Grand Theft Auto 3 mobile hands-on preview

grand theft auto 3 mobile hands on preview gta iiiThis year marks the 10th anniversary of Rockstar Games‘ groundbreaking open-world crime adventure, Grand Theft Auto 3. To celebrate, the developer is taking what was at one time the most marvelous technological wonder in the gaming world and breaking new ground with it once again by delivering a console-quality exerience to a mobile audience.

I stopped into Rockstar’s New York offices this week to take a peek at how the tablet and smartphone ports of GTA3 are progressing. The game was playable in tablet form at New York Comic Con a couple of weekends ago, but that’s not always an ideal place for a media preview. This was just me in a quiet room with some Rockstar reps on hand to demo three versions of the game, running on NVIDIA’s as-yet-unreleased “Project Kal-El” tablet, an iPad 2 and an iPhone 4S.

The Android-powered Kal-El tablet was the first contender, running the game through a TV-Out connection. The frame rates are still being perfected, but it’s immediately clear that this is a much better looking version of the game than most people played on their PS2s.

The visual boost comes as a result of Rockstar using a combination of newly created textures — particularly in the case of signs and vehicles (which now feature fully 3D-modeled engines) — and the higher resolution assets from the game’s PC release. Character models are more complex as well, sporting a higher poly count. The changes might not be immediately noticeable when we’re 10 years past the original game’s release, but they’re clear enough once you start looking back.

The Kal-El tablet also brought out another surprise: A wired Xbox 360 controller used to control the game via the device’s USB port. That’s right: GTA3‘s mobile release will support USB controllers on devices that can handle it. Apple’s tablets and smartphones won’t officially support the feature since they have no USB port, though Rockstar admits that such functionality isn’t out of the question with the help of a Camera Connection Kit.

The iPad 2 demo came next, and I can report that the game runs beautifully on the tablet’s A5 chip. The big challenge in porting a game like GTA comes from streaming in the surrounding open world as you explore it.

The supported device list is still being finalized (despite what was originally announced) but Rockstar admits that such a feat would not have been possible — or would have at least been considerably scaled back — using last generation mobile CPU and GPU technologies. And yes, since you’re probably wondering: It would be a “technical challenge” to deliver mobile ports of Vice City and San Andreas, but it is “very possible.”

Speaking of scaling, GTA3‘s mobile release is being designed to do just that. Much like GTA 4‘s PC release, there’s a certain amount of future-proofing in place that means a tablet released next year with beefier tech powering it will deliver an improved experience over what you’ll be able to install the game on when it launches later this year. There’s even the possibility that a future patch will add PC-like graphics sliders to the game, at least on the Android side.

grand theft auto 3 mobile hands on preview gta iii alt coverIn terms of straight-up gameplay, the controls are still in the process of being tweaked and refined. What I saw and played this week differed from what was offered at Comic Con. It’s more than just the basic controls too; things like virtual button sensitivty are still being tweaked as well. Case in point: hitting the tiny on-screen buttons in the iPhone 4S version of the game is a challenge, though the game runs beautifully on that small-screen platform.

However the final button scheme turns out, players will have the option of adjusting how they appear in the HUD. Everything from the minimap to the control buttons can be moved around and resized to suit a variety of players and grip styles. If you played Conduit on the Wii then you have a good idea of what to expect; there’s total flexibility here.

Beyond the technical stuff, the game is largely unchanged. The parameters for some of the game’s timed missions hae been tweaked, to account for the touchscreen-focused platform’s unusual control scheme needs. Similarly, the overall difficulty will be toned down from what console players might remember.

All of the content is there, however, even potentially controversial bits like being able to… errr… solicit the services of a lady of the night. Rockstar contends that there’s a place for both mature content and console-like gaming experiences in the mobile market, and GTA 3 is meant to address both.

The radio will also be returning in the same form it was when it first appeared in GTA 3. The plan had originally been to add some new radio stations and include support for user-made playlists, but those features were put aside in favor of tightening up the play experience. You can probably expect to see custom playlist support added by patch at some point, but it won’t be a supported feature at launch.

Those who read the news of a mobile port for GTA 3 and scoffed at what seemed like a quick and easy cash grab are in for a surprise. Rockstar is bringing the same level of effort and focus on quality to this port that it does to any of its console or dedicated gaming handheld releases. After all, it’s not every day that a bona fide gaming classic gets the chance to make history twice.

Gaming

The Epic Games store is already luring indie studios away from Steam

The Epic Games Store is less than a week old, but it's already making waves among indie studios. Multiple studios have announced that their games will be timed exclusives on the Epic Games Store, with one studio forgoing Steam completely.
Gaming

Looking for a controller to play 'Super Smash Bros. Ultimate'? Try one of these

The Switch is the most versatile console around, and that means you might need a controller that's different from the norm. In fact, even the standard controller is a best weird. Here's our favorite Switch controllers.
Gaming

PS4 vs. Switch: After weighing the pros and cons, which one comes out on top?

Nintendo Switch versus PlayStation 4: Which one has better overall value? We break down the pros and cons of each platform to tell you which of these consoles is truly worth the money.
Gaming

Players' 'Red Dead Online' beta progress will carry over to the full release

Red Dead Online will gradually rolled out to Red Dead Redemption 2 players via a beta. We've got all the details about the beta's suite of competitive and cooperative modes, as well as what to expect going forward.
Gaming

Bundle up for the huge ‘Monster Hunter: World’ expansion coming in 2019

Monster Hunter: World is getting a major expansion in fall 2019 called Iceborne. The expansion will be similar in scope as the Ultimate versions of previous Monster Hunter games, featuring new quests, monsters, weapons, and armor.
Gaming

How to keep a PS4 in your pocket with the PlayStation Mobile app

Sony built the PlayStation 4 with smartphone and mobile integration in mind. Take a look at our guide for connecting your smartphone or tablet to a PS4, so you can browse profiles, trophies, and other content directly on your mobile device.
Product Review

‘Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’ is an ode to gaming that lives up to its name

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is a loving tribute to Nintendo and video game history. It’s a terrific multiplayer fighter that also has plenty for single-player fans to love this time around.
Deals

Play ‘Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’ the best way with a Switch GameCube controller

If you're a longtime Super Smash Bros. player, then you know there's only one true way to play. Alongside the recent launch of the new 'Super Smash Bros. Ultimate,' Nintendo has brought back the iconic GameCube controller.
Gaming

Apple Mac users should take a bite out of these awesome games

Contrary to popular belief, there exists a bevy of popular A-list games compatible for Mac computers. Take a look at our picks for the best Mac games available for Apple fans.
Gaming

The hottest Nintendo Switch games you can get right now

The Nintendo Switch's lineup started off small, but games have steadily released as the console continues through its second year. Here are the best Nintendo Switch games available now, from Super Mario Odyssey to Fortnite.
Deals

Check out the best Green Monday deals for those last-minute gifts

Black Friday and Cyber Monday have come and gone, but that doesn't mean you've missed your chance of finding a great deal. We're talking about Green Monday, of course, and it falls on December 10.
Gaming

Itching to fight in an online match with friends in 'SSB Ultimate'? Here's how

You can play online against your friends in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, but it isn't quite as simple as you might expect from a multiplayer game in 2018. Here's how you can do so using the Battle Arena system.
Gaming

PlayStation Classic hacked in less than a week to play games via USB drive

Hackers have already managed to crack the PlayStation Classic, with programs now available to allow users to play additional original PlayStation games on the system via a USB drive.
Gaming

‘Fortnite’ adds sword from ‘Infinity Blade,’ which disappears from App Store

Epic Games has added the Infinity Blade melee weapon to Fortnite just as it pulled all three games in the Infinity Blade trilogy from sale. The games are still available to download if you bought them.