New system. New hands. Same old CJ.
As a huge fan of Rockstar Games and, in particular, the groundbreaking title that was Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas – I made a conscious effort never to revisit Los Santos until I had come to forget the bulk of the game. It was like a great movie or indeed a great book; sometimes you want to dive straight back in – but more often than not you want to sit back and ruminate on the precious memory you had of it. A decade has passed since that game found its way to me on the PlayStation 2. You could say the timing couldn’t have been better. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is now available on iOS, Android and Kindle Fire devices with a subsequent contemporary feel and a fresh lick of HD paint…
But is it any good? I must say it has a lot to make up for as I’ve yet to be satisfied by any of the previous mobile ports thus far. GTA III was a novelty but the controls were too clunky and added extreme levels of difficulty to an otherwise already difficult game. Equally, Chinatown Wars was built from the ground up with touch screen aspects in mind (as it was originally produced for the Nintendo DS) but ultimately it resisted some of the charm its console counterparts possessed.
As San Andreas is an official Rockstar mobile release, it is undeniably a like-for-like port of the original. This is the entire game, complete with all missions and the ever-so-addictive free-roaming sandbox aspect that propelled the franchise into the loftiest heights of the gaming industry. You play as CJ, an ex-gang member who returns to Los Santos to bury his recently deceased mother. As the game progresses things crank up as CJ rekindles his old gang and tries to restore them to their former heights. If you are aware of any of the GTA titles, then you’ll know this is the most critically successful and most beloved title in the series.
If you hook yourself up to the Rockstar Social Club, then it even has some cloud save options for you – in case for any reason the game gets botched on your device. This is a fantastic addition, as on many occasions I’ve found I’ve needed to clear out space on my iPad – only to reinstall an app and find it’s back to the drawing board at 0% completion. The official soundtrack and dialogue return here in great HD style – it was a particular delight to enjoy Officer Tenpenny (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson) once again, taking into account Jackson’s wonderful career over the past decade.
Bizarrely, the game looks far more impressive than it ever did on the PlayStation 2. It’s received a complete graphical overhaul – meaning the draw distance is far greater, the character models are more detailed (you may have heard CJ actually has hands now instead of little blobby things) and the lighting, dynamic shadowing and real-time environmental reflections are ridiculously impressive on portable devices as small as an iPhone 4S. There are also more frequent checkpoint saves so you can enjoy the same classic GTA gameplay without any of the frustration that comes with dying.
An area that has always bothered me with these mobile ports are the controls. Previously, it had been like throwing a sausage down an alleyway (so to speak) – a complete waste of time. Here, there are 3 control schemes which are fully customizable. They work a lot better than previous mobile GTA titles, although I still struggle on occasions to get my thumb to stay on the touch screen properly. It’s something you adapt to quickly and something you can train yourself to be good at, but on many occasions my thumb slipped off the touch screen and therefore I was stood still being fired upon by my Balla foes. Subsequently, in order to achieve a smoother style of controls – the camera is greatly more simplified and can be moved using your fingers on the blank spaces of the screen. In regards to weapons and fighting gameplay, a lot of this has now been toned down to simple auto-aim – meaning less frustration and more clinical kills (which is good) yet you also feel slightly detached from the experience (which is bad).
At £4.99 ($6.99) this is an absolute bargain for those of you who like to game on the go. As a HD remastered game it looks crazily superior to its console counterpart, it runs smoother too – however the control scheme takes some adjusting to. It’s also a bit of a battery sink (as one would come to expect) so it’s best to make sure you game in brief spells to avoid draining the life out of your mobile device. You may feel slightly detached from the action side of the gaming experience as a lot of that is beyond your control with auto-aim, however this doesn’t detract one ounce from the nostalgia, the graphical capabilities and the fantastic narrative that this game proposes. There isn’t a better-looking game out there at the moment (with the exception, perhaps, of The Room) and it’s mobile ports like these that are undeniably running consoles like the DS and PSP into the water.
Congrats Rockstar, as far as mobile games go this is exactly what I wanted after a decade’s hiatus – it’s good to get back on the bike. CJ’s bike, that is!