Many of you reading this will think of Grand Theft Auto and picture a 3D, third person sandbox game with a traditional, over the shoulder viewpoint.
This would be because of the phenomenal success of the series since GTA 3 for the PlayStation 2, but it was not always this way…
Grand Theft Auto launched in 1997 for the original PlayStation.
Designed by British coding team DMA Design, of Lemmings fame, GTA actually debuted as a top down, 2D game with pseudo 3D elements.
The game was decent, and spawned a couple more in the series, but it wasn’t until 2001 and the seminal GTA 3, along with the transition to a full 3D style, that the series really skyrocketed.
That’s the way the franchise stayed until its arrival on the Nintendo DS in 2009 in the guise of Chinatown Wars, which took the series back to its top down roots with 2D gameplay encased in a 3D engine.
A PSP and iPhone version followed, the latter of which has now been updated and released for Apple’s large screened tablet, iPad.
That’s the history out of the way, now onto the actual game, which sees you step into the shoes of Huang Lee, son of a murdered gangster Triad boss, set with the task of taking his fathers sword to Liberty City to use it to ingratiate himself with his uncle, who is a local gang boss in Liberty City.
In case you were wondering, yes it is the same Liberty City found in GTA IV, and you will recognise many of the locations from that game as you explore.
The city is very large and comprised of different islands, and it really is a technical triumph that the city seems so alive. The streets are buzzing with activity, with cop chases, people wandering around, and all the city sights and sounds really bringing Liberty City to life.
The game is controlled via the touchscreen, and works well for the most part, but I have a major problem with the vehicle controls.
On the DS original, you had a D pad to steer with, which was extremely responsive. It needed to be, a most of the cars are really fast, and the streets can be really thin with lots of traffic, which calls for a lot of twitch steering.
The touch screen just can’t cut it in this respect, as it just isn’t possible to accurately make several different quick course changes in the space of a second or so.
Even after putting some twenty hours into the game, I still never felt 100% confident in the controls, and it’s because, if you try to slide your thumb back and forth on the left and right steering arrows, the game just can’t keep up, so you are forced to take your thumb off and replace it every time. During some of the more manic missions you will be tearing your hair out.
The general walking and shooting controls work just fine, and feel accurate and responsive, and the touchscreen is used to great effect in mini games like hot-wiring cars.
The graphics are excellent, with a cel shaded look that suits the format perfectly, and the city looks great with an amazing amount of details in every car, citizen and building. The game comes with the now standard ‘HD’ subtitle, and it delivers on that with a crisp and vivid look.
This does, however, come with a price.
The frame rate, for most of the time, trots along at a decent rate, but at certain parts of the game it just takes a nosedive.
Not just at the points where there are dozens of cars and explosions filling up the screen, but also when simple buildings come into view. It seems to have something to do with certain lighting effects, and it’s not a constant problem, but to be honest, with a game as high profile as this, having slowdown at all just isn’t acceptable.
What is puzzling is the lack of a multiplayer mode, which featured in both the DS and PSP versions, strange as the iPad and indeed the iPhone are, by their very nature, always on internet devices, which neither Nintendo or Sony’s handhelds are.
If you can look past the problems I have mentioned, then you will have a blast with this game. There are 50 missions to work through, the majority of which are enjoyable, and plenty of great extras, such as the games own internet to have a look through, and the story is really pretty good.
The sound is great, with this version having more radio stations than either the DS or PSP, although not having the ability to create your own custom radio stations with your iPod music must surely go down as a missed opportunity. The game does have a workaround where you have to create a playlist in iTunes called GTA and the game can use that, but in my opinion, either do it properly or not at all. You shouldn’t have to go outside the game to set things like this.
Exploring the city and causing chaos is as fun as it always was in Grand Theft Auto, and stealing a car, getting chased by the cops then driving it into the river, tapping the screen to break the windscreen and then grabbing a jet-ski to make your escape is some of the best fun you can have with an iPad.
If you can look past to unsatisfying controls and suspect performance, then this is one of the best games on the app store, and will have you hooked for dozens of hours.
It feels great to be playing something like this on the iPad, and it says something for the inherent quality here that, despite it’s problems, I feel it should score so high.