What can you say about Grand Theft Auto III that hasn’t already been said in the ten years since Rockstar adopted the third-person open city formula?
Well, you could say that it’s long-lived. The very fact that porting it to newer platforms remains profitable for Rockstar testifies to its longevity. But who could have predicted ten years ago that these new platforms would include mobile phones?
In the case of this Xperia Play version, it's a phone with all the requisite PlayStation controls. If our teenage selves could see us now, they‘d be as wide-eyed with wonder as they were when they first saw Marty McFly on a hover skateboard.
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While Vice City is probably the most fondly remembered entry in the series, it was Grand Theft Auto III that laid the groundwork for it and for dozens of similar franchises to come.
Everything that made it great – the car-jacking, freedom, and dark satire – remains untouched and intact. Rockstar knows better than to make a ‘director’s cut’ out of something that's as much a piece of history as it is a video game.
Instead, the emphasis here is on making the controls feel right. For the touchscreen Grand Theft Auto III on iPhone this poses a big problem that Rockstar mostly overcame. On Xperia Play you'd think it would have been less of an issue, but in fact the phone has two fewer buttons to work with than the original DualShock controller and two touchpads that have proven particularly difficult for developers to properly utilise.
Things are a little confusing at first. None of the buttons is as you might remember, with Circle instead of Triangle assigned to hijacking and X assigned to attacking. Combat is still laughably poor, with an erratic auto-targeting system making each gun fight more of a lottery than a challenge.
The driving, on the other hand, is as pleasant as ever and the D-pad makes for easy weaving between cops and over of unique stunt ramps. Even if mapping acceleration and braking to the R and L triggers again means getting used to new control scheme.
While Grand Theft Auto III: 10th Anniversary Edition retains almost all of its considerable charms, it’s not without problems. Not only are the combat controls rather dated, but the game performance on Xperia Play is patchy.
The visual problems include stuttering and choppiness in crowded areas, which is likely a result of the phone being pushed to its limits. But there’s also an irritating amount of pop-in with the draw distance being so close.
But it’s the controls that will determine whether you can enjoy this reboot or not. For the most part Grand Theft Auto III: 10th Anniversary Edition handles well, and the attempt to modernise the control scheme is laudable.
However, that modernisation will result in at least short-term confusion for seasoned Grand Theft Auto players, and some of the more oblique commands - such as pulling off a drive-by (holding Square and the touchpad) and looking behind you (holding the centre of the screen) - are nigh impossible to pull off consistently or effectively.
Even switching weapons involves a troublesome swipe across a minute corner of the screen. You end up having to use both the physical and on-screen buttons, meaning the controls inhabit an infuriating halfway house. Somewhere between totally rehabilitated and unrepentantly criminal. But don't let that put you off too much. It's good to be able to return to Liberty City on a portable device, and for those who've never been there it's an enjoyable way in.
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