Rebels aren't supposed to get old. If any game was ever a rebel, it's Grand Theft Auto III, the first time the infamous urban violence series went 3D. Its lead character even looks like James Dean, for goodness' sakes. Now re-released on iOS and Android phones and tablets, can it possibly retain the same controversy-courting bite it once did?
Well, no. It looks, feels and sounds crude and tame by today's more sadistic standards. But then GTA III wasn't really supposed to be a scandal-chaser at the time: it's just that outraged newspaper headlines and the wider world's dawning awareness of 3D games converged into crazy hype for Rockstar's first PlayStation 2-era effort. Coming back to the carjacking and pedestrian-bothering crime game a decade later, there's something almost charmingly innocent about it. Unlike its most recent successor, GTA IV, it's entirely cartoonish in both appearance and tone.
Your character looks like a hair-gelled puppet, and is even silent throughout his various escapades. You'd never mistake any of the characters here for real people: they're just broadly-painted caricatures there to propel you from mission to mission. The cars handle like cardboard boxes in a stiff breeze, pedestrian death-wails are straight out of an episode of Tom and Jerry and the city is little more than a place to drive fast and squish people. It's not meant to be realistic. It's just meant to be a hoot. GTA III seems refreshingly free from the arguable arrogance that has crept into later GTAs: there's no pretence or artifice to it.
So, what about the transition to modern mobile devices? Well, a mixed bag. Graphically-speaking, GTA III is perhaps few steps behind what an iPhone 4 or recent Android could manage, and very little has been done to update it. It looks dated and a little clunky, with stuff like car engines being nothing more than single blurry, flat grey textures, but on the other hand you do get a large city to bomb about it without anything in the way of loading screens. So while it might not be able to hold even a dim candle to Infinity Blade's lusciously rendered hulks, you're not pinned into to claustrophobic tunnels. All told, it fits the tech well.
As for controls, it's all over the place. On an iPad 1- our test device for this game - there's plenty of screen real estate for the on-screen virtual buttons, but placement leaves a little to be desired. When your character's on foot, steering him around with a virtual thumbstick is deft and natural; when he's in a car, it switches to fixed-position left and right buttons. Let your fingers drift even slightly and you'll be touching dead space. Same for the break and acceleration buttons over on the right-hand side of the screen. It's bewildering that the vehicles don't use the virtual thumbstick too.
Meanwhile, reports are that the Xperia Play Android handset offers a far superior control system, but as the game isn't actually optimised for physical controls there are serious issues with things like exiting the map. So, a patch or two seems pretty likely for this. (Or not: developers Rockstar aren't traditionally big on admitting to error, after all).
Nonetheless, the ageing rebel has had a remarkably successful transition to young devices all-told. It's not as slick or intuitive as it is on a gamepad, but its comparatively simple and direct nature (which it would be spanked for if it was a contemporary console game) makes it a surprisingly natural fit for our complication-shunning mobiles and table.