Prior to Grand Theft Auto III I'd say I had fun messing around in Grand Theft Auto games, but never really enjoyed myself. The top-down view felt incredibly claustrophobic, and, at least for me, made getting immersed into the game world incredibly difficult. I don't think it's hyperbole at all to say that GTA 3 changed everything.

Originally released in 2001 as a Playstation 2 exclusive, Grand Theft Auto III featured a full 3D game engine for the first time in the game series. At least for me, this transformed a silly and entirely too controversial set of video games into a living and breathing universe. It's debatable how well the game has aged in ten years, but in 2001, after the initial cut scene rolls and you're driving through the beginnings of Liberty City, there was no way your jaw wasn't on the floor.

This magic is alive and well in the iOS port of Grand Theft Auto III. There have been a number of open world crime games, most notably Rockstar's own Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars and Gameloft's highly "inspired" Gangstar games released on the App Store but neither game holds a candle to the original GTA3 The level of immersion that's possible in the full 3D Liberty City, especially as you become familiar with the cast of characters you'll spend your time taking missions from, feels downright incredible. In games like this, that very same level of immersion is what has kept me sucked in for potentially hundreds of hours, as when you feel like you're actually playing your part in a virtual world, your role in it becomes that much more compelling.

Gameplay in GTA3 is typical of other open world crime games, which would make sense since Rockstar essentially wrote the book on the subject. Your time in Liberty City will be spent doing whatever is asked of you by various gangsters, drug lords, and other unsavories. Often times you'll be doing jobs for multiple people, and between missions will have the choice of which story line you want to continue, and which you'll revisit later.

Alternatively, you can immediately abandon the storyline of the game and instead focus on side missions (such as stealing a taxi and ferrying passengers around the city), looking for secret (and some not so secret) ramps to get ridiculous amount of air off of, or really, anything else you feel like doing. I've always been partial for stocking up on weapons, and seeing just how long I can survive from the police.

I think I've provided a sufficient recap of what GTA3 is for the half a dozen people out there who somehow haven't played it, so the real question is, how does it translate to iOS devices?

I'm happy to say that the game plays surprisingly well. I've found myself preferring the large screen of the iPad 2, but GTA3 is just as much fun on the iPhone. If you think back to actually playing the game on the PS2 (or other console ports), you'll remember that nearly every button on the controller did something. Sadly, the only way GTA3 can work on iOS devices is by replicating all of these functions as virtual buttons.

This results in buttons galore. On foot you'll have a virtual joystick for running around, along with individual virtual buttons for running, jumping, attacking, stealing cars, changing the camera angle, and pausing. Inside of a car, the virtual joystick changes to a set of buttons to steer, along with buttons for the gas, brakes, hand brake, shooting, honking the horn, starting secondary missions (such as the previously mentioned taxi missions), and getting out of the car. Moving the camera involves dragging your finger around in the middle, and viewing the minimap as well as changing weapons involve hitting the top corners of the screen.

These controls are workable, and are easy enough to manage while doing simple missions or just tooling around Liberty City. Unfortunately, things get crazy as soon as you get involved in actual combat. GTA3 uses a zany lock on system for shooting, and it seems like more often than not when you get into an actual firefight you're fighting the camera, the lock on system, and your character's diminishing health supply more than you're fighting the enemies themselves. Things get better as you get more accustomed to the virtual controls, but it never feels like you have the same precision as you would with an actual controller.

Still, it's Grand Theft Auto III on your iPhone (or iPad), and given both the overall quality and depth of the actual gameplay content of GTA3, it's really easy to get over the clunky controls. The performance is great on recent iOS devices, although pop-in on the game's horizon can be pretty noticeable if you let it get to you-- Looking at videos from the PS2 version of the game, it seems like this pop-in was mostly hidden by the relative low-resolution of the game. The retina display, however, makes it really clear.

Picking up GTA3 seems like a no-brainer, especially at the launch price of $4.99. Regardless of the less than ideal control scheme, you'll get five dollars worth of entertainment out of this game, even if all you do is drive around Liberty City listening to the fantastic in-game radio stations. (My favorite is the talk station.) As you become more accustomed with the splattering of virtual buttons all over the screen, you'll find hours upon hours of content to plow through.

Having played GTA3 to completion many times in the past, I'm incredibly happy to be able to take it anywhere with me on my phone of all things.

TouchArcade Rating

  • Mystery Man

    First one to say "I'm gona wait for a sale/price" drop gets kicked in the balls Saints Row style

    Excellent review though Eli

  • Anonymous

    I'm going to wait for a...n evening till I download this and play it through the night.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you Rockstar for doing this and at such a great price. I hope you continue to do more ports of other GTA games in the future.

    • likealolita

      Vice City was all but confirmed according to a Rockstar Games interview I read on this very Web site.  Still, I wouldn't mind having an *official* confirmation, hehe.

      • michael perovich

        Umm... How can they do vice city and have it be great with the strict "no nudity" rule?

    • likealolita

      Vice City was all but confirmed according to a Rockstar Games interview I read on this very Web site.  Still, I wouldn't mind having an *official* confirmation, hehe.

  • chris

    The game is incredible using the fling joystick. 

  • Anonymous

    I was hoping they managed to do the controls better than it sounds like they did. Now I'm pretty unsure about buying this. So, yeah, I'm waiting for sale. [duck!]

    • Anonymous

      If you're waiting for a sale then you're not doing this for the reason you said. It's an incredibly deep game that has defined many aspects of gaming ever since for $5.

      The main issue is the camera. I would've like to have seen camera controls on the iPad version but I'm guessing you'll see this when Apple upgrades the features with  Bluetooth on iOS devices so they can better support a controller.

      • Michael Matzat

        You can control the cam wen you swipe with two finger.

      • Anti-Archonist

        $5 is a sale IMO. Especially for this. It's a tired cliche, but the coffee/lunch analogy is true. Many of us (not all, but many) think nothing of $10 lunches and $4 coffees. Even multiple $4 beers at the bar that are overpriced by $3+ compared to the neighboring gas station. I used to be a 'wait for a sale' and '.99? it's not free? forget it!' guy myself until I rationalized the ridiculousness of it

  • Anonymous

    I won't be able to play this on my iPad 1 so I'll have to wait until Christmas (my son is getting an iPad 2). He's only 8 so I won't want him playing this -- does anyone know if there are some parental controls either built into iOS 5 or the game itself to make sure he can't play the game until he's older?

    • Anonymous

      haha, nope 😀 
      you maybe can disallow apps that are 17+, it works with videos,
      maybe the app i shidden unless you allow 17+ apps everytime you want to play in settings. you coul also jailbreak(sometime in the future) then its no problem.
      but.. i never would get my son an ipad.
      if i were you, hed get my ipad 1 and id get his ipad 2. cmon, hes 8!
      when i was 8, i didnt even know what the internet was.

      • Ivo

        Yes, you can actually restrict apps that are rated in Settings > General > Restrictions.

    • Aaron G

      An iPad 2 for an 8 year old!?!?

      • Michael Lucas

        iPads are great for kids actually, there's a lot of great kids apps and learning apps for kiddies and toddlers even. It's had a good impact on education. 

      • Anonymous

        if a 3year old cant enjoy himself without an ipad, something is wrong.

      • Aaron G

        I'm well aware, my 2-year old nephew loves the one... that his parents own. I didn't say that toddlers don't like, enjoy, or can't use them. Buying one for them to have as their own though? Extravagant, in my opinion.

      • Anti-Archonist

        I agree with Michael. Although it may seem odd at first, there is enough children's content that even 3-year-olds (yes, 3-year-olds!) enjoy them. Obviously it's an expensive toy so you gotta keep an eye on it. Kids get use to them better than some adults even. It's scary!

      • Erik Wilgenhof

        My 2 year old has one...

    • Schmul Sjifirs

      Actually you can play it on ipad 1

  • Stephen M

    This is a good review however it does not mention (I own this since today on iPhone 4s) the controls can be customized. You can move all the buttons to where you like on the screen and change their size, I have mine setup like Real Racing 2, brake on left and accelerator on the right. You can switch on accelerometer for steering and turn on anologue steering - this hides the steering arrows and gives you more viewing space. I haven't tried shooting yet though.

    • drelbs

      I wish more games did this - sometimes you want to move the dpad just slightly to the left, or reverse order of buttons...

    • Anonymous

      That's a pretty huge omission from the review. Maybe not to everybody but to me that's a really big deal. I'm glad they at least did that if they aren't going to implement real touch controls.

  • Anonymous

    I think I answered my own question. The game is rated 17+ and it looks like I'll be able to set the iPad to not play any 17+ games. So I'll just disable that when I want to play.

  • Anonymous

    One reason GTA3 10 years ago gave me sleepless gaming nights is the collectables, like rampage, unique jumps, etc. is that still in this game?

    • likealolita

      Yes, this seems to be pretty much the entire console game.

    • likealolita

      Yes, this seems to be pretty much the entire console game.

  • Anonymous

    The only thing I take issue with is this concept that the only way to port a game that was designed for a controller is to slap a bunch of buttons all over the screen. I understand that it's the quick-and-dirty option, and most companies doing ports don't want to dig into their own code at all. But this is a touch device, and the majority of apps on it are designed for touch, and I don't see why you can't expect the same from a port.

    Why do I have to hit a button to cycle through targets or lock on when I can tap on the one I want to shoot any time? Why do I need a hijack button when I can tap on cars as they pass by? (If you really want to get fancy, let me fling the guy out of his seat, too - no buttons required!) Decent analog control should handle running just fine, regardless of whether the original did it that way. When you're driving, tapping on the car could honk, and maybe tapping and holding could bring up a little slide-to-start-minigame option. Swiping out toward the driver door could have you dive out. Camera should be a two-finger tap or drag anywhere, like in most apps.

    You could go on and on. Touch can be remarkably intuitive if you're not just using it to emulate an inefficient controller. But unfortunately it sounds like 10 years wasn't quite enough for Rockstar to come up with GTA controls that didn't suck (for once).

    • Drew

      Totally agree man. It would have been nice to get full touch controls, but I'm downloading anyway, as I'm sure a lot of people will. I loved this game when it came out, and I'd like to have it on my phone if for no other reason than nostalgia.

      With that said, perhaps R* will update it with more control options in the future. It's always possible.

    • Anonymous

      the iPad 2 has been available for 10 years? I didn't realize Rockstar was working on this port this entire time.

      In all seriousness, I completely agree. But they have clearly dug into their code considering there are some gestures throughout the game (like camera control, etc). This gives me hope that they will potentially add in some gestures in the future. The only way it'll happen is if enough people buy it, and enough people give such feedback. It won't keep me from playing the game, but I would love to play it with some of your ideas implemented.

  • Brandon Godbout

    anyone know if this has cloud sync?

  • Arnaud Jacob

    Does anyone know if the game runs fine on an iPhone 4 ?

    • ma ne

      Yes, been playing this morning. I had one crash but it's ok now, frame rate is a little dicey sometimes but not terrible at all. I might have had a lot of apps open too

  • Anonymous

    to each their own, but i enjoyed the first one, and couldn't stand everything afterwards, stopped bothering with this franchise ages ago, just seemed pathetically pandering.  might as well play that anime porn stuff, its in the same class in my book.

  • drelbs

    The PS2 version DID have some horrible popup - it's not much different on iOS: you're just looking at a (much) higher resolution than the original...

    • Stephen M

      Much brighter and cleaner too. I have seen bits of pop up though but nothing too crazy.

  • Nikola Bednaic

    I am playing it on my 3GS right now, yes that's a 3GS, it's fully playable tho it does slowdown from time to time...nothing drastic.

    • Anonymous

      So, it works fine on a 3GS, yet it doesn't even run on the latest and greatest Galaxy Nexus android phone.. Fascinating! 🙂

      • adam

        well i can on my droid incredible almost 2 year old phone

  • John Doe

    This game SUCKS on an iTouch 4g, barely any blood (no blood stains/puddles), when there is blood it looks worse than the effects in Gangstar: West Coast Hustle, when driving around the game lags A LOT, cutscenes are laggy as hell too. Overall a dissapointment for Rockstar IMO.

    • Ronte Wright

      Runs fine on my ipod 4th gen.

    • Mauro Gelmi

      Close other apps double pressing the home button and holding an app there

  • Anti-Archonist

    It.... GTAIII.... on my phone. And it works. That alone is enough to forgive the quirks IMO. And it's only $5.

    I am playing on an iPhone 4, judging by the screenshots the textures and particle effects will improve by playing on an iPad 2 or a iPhone 4S, right? The framerate is fine, it's playable. It might be like 25-30fps which is similar to the PS2 original. I am assuming that framerate improves on the better hardware also? Was worried a bit when they initially said it was exclusive to the latest hardware. I remember how horrid and unstable games were on the 3G when they were made with 3GS in mind

  • steven bell

    Downloading now on my 4S was going to wait until after I come back from my holidays but gave in!

  • chris c

    i remember when the first rock star came to iSO for us around this time.. christams gift from them we all took it.  was very cool.. one of the big boys jumping in..  they did learn from that you can tell by the price  the introduced this..  and my guess is they will learn from this experience too with the controls etc etc.  im all about supporting their effort thats for sure.. and am having fun playing the game on my ipad 2... when i get time.. been rather busy for me today..  tomorrow ill be free  to mess with my guitar and this.

  • Lamar Taylor

    Game works great on my iPad 2 and iPhone 4S with no crashing. This game is a steal for only $5 and the music bumps when you play with headphones on.

    I'm a 50/50 guy. I do missions 50% of the time and then do dirt 50% of the time so the game never gets boring for me. I hope they bring San Andreas over to mobile devices next so we get motorcycles and airplanes.

  • Gabriel Shiguemoto

    I'm in Japan and only found the Japanese version. There is a lot of people on the comments complaining that the game was censored, there is no money dropping out bodies and no blood. Is that true on the american version as well? I know GTA always brings polemic wherever it launches.

  • Jiri Fiala

    Sorry, but this is pretty umm... not good. Controls sucks - they are way, way too sensitive (when driving). I am actually unable to finish timed missions. I had zero problems with this on PC original.

    It's also extremely crashy on iPad 1. This is a bad trend of companies that really push older devices to extremes (or just want to sell their games to more people), but don't actually test. Infinity Blade 2 doesn't run on iPad 1 even after two updates!

    If this trend continues, I will consider going back to pirating games. Got burnt too many times recently on AAA titles.

    • Brandon Godbout

      why are you still on an ipad1? make sure all your apps are closed (double tap home button, click icon till it starts shaking, then hit the minus). if you didnt kno....

      my kid has an ipad1 and it works fine. and of course my ipad2 runs it flawlessly. 

      and you will consider pirating because your 5 dollar app doesn't work?  that is hilarious...then again tour czech, so that explains a lot of it.

    • Anonymous

      How can you be so entitled to something that didn't exist last week?  Your choices are to opt out or opt in... not "steal it if it doesn't do what i want it to!"  Sorry you're having trouble, but theft is not one of your options.

  • adam

    This games works on my droid incredible it slow down a little but playable

  • gazwana

    Is there any way to get this game to work on ipod touch 2nd gen 4.2.1

  • malcolm mcewan

    Loved the original game, actually bought a ps2 just to get it, I'm playing it on an iPad1 and not noticing any major problems (though the pedestrian voice samples sometimes go a bit weird) I've only noticed it lagging when I had about 20 triads surrounding me on a rampage mission.
    I sometimes use the fling joystick, which is pretty good, but I also think the normal left/right button driving controls are fine once you get used to them. Yeah, the controls can get fiddly at times, but it's still a great game and it doesnt ruin my enjoyment.

    I think I had a Nokia 3310 back when this first came out, if someone told me then that I'd one day be able to play it on my phone, I would've laughed in their faces! And then beaten them with a baseball bat because back then I thought I lived in Liberty City...

  • Lys.

    I need help, I've completed all the missions in the first city on the game but idk how to get to the next island someone please help!!!

  • MyTech Admin

    I got the game yesterday. Been addicted ever since. I have Chinatown Wars, Gangstar Miami, and Gangstar Rio, but none of them are as good as GTA 3 (Chinatown Wars comes very close).

    My score-94/100
    (Chinatown Wars gets a 90/100)

  • MyTech Admin


Grand Theft Auto III Reviewed by Eli Hodapp on . Rating: 4.5