iPad reviews of the week: Grand Theft Auto 3, Batman: Arkham City Lockdown

Rockstar Games has delivered one mighty fine holiday gift in the form of an iPad version of Grand Theft Auto III for only $5… but how does it play? We’ve got the details below. After that, we’re checking out Batman: Arkham City Lockdown, the Infinity Blade-esque spinoff of this year’s open-world hit, which hails from an unexpected, well-known developer. Luckily, both of this week’s titles are universal apps also playable on iPhone and iPod touch, so owners of one of Apple’s (semi-recent) smaller touchscreen devices can get in on the action, too.

Game: Grand Theft Auto 3
Price: $4.99/£2.99
Size: 462MB
Buy it now from the iTunes store: US (opens in new tab) / UK (opens in new tab)

Can you believe it’s been 10 years? Just a decade ago, Grand Theft Auto III kicked off a couple generations’ worth of open-world adventures thanks to its go-anywhere, do-anything premise bursting to life in a glorious third-person perspective. Both the series and the wider genre it inspired have evolved dramatically since, but Rockstar Games’ original entry still rings true today, and this 10th Anniversary universal re-release for iPad and iPhone (also out on Android) slickly celebrates its impact by serving up the entire original experience for a mere five bucks.

It’s all here. Each and every lively block of Liberty City, all the missions, and even the entire original soundtrack, complete with the fantastic DJs and faux talk radio station, Chatterbox FM. Granted, it’s all now experienced via virtual touch controls, which expectedly alter the game to some extent. Scads of virtual buttons fill the lower corners of the screen – one each for actions like running, jumping, entering or exiting vehicles, and awkwardly firing your weapon of choice, while a virtual stick is used for on-foot movement and driving, though left and right buttons or tilt steering can be subbed in for the latter. It’s not an ideal scheme, but the button locations can be rearranged to make these serviceable controls as functional as possible.

While GTA III runs in a much higher resolution than the original PS2 release, the rest of the game remains intact, for better and for worse. Pop-in is abundant (as are blurry textures), and bugs are still present: we had to fully restart the app twice to break free from a turned-over semi cab that somehow held Claude captive and refused to explode. This isn’t a full HD remake, but it’s a well-priced mobile nod to a gaming giant, solidly presented on the iPad and iPhone and still a total blast to play. The ability to experience this thick crime opus on the run is a true treat and certainly worth the $5 whether you’re an old fan or somehow missed one of the most important games of all time.

Game: Batman: Arkham City Lockdown
Price: $5.99/£3.99
Size: 612MB
Buy it now from the iTunes store: US (opens in new tab) / UK (opens in new tab)

Batman: Arkham City Lockdown is notable not only for being a slickly presented offshoot of the hugely successful Arkham City console and PC hit, but for also being the iOS debut of Mortal Kombat developer, NetherRealm Studios. Unsurprisingly, as such, Lockdown is a fighting game, putting players in control of the Dark Knight as he plows through a plethora of generic baddies in pursuit of four headline comic villains, including Two-Face and The Joker. But the bigger design touch point here is Chair Entertainment’s smash, Infinity Blade, as the up-close, one-on-one fights clearly take after the core combat of that original iOS franchise (which of course took its inspiration from Punch Out!!).

As in Infinity Blade, the brief battles rely on touchscreen actions to get your hero through Arkham City’s riff-raff, as you’ll swipe left, right, and up to toss punches and execute combos, and down to deflect attacks with your cape. You can also dodge to each side and tap to utilize available power-ups, such as health bonuses and electric gloves that pack an extra wallop for a few seconds. Lockdown essentially skips any semblance of a storyline following the opening sequence, instead giving you a map of available battles (you’ll fight 3+ enemies in each mission) as you work through the four headline bosses. Luckily, the Unreal Engine 3 is put to great use here, as this universal app looks damn fine on both iPad and iPhone alike, and does a nice job of capturing the moody tenor of Arkham City.

However that combat-centric approach does prove tiresome more quickly than in Infinity Blade II, because though you can choose Batman’s upgrades and abilities, there’s no in-depth customization or strong sense of ownership over the character. Paired with the basic combat, Lockdown does become a somewhat repetitive grind after about an hour, which is about half of what this brief adventure has to offer. Bonus costumes (from The Dark Knight Returnsand animated efforts) are a nice touch, but they must be purchased within. At $5.99, you’re definitely getting production values that justify the investment, but not necessarily the long lasting or varied experience you might expect. Whether or not it’s still worth it may depend on how much of a bat-fan you really are.

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