Grand Theft Auto III: A Decade Later, Is It Still Great?

It’s difficult to believe that the seminal Grand Theft Auto III was released a decade ago. In the intervening years, the franchise has grown to become a huge and often controversial hit for developers Rockstar Games. Long conspicuously absent from Apple’s computers and devices, Rockstar have recently warmed to the Cupertino company and made all but the most recent of the third-person GTA games available for purchase on the Mac App Store, in addition to making GTA: Chinatown Wars available on iOS.

Even considering Rockstar Games’ recent interest in Apple gaming, an iOS port which offers the full experience of the open world, third-person Grand Theft Auto is something of a welcome surprise and will be hotly anticipated by fans and newcomers both. However, while the iPad is surely powerful enough to handle a ten year old game’s graphics and audio, there remains a big question mark as to whether Grand Theft Auto III can truly be translated to touchscreen controls. Have Rockstar Games pulled it off? Read on to find out.

Welcome to Liberty City

What better way to explore Liberty City than to hop on a train and see the views?

What better way to explore Liberty City than to hop on a train and see the views?

On first loading up Grand Theft Auto III, I was pleasantly surprised with the games visuals – even at ten years old they look great on the iPad’s expansive glass display, lending the game a beautifully dystopic inner-city feel. Cars, characters and scenery all look fantastic and the game zips along at speed without a hint of slowdown on my iPad 2. Rockstar have obviously considered how Grand Theft Auto III is going to be played on a mobile device and I appreciated that one can exit and re-enter the game at will, always joining the fun exactly where you left off.

It’s the attention to the little details which helps go towards cementing a favourable impression of GTA III’s depth, with the player able to interact with the city on an impressive scale, such as climbing the stairs of a train station and taking a train to the next stop, or taking part in the mini-games which come up when stealing a taxi or police car.

Touchscreen Controls

Liberty City is populated with cars ripe for stealing

Liberty City is populated with cars ripe for stealing...

The use of touchscreen controls doubtless poses the biggest challenge to providing GTA III on an iPad and, after viewing an entertaining cinematic opening sequence which lays out the game’s storyline, the user is put straight into the driving seat and tasked with navigating a car across Liberty City traffic in order to make it to a safe house. The controls, surprisingly enough, are excellent.

Right off the bat I should explain that I am far from a hardcore gamer, having only played relatively few titles on my iPad. Still, with a small amount of time spent mentally adjusting to the touchscreen controls, I found that walking, running and shooting are all accomplished with ease, as is entering and leaving a car. On occasion, I would find myself accidentally steering my car left instead of right or vice-versa, but this was rare and did not mar the playing experience (though trying Grand Theft Auto III on my iPhone was much more of a challenge).

While I should caution that those who really struggle with touchscreen gaming may not appreciate the onscreen controls of GTA III, I believe that the vast majority of iPad users will not find them a distraction nor a hindrance.

Roam Free or Rise to the Top

Grand Theft Auto III allows the user to let out their inner criminal

Grand Theft Auto III allows the user to let out their inner criminal.

Once the initial couple of missions are completed, the user is free to roam the streets of Liberty City and wreak mayhem at will. Cars can be stolen, cops can be killed and little old ladies can be mugged with a baseball bat – to be sure, the gaming in Grand Theft Auto III is of a decidedly adult nature.

Once you get bored of killing and stealing, there’s an actual game to play and one accesses missions by visiting various contacts across the city, with the early jobs often proving to teach the player a fundamental principle of the game (how to get a gun, how to respray a car, etc). One criticism of the Grand Theft Auto series is that these missions can sometimes become a little too repetitive, but I found that there was enough variation to hold my interest.

As the missions continue and rise in complexity and difficulty, new opportunities occur for purchasing and acquiring weapons with an increasing deadliness. Mafia contacts are soon made and our protagonist is propelled to the upper echelons of the criminal gangs in which he moves.


I’m a big fan of the Grand Theft Auto series and relished the chance to give this latest port to iOS a whirl. Though I had real concerns about the practicality of adapting the game’s controls to touchscreen, these worries melted away soon after playing GTA III and I think that most would agree that it’s very playable on Apple’s tablet.

Whether you’re a longtime fan of Grand Theft Auto or a newcomer to the franchise, Grand Theft Auto III should definitely fulfill the needs of both casual gamers wanting a quick joyride and gun battle and those who wish to get immersed in the games great storyline.


A decade since its first release, Grand Theft Auto III still has the power to shock, amuse and entertain. Though the touchscreen controls may hamper playing on smaller devices, the iPad is more than up to the job. A great port of a classic game.