The moment has finally arrived. Rockstar Games has given us one of the best gifts ever and unleashed Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas on the iOS App Store. It's going to be a homecoming for some, while others will get to experience the magic of Rockstar Games's first venture into the city of Los Santos and the surrounding areas. Either way, it's going to be a treat.
Please know that while I am incredibly excited about this release (I had been waiting for it since the debut of Grand Theft Auto 3 on the App Store), everything I'm about to say about Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is through a filter of objectivity. While I am trying hard not to explode into fits of elation at the fact that San Andreas can follow me around on my phone now, I am calm, collected and ready to explore the merits and downfalls of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
This is the story of Carl Johnson and his homecoming. After spending five years in Liberty City, CJ heads home to Los Santos, San Andreas in order to bury his mom. What he finds when he comes home is that nothing ever really changes and the same problems that plagued him when he ran with the Grove Street gang are still alive and well. These problems include crooked cops, endless turf wars between rival gangs and the spread of drugs on the street. Nowadays, Grove Street has lost a lot of its territories and power, so it's up to him to set things right and help the Grove Street Families get back to their former glory.
Rockstar has had a good amount of practice at porting some of their biggest console hits onto the iOS platform. With San Andreas, they've nearly perfected the art and improved upon many of features. Being a huge, open-world console game, you would think that it'd be nearly impossible to port it, but port it they did. The first thing you'll notice that, while the game's graphics, environments and character models are somewhat dated, all of the visuals look gorgeous. Draw distance is great, framerates are smooth, character models seem a little sharper than they did on consoles like the PlayStation and there's nary a pop-in to be found.
The newer iOS devices run San Andreas beautifully and load everything so fast that you're almost surprised each time, especially if you're used to the load times of old. In fact, it's kind of a downside to have the game running so smoothly and fast on my iPhone 5, because I can't listen to that awesome West Coast synth as much when San Andreas initially loads from the start menu. It's just that speedy.
The controls in San Andreas can feel a little complicated, but that's only because they're all contextual. Given your situation, the number and types of virtual face buttons on the screen will change. For example , when you're on foot, you'll have access to the run button, attack button and even the cell phone button if you're getting a call. Some buttons have alternate uses, like how the run button can be double-tapped to make CJ jump.
The only control issues one might encounter is choosing which driving control scheme to use. You can either go with a virtual analog, a left and a right button and flick system in order to steer your vehicles. I personally feel that the left and right buttons are the way to go, since it only takes light tapping on either direction to accurately drive your vehicle.
Once you've mastered the controls, you're ready to start taking on missions. All of the story-based missions feature cutscenes that flesh out the narrative and can sometimes land CJ and his allies in a different part of the city or even the state. The story is one of the most entertaining you can find, and it's made even better by the large supporting cast of characters that CJ meets along his way to the top.
When you're not making a name for Grove Street, you can have CJ participate in a number of leisurely activities. You can go shopping for new clothes, get tattoos and cut your hair. This option to customize CJ was always fun and gave us a great way to really shape him the way we wanted. There are also some role-playing game-like mechanics in San Andreas, such as CJ's fitness levels, weight and fighting skill. He can eat food if he loses too much health, beef up at the gym and learn a variety of unarmed fighting styles to use in sidewalk fisticuffs. Tired of all that stuff? Then start importing cars or flying some planes around while you search for treasure in the mountains or in the desert. There's almost too much to do, and it can all be yours if you decide to download San Andreas.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is Rockstar Games's best port yet. For only $6.99, you're getting hours upon hours of fun. And even after the main story ends and you accomplish all of the peripheral goals (like getting a girlfriend or taking over all enemy gang territories), you can still find something to do to occupy your time. Buy one ticket to San Andreas and never leave.