It wasn't so long ago that GTA III was the bête noire of the games industry. Hysterical tabloid headlines accused it of encouraging everything from gang violence to sexual promiscuity. To see it available in the squeaky-clean environs of the App Store is something of a surprise (but not so much with Android Market). We're reminded of that old saying; "Money Talks, Bullshit Walks".
For the ten year anniversary of the original PS2 game, Rockstar Games have dusted off the old classic with tweaked visuals and a custom control scheme for touchscreen devices. It looks the business, and it's selling at a ridiculously low price too. But a decade later, is it a game still worth making a fuss about?
How does it play?
For the uninitiated, this is an open-world adventure set in a fictional North American metropolis called Liberty City. You're a low-level hoodlum, on the run from the law, and you have to work your way up the food-chain by running a series of missions for the local crime lords. This involves boosting cars, grievous bodily harm, and occasionally completing the odd side-mission.
The benefit of these missions is that they take you all over the city, and you quickly become familiar with every landmark and side-street as you go about your dubious errands. Even at these beginning stages of the franchise's development, it's hard not to admire the ambition on display, where Rockstar's goal was to create a decaying urban sprawl that was teeming with life. No detail is too small or irrelevant, whether it's a gun shop called "Ammu-Nation" or a fast-food chain called "Fat Burger Kid".
The storyline and characters are very much of an adult nature, where drugs, sex and violence play a frequent part. But lest it become too dark and depraved for your delicate sensibilities, everything is undercut with a humourous parody of modern consumer culture. We've already mentioned the shops above, but it's probably most obvious with the custom radio stations that play as you drive your car, running through the whole absurd spectrum of talk radio, easy listening and vintage rawk.
Why do we like it?
Grand Theft Auto III is a benchmark in modern gaming history. Its open world concept spawned dozens of imitations, influenced still more to push the envelope further, and it made politicians and journalists foam at the mouth. Rockstar themselves would further refine the series with GTA III: Vice City. That is arguably the better game, thanks to its Eighties-era opulence, but GTA III is the real breakthrough.
For those of us old enough to remember playing GTA III on a big boxy console and television set-up, it's amazing to see it resurface – intact – on a mobile device. This is the complete game as it originally appeared, with minor cosmetic nips and tucks to make it a smoother experience. If you own an iOS or Android powered device, and you're over 17 years of age, this is an essential purchase.