I grew up with the Grand Theft Auto series, and I’ve played most of the editions since the very first one. I never bought into the concept that GTA was destroying society, and I certainly supported them when that crooked lawyer from Florida was doing his best to destroy video games.

This instalment of the Grand Theft Auto series, now available on the iPad, is a direct port from the PlayStation Portable, which we thought we should point out directly at the top of our review. I haven’t played the PSP version, or the Nintendo DS version so we can’t comment on how the iPad port holds up to the original, but that being said there’s a lot love about the iPad edition, and a couple of things to hate.

What’s Macgasmic

Grand Theft Auto took the touch inputs seriously, and managed to create some pretty interesting game play based on touch interactions. For instance, when you steal a car, you’re occasionally met with a hurdle of some kind, having to hot-wire it, or hack it with your PDA. The task isn’t hard to complete, but it gets you using the rest of your hands instead of just your thumbs.

Also, the game is a little bit of a throw back, returning to the top-down view that was present in the early GTA games. I have to say, I very much prefer this perspective for a mobile version of the game. Outside of some control issues, as noted below, it feels like it belongs on the iPad.

The game has a host of side missions, and feels a lot less drudging then GTA 4 on the 360, as well as the subsequent games that were released. You may have written off some of the GTA games in the past because it felt like you were not doing anything more than playing a glorified taxi driver, but GTA: China Town Wars really takes it to the next level. There’s the obvious Taxiesque quests, but you can also deal drugs, and partake in a whole host of side missions, including stealing cars, blowing up cars, putting out fires, and all the other antisocial behaviours that have come to embody a GTA release.

What needs work

While it’s a bit difficult to get used to the perspective change alongside the lack of actual control buttons on the iPad, there’s certainly a lot of charm and nostalgia felt while playing the game.

GTA: China Town really highlights the difficulty developers have moving their games to a device that lacks physical buttons. Targeting with your weapons takes quite a bit of time to figure out. Essentially, I’ve been running in circles and running towards an enemy while tapping on the shoot button. It works out alright, but it seems a little bit clumsy, and certainly takes awhile to get used. Keeping in mind that there’s very little that RockStar could have done to circumvent the problem, due to the lack of haptic feedback available on the iPad. It’s hard to fault the game in any way shape or form.

This is also why I tend to avoid games with these layover control schemes. I think there’s a real opportunity here for an evolution in game play, and hopefully some of the bigger firms, like RockStar, start to take chances and make something happen. The Epic Citadel preview comes to mind here. They’ve given gamers the ability to use the traditional overlay keyboard as well as a more intuitive control scheme for the iPad—tap to move, tap and drag to rotate.

Final Thoughts

Grand Theft Auto: China Town Wars for iPad is everything you’ve come to expect from the franchise. The port, which seems to struggle on occasion graphically (see the screenshot below), provides enough replay value that we have no difficultly recommending the $9.99 game. There will be some hurdles along the way, and getting used to the top-down view and control scheme is going to take some time, but once you get comfortable with it all, you’ll be running down cops in no time.