Rockstar’s anniversary ports of its classic PlayStation 2-era titles have already served as the benchmark for sandbox action-adventures on mobile. Although there are a few competitors out there, most notably the recent Gangstar Vegas, they rival Grand Theft Auto only in scope, not fun. Despite this, it’s been easy to see just how dated Grand Theft Auto III and Vice City are, with their tiny worlds, blocky models, and awkward controls.
But San Andreas, despite its status as a spin-off/side story, has aged more gracefully than its siblings in some ways. Where GTA3 and Vice City had a single city, San Andreas had a state, with three big cities and space in between, forming a world that felt both massive and detailed. Much had been made of the freedom and openness in GTA games, but it wasn’t until San Andreas that they really had the kind of world that really invited exploration. In size and scope, it even holds up against a lot of modern games, and it absolutely blows away anything in the mobile world. It may be dwarfed by the likes of Grand Theft Auto V, but the diversity and the inclusion of three separate metropolises makes it feel bigger in some ways.
This was also the series’ first experimentation with more developed RPG elements. You can not only customize your character’s appearance and clothing, but build stats through various activities. You’ll even see your character gain or lose weight based on eating habits. It’s clear that Rockstar was finally starting to embrace the fact that players wanted to do more outside the main game, and it helps give that kind of exploration and time wasting a sense of purpose.
Just as Vice City cribbed notes from Scarface, San Andreas is an homage to Boyz n the Hood. Set in a parody of California in the early ‘90s, it’s dripping in retro gangsta vibes, with plenty of old-school West Coast hip hop to go with it. People will argue forever about which era is their favorite, but San Andreas is certainly a loving period-piece that does justice to its moment.
Rockstar has done their best to make sure this is more than just a straight re-release. While it still falls short of a full remake, some of the textures and models have been improved well beyond their original. More noticeable still are the new effects (all customizable in the options screen) that improve the shading, lighting, and add traced shadows and reflections on cars. These help to bring it up modern mobile par, but it’s still a far cry from Gangstar Vegas or Dead Trigger 2 in terms of visual fidelity. Cranking up the settings on these improvements can also seriously hurt the framerate, even on high-end devices.
The Achilles heel of Rockstar’s mobile ports have always been the controls. There’s no getting around the fact that these games weren’t designed for touch screens, and that they were designed to use all the buttons on the PlayStation 2’s controller. Rockstar has polished things up a bit with new layouts, and the game intelligently removes buttons when they aren’t needed. There are several steering options to choose from, and analog steering actually works quite well.
The controls are still not ideal, but they’re serviceable, and the game is playable even though its difficulty curve wasn’t designed for touch controls. Better check points help to ease some of that pain, and, of course there’s robust controller support. With a MOGA or a GameKlip, San Andreas plays every bit as well as it ever has.
It’s amazing how well this decade-old title holds up. While the gunplay and the graphics are dated, the world is still huge and fun to explore, and far beyond any of its mobile competition. The old-school gansta vibe gives it a personality all its own, even within the GTA series, and it helps to make this a memorable must-play for any fan of the genre.
Is it Hardcore?
A huge world and a great sense of atmosphere are impeded only slightly by less than perfect touch controls.