‘Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas’ Review: bring a controller on this 90s crime spree (iOS/Android/Windows)

January 5, 2014
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Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas fell between the 80s-themed GTA Vice City and the acclaimed GTA IV on newer consoles, meaning Rockstar Games' 90s era sandbox title might have passed you by when it first came out in 2004. But that's okay, because this controversial video game has come to iOS and Android devices. If you have the right equipment, playing on a tablet makes this not-very-Disney-like California adventure just as good as it was almost a decade ago.

The storyline to GTA San Andreas centers around gang member CJ Johnson, who is returning to Los Santos, San Andreas, a city based on real-life Los Angeles, California. This is the same Los Santos environment that is featured in the most recent Grand Theft Auto game, GTA V. But this nine-year-old game doesn't have nearly as large a map as GTA V, despite the fact that avenging CJ's mother's death and clearing his own name of murder takes him around more of the state—including San Fierro (a virtual San Francisco) and Las Venturas (Las Vegas).

The combined California and Nevada landscape is still rather expansive for a mobile game and its graphics have been enhanced on higher-end iPad and Android devices. For example, the game is enhanced on the iPad 4th Generation, iPad Air and iPad mini 2. These Retina display slates deliver dynamic detailed shows and real-time environmental reflections that aren't supported on iPad 2, iPad 3 and the original iPad mini. 

The frame rate is steady and the draw distance does its best to keep the pop-up to a minimum, though it’s still a PS2-era game and pop-up comes with the territory. If you run into trouble with your device, the graphics can conveniently be tweaked. The menu includes adjustments for visual effects, resolution and draw distance, all of which can improve the game's performance. 

GTA San Andreas is the type of game that runs better on large tablets than on smartphones or smaller slates because of the on-screen controls, which are passable. Having a bigger full-sized tablet display makes the button scheme easier and gives you more room to see the gangbanger gameplay in front of you.

Moving your on-foot character and steering one of the vehicles he owns (or more likely steals) is controlled with an analog stick represented by a circle on the on the left side of the screen. The bottom right edge of the display is filled with contextual buttons—icons range from firing your weapon while on foot to pressing down the gas while in a vehicle.

To no one’s surprise, the best way to enjoy a large-scale sandbox game like San Andreas is to purchase a Bluetooth controller or use a PlayStation 3 gamepad on Android devices. Sony's controller makes this former PS2-exclusive feel right at home thanks to its a dual-analog controls and patented Cross, Triangle, Circle and Square face buttons. With a controller enabled, the pesky on-screen control icons disappear from view, clearing up the display so you can fully appreciate this retro 90s adventure on your tablet.

For about a week, Android gamers weren’t able to fully appreciate GTA San Andreas due to glitches and download errors. At $6.99 for this massive game download, buyers expect it to run smoothly on all their devices. Rockstar Games has since remedied its botched launch with an update in the Google Play Store, and everything runs on par with the game’s iPad counterpart.

While GTA V is rumored to be headed to next-generation consoles eventually and has expanded its grand larceny to online multiplayer via GTA Online, it's nice to revisit one of the classics. Now that the initial download issues have been cleared up, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas fits the bill perfectly on tablets.

  • Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
  • Developer: Rockstar Games
  • Platforms: iOS, Android (played)
  • In-App Purchases: No
  • Price: $6.99


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