if you’ve played the originals, the idea that you could play them on your phone is somewhat mindblowing.

This is a little game I call "Extreme Air Conditioning"
This is a little game I call “Extreme Air Conditioning”

Grand Theft Auto San Andreas offers a satirical and crime-soaked view of early 1990s west coast USA. It’s very recognisably a GTA game, complete with plenty of driving missions, mini-games and lots of hidden jokes, and the chances are you’re already familiar with it. Like the rest of the GTA series, this isn’t a game for kids.
Rockstar claims this is a “remastered” version of GTA San Andreas, with redefined character models. They certainly look decent considering the original quality of the models if you’d only played the PS2 version; a little less so if you were an Xbox or PC player.
When they said "put the pedal to the metal", this wasn't what I envisaged.
When they said “put the pedal to the metal”, this wasn’t what I envisaged.

The big thing about San Andreas remains its impressive size. You play through as gang member Carl Johnson, and while you start out as a small time gangster, you quickly spread out over what is a very large state to play in. As with other GTA games, you can play through the story modes, or ignore them completely and make your own sandbox fun.
There’s also the capability for cloud-based saves, so if you’ve got multiple iOS devices you can play the one game across each device. The only catch there is that it’s not iCloud, but instead Rockstar’s “Social Club” that you have to sign up for to enable cloud saves.

GTA San Andreas (iOS): On the minus side

There are two ways to look at GTA San Andreas; firstly the gameplay, and then the way that it’s been implemented for mobile platforms.
GTA San Andreas was always an ambitious title for its day; the largest GTA game at that time with a huge game map and a lot of content to offer. That’s a plus when the content is good, but the simple honest truth is that it’s not always good. There are minigames around working out that are just plain dull, and they haven’t become any better with time.

This was dull then, and it's still dull now.
This was dull then, and it’s still dull now.

Equally, there are missions that are good, and there are missions that are bad. They are a little more palatable thanks to a more generous checkpoint and restart system, but they’re still not great.
Aiming was always terrible on the PS2-era GTA games, and it’s not really any different on a touchscreen.
Then there’s the control issues. GTA San Andreas has a number of missions that rely on precise control — if you’ve played through the original you can probably think of the missions I’m talking about — and that’s not exactly what you get with touch controls.
Crash due to controls, restart. Crash due to camera, restart. Crash due to OG Loc, ponder if you can just shoot him in the head. Do so, fail mission, restart.
Crash due to controls, restart.
Crash due to camera, restart.
Crash due to OG Loc, ponder if you can just shoot him in the head. Do so, fail mission, restart.

This is a game that runs better on iPads than iPhones, largely because it allows you to spread your hands out to more accurately hit virtual buttons in time, but you will still crash a lot simply because analog turning won’t register taps in time, or simply decide to ignore them. This is something that could be tweaked for sensitivity in an update beyond what’s currently capable, and hopefully it will be.
Likewise, the first release code is quite crash prone; I’ve had to refresh the app and restart both on iPad and iPhone during the review period.

GTA San Andreas (iOS): Pricing

GTA San Andreas currently costs $7.49 as a universal iOS app. It’s also scheduled for release on Android, Amazon Kindle and Windows Phone platforms “soon”, and I’d expect it to be priced at the same kind of level.

GTA San Andreas (iOS): Fat Duck verdict

GTA San Andreas remains a classic, and the iOS version is mostly good. I’ve got to say that if you were going to play this — and especially for the first time — it’s still something that will play better with a physical controller than it does a touchscreen. That’s a matter of how the code was originally constructed, and the limitations of touchscreen devices. GTA San Andreas does, according to Rockstar, support Made-for-iOS controllers, so that may be a decent way to play; I can’t say as I haven’t been able to test it that way.

Subtle jokes? No, you've come to the wrong place.
Subtle jokes? No, you’ve come to the wrong place.

There’s a lot to GTA San Andreas, and at this asking price it’s hard to argue it’s not good value.
I’d still argue that Vice City is the best of this era’s GTA games, simply because the smaller map allows for tighter gameplay and less empty space. GTA San Andreas definitely isn’t a game for the younger set, and despite the claims of it being remodelled there are still some rough edges. If you loved the original it’s enticing enough for ad-hoc play, and the shorter missions make for a good mobile game, but if you’ve never played it before, I’d strongly suggest picking up the fairly-regularly-discounted PC/Mac version instead.

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