Game Reviews

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

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Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

Whether or not it actually works, you've got to give Rockstar some credit for even attempting to bring crime caper Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas to mobile.

This is a game, after all, where you can drive cars and boats, shoot guns, fly planes and choppers, base jump, spray graffiti, bounce low riders, put out fires, do drive-bys, recruit gang members, jump, swim, sprint, and flip off pedestrians.

That was complicated enough on a PS2 controller and that thing looks like the steering wheel for an alien spacecraft. It's quite amazing, then, that all those interactions, and more, can be pulled off on a slab of touch-sensitive glass with a minimum of frustration.

Wrong side of the tracks

Thanks to a trio of steering options (a fake analogue stick, two buttons, or flick-to-steer), you can drive cars and bikes with ease. And with some rather generous auto-aim and a handy touch-to-target system, you can shoot rival gangbangers without fuss.

I even finished two notoriously tough missions - chasing down a cholo with OG Loc on the back of your bike, and keeping up with a train with Big Smoke - on touchscreen, and I only put a few pence in the swear jar.

It also works with physical iPhone controllers, like the MOGA Ace Power. With this, it's almost exactly like playing on PlayStation 2, for better (driving feels great and you can easily move while fiddling with the camera) or worse (you're stuck with auto-aim and can't play it like a third person shooter).

It doesn't look like the PS2 version, though. The game has improved character models (hello, individual fingers!), better frame rate and draw distance, and - if your iOS device is powerful enough - reflections and more realistic shadows.

Madd Dogg's Rhymes

If you've never played San Andreas before, you should know that it is the second biggest and broadest Grand Theft Auto game in the series's history - just behind this year's GTA V.

It might start as a modest tale of a turf dispute in the slums of Los Santos, but it soon spirals out into a state-sized saga that takes you through the countryside, up a mountain, into the desert, through a Vegas-style strip, and to a hilly bay-side city.

Missions, which can be taken in any order you please, generally involve using guns and cars in creative ways. Like all the PS2-era GTAs, those odd jobs can often be frustrating in their difficulty (though new checkpoints ease the pain) and rigidity.

They do advance a good story with top notch voice actors, though it fails to stay on the tracks when protagonist CJ is trying to justify murdering government agents and nicking jump jets.

Body Harvest

But GTA has never been about working through a series of set missions. It's about kicking back, stealing a plane, flying to the top of Mount Chiliad, and tipping a Winnebago off the side for no other reason than simple anarchistic pleasure.

You can also do odd jobs like pimping, driving ambulances, turning into a vigilante, running taxis, dating girls, robbing houses, taking over gang territory, and competing in races. All told, seeing everything San Andreas has to offer can take upwards of 100 hours.

And that's not to mention the killer soundtrack, humour that flits between sharp satire and frat-boy fart jokes, gorgeous vistas, hidden trinkets to find, and the ability to eat so many burgers that CJ gets fat. It's an absurdly ambitious game, and now it's on your phone or tablet.


And it comes with few compromises. With a little tweaking and a Cluckin' Bell bucket full of patience, the touchscreen controls perform well, even under stress. And if you're rocking an MFi controller, it's like playing a PSP game.

As a hopeless nostalgic who has spent more time base jumping off the Vinewood sign than I'd care to admit, it's hard to know whether a new player would appreciate San Andreas. It's tremendous fun, but it's also creaky, dated, and often frustrating.

But, if like me you have happy memories of knocking over casinos with a blind Chinese gangster or burning pot fields with a whacked-out hippy, it's easily worth the cash to have this epic game on speed dial.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

San Andreas is an enormous, funny, varied, and sometimes frustrating PS2 classic that has come to mobile with few compromises and surprisingly good controls
Mark Brown
Mark Brown
Mark Brown is editor at large of Pocket Gamer