Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas Review

By , on December 17, 2013
Last modified 6 years, 10 months ago

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Download on the AppStore
4 out of 5


  • Visual upgrades make this the best-looking version of the game to date.
  • Tweaked control options and new auto-lock system are welcome.
  • New checkpoints reduce restart frustration.
  • It's GTA: San Andreas on your iPhone.



  • Controls are still inferior to those of the console version.
  • Some of the missions feel a little dated and poorly paced.


Though the controls are never going to match those of the console versions, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is as reverent and respectful an iOS port as you could realistically hope for.

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With both Grand Theft Auto III and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City already available on the App Store, it was only a matter of time before Rockstar's first journey to San Andreas got the touchscreen treatment.

Completing the PS2-era trilogy, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was the biggest and most ambitious sandbox Rockstar had ever created. This '90s flavoured tale of street gangs and turf warfare was an enormous game, both in terms of geography and scope. It offered players the chance to explore three separate cities over one epic world map, and featured missions which took protagonist CJ from land to air to sea.

Fans will be pleased to hear that everything the original game offered has been faithfully recreated for the iOS version. If your device can handle it, you'll also notice visual improvements like dynamic lighting and real time reflections. Importantly, a checkpointing system has been introduced, making it possible to complete some of the longer missions without having to repeat a 10 minute commute every time you die.

The touchscreen control model used for the previous GTA ports has also been tweaked, with San Andreas' menu offering three preset button configurations, and the option to move and resize each button individually. In truth, none of these touchscreen overlays is a satisfying replacement for a physical controller, but the freedom to mix and match between virtual sticks, gestures, and arrow buttons is welcome.

Shooting is also much easier than in previous iOS GTA games. The dev has created an enthusiastic auto-lock system which make gunplay a bit less fiddly. You can tap to aim, but it's often more efficient just to open fire and cycle between targets automatically, especially on the smaller iPhone screen.

Though it's been nearly ten years since it was designed, most of the missions are still fun after all these years. Some feel a little undercooked and padded, and keeping your character fit is as enjoyable as the love interest mini game in Grand Theft Auto IV.

Still, though the controls are never going to match those of the console versions, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is as reverent and respectful an iOS port as you could realistically hope for. The ride isn't as smooth, but the classic bodywork is shinier than ever.


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Geosam 6 years, 10 months ago

I find the analogue controls are very good for all of the vehicles (this is on an iPad) and using free aim makes the game a lot funner. I found free aim easier to use as well, as I couldn't tell what the auto lock was trying to do, and with free aim I could shoot at anything. Overall, I think it's a 5/5 game.

TheAspieFox 6 years, 10 months ago

I would kind of agree in the disagreement.. I think San Andreas would be a 5/5 game, especially as a new port to mobile devices. I will never understand why controls are always such a big deal-- if they aren't absolutely unresponsive and/or detrimental to your gameplay experience, then you shouldn't be too picky about it, especially with console port games that prior had about a dozen buttons that are now simplified to a smaller number.

I play my App Store games on an iPad, so the experience of "cluttered" and "compromised" controls seldom exist for me and become an issue. The controls for Vice City and GTA III were quite alright (an update was released for VC a while ago that fixed the whole "cars feel like they're always on ice" thing, thankfully). I think basing a bad point in a game review is dependent on which device you're playing on, and maybe this ought to be addressed in said review. Also, it's pretty obvious that touch controls are never going to replace a physical controlee.

San Andreas was, by a long shot, a great improvement over its predecessors, offering more things to do, places to see, territory to conquer via gang wars and even, for the thing we all absolutely hated with past games, the ability to swim! It's also really nice to see that there's an auto-target feature for shooting... Being in a gunfight on the console version was always a pain in the rear.

I don't have the money yet to buy this, so I will have to wait to play this on my iPad to give my own definitive Yay or Nay, but I'm very optimistic for it. I just don't think controls, even if they are a workable compromise, should be a prime target for prohibiting a great game from getting a great rating (which is what seems to be the case with other reviewer sites), but that's just me-- I'm also a really adjustable person when it comes to game controls, so that might also be part of it.

dude_welcome 6 years, 10 months ago

With respect to the reviewer(s), this port's controls felt a great deal more natural than the previous two's, which were still perfectly functional
The fact that the touchscreen will never replicate physical controls as well as, well, a physical controller will is a given, and if the port's controls work and are not absurdly slippery, which this game's aren't (though they take a brief period of adjustment), it shouldn't be docked as critically as this one was
This port is substantially better than the 5/5-earning GTA III and GTA Vice City ports, in my opinion, if not for content and gameplay then definitely for the wider set of controls in an equally comfortable (or uncomfortable) yet more compact, effective manner (double-tap joystick to crouch as opposed to removing crouch altogether, as seen in Vice City iOS, for instance) as well as the more natural feel of the game's mechanics (Handling cars and on-foot maneuverability), unlike previous entries (I'm still lookin' at you, Vice City)
I would bring up that Gangstar: West Coast Hustle is rated higher on this site than GTA: San Andreas but the first Gangstar is far outdated and was impressive for its time and would be a low blow to bring up, haha
Though, however, targeting how dated a game is would lead me to my distaste for the second negative point listed: The outdated feel of some missions. This is inevitable as this is a (mostly) faithful port of a dated game. Normally I'd say that this point was fair because it is a review of the current iOS port and the game's transition to mobile devices rather than the original game, but I can't say that here, since comparisons with the Playstation's physical controller were drawn.

What I mean to say is that I respectively, though sharply, disagree with the final decision on this port. It is, without doubt, one of the highest-quality games I've seen on the app store to date, and deserves more credit than it was given here. Games like Tilt to Live 2: Redonkulous are great, but not for a second would I say it is more worthwhile than the GTA: SA iOS port

VideoJames 6 years, 10 months ago

That's quite the objection!

As far as AppSpy's previous scores for GTA games go, they were written by other reviewers. If I were to alter my score to match or improve on their ratings, I would be doing myself - and the readers - no favours. A review is a subjective thing, and I certainly don't expect everyone to support my view. Nor should they. That's what makes the world such an interesting place.

As I say in the review, I agree that the controls are an improvement on previous GTA ports. However, there is no escaping the fact that these are console games crammed - somewhat unwillingly - onto touchscreen devices. While you might not consider something like Tilt to Live as "worthwhile" as a port of a 10 year old console game, it is a game that has been created with the iPhone's strengths in mind. At no point when playing Tilt to Live did I think "I wish I was playing this with a joypad". Same goes for The Room Two - it's a game built to make your touchscreen sing.

However, as I juggled the 7 small buttons stacked down the right hand side of the iPhone screen in GTA: SA (weapon select, camera angle, horn, mount / dismount, handbrake turn, accelerate, decelerate) it became very clear that this is not a comfortable setup. It is an awkward compromise - a functional one, but awkward nonetheless.

As for the "dated and poorly paced" remark, this is something that has plagued the GTA series (which I like very much, incidentally). While San Andreas is bigger and more technically advanced than, say, Vice City, is also looser and less focused. Chunks of it are solid gold, and the sense of freedom is fantastic, but there's a lot of bagginess around the edges - flat missions which feel dated and poorly paced. Vice City, for my money, is a tighter, more compact package, one which rarely lets your interest waver, and aches to be completed.

Again, these are just my opinions, and you are free to disagree. I would also like to point out that, in spite of my issues with GTA: SA, I gave it a well-deserved 4/5, which is pretty damn sweet. Having just had a look, I see that other reviewers have given it 7/10 and lower, and many site the awkwardness of the controls as a sticking point.

However, though we don't see eye-to-eye on the precise level of awesomeness GTA: SA delivers, it's kinda nice that we are only disagreeing over precisely how great the game is. I am delighted that you are enjoying it so much, and sincerely hope you continue to do so.

Thanks for reading.

dude_welcome 6 years, 10 months ago

Thanks for taking the time to respond! I don't mean to come across as though I'm demanding for you to change San Andreas's final score, and I'm glad that you'd interpreted my comment as I'd intended it to be: a conversational expression of opinion.

I understand what you mean in that games such as Tilt to Live were built from the ground up with the touchscreen (or accelerometer) in mind, but regardless of which console a game is aimed at, I still find that certain ones (even if not ideally aimed at a given console) are, in fact, better than others (even if those others are)
What I mean by this, though I'm sure you already know what I'm getting at, is that the amount of enjoyment that can be had with a game doesn't revolve around which target console it's built for (though almost always, that helps a lot), and oftentimes, games being built for a device such as the iPhone can be crippling to a game's development, as it eliminates many opportunities of potential expansion upon a game's basic mechanics and stunts the need to set a revolutionary precedent due to the low standards iPhone gaming is so often held to. I think that bringing games that the world has already accepted as console releases to iOS furthers the standards people hold for iOS gaming, as it makes the evolution of mobile gaming substantially more apparent. Games like, again, Tilt to Live, and, say, Angry Birds, are good fun, but keep the standards for mobile gaming relatively low in their simplicity and more linear nature than games like San Andreas do. Every now and then you get a game that combines the best of both worlds- a design that goes hand-in-hand with a touchscreen and revolutionary gameplay on mobile devices, which is partially why I love the Infinity Blade trilogy. Now, I understand that certain games are geared toward different audiences, and a large demographic of iPhone gamers are commuters looking for a casual gaming experience, but I just hate to see repetitive and unoriginal games being churned out because of this, which appear outwardly as a representative (though misleading) factor of the iPhone's gaming capabilities.
Though San Andreas's control scheme wasn't the most comfortable for many (Perhaps I have smaller hands and didn't have as much of a problem with them for that reason, haha) it allowed for a much greater range of action than most mobile games in a system that takes just a pinch of getting used to. The compromise of less natural controls allowed for a much greater depth of gameplay, and this depth, for me, meant the difference between the approximate one hour I spend on most iOS-focused games versus a hundred hours of the gameplay I get from GTA titles on iOS.

Vice City is definitely a more focused title, but whether or not a story-driven game is more or less enjoyable than a more explorative, free one is a matter of taste, and I personally enjoyed San Andreas because of the freedom it encouraged. But again, that's just me.
However, poorly paced as they may oftentimes be, what I've always loved most about the GTA series (at least in the 3D games, though I adored GTA and GTA 2 as well) was just how open-ended it all was. I'll never forget an experience I had with GTA III on my iPod, in a mission that requires you to chase down a fleeing npc from a casino. I could never quite hunt him down by means the encouraged car chase, so instead, I lined up a barricade of cars prior to starting the mission, from where he would enter, and then waited for him to barrel into the barricade before setting of a chain reaction of explosions with the use of a single grenade, killing him and some unfortunate virtual pedestrians in seconds (on PS2, the controls were always manageable enough to avoid my feeling the need to have to resort to this sort of creativity, to your point's credit). I only bring this up to say that, at least for me, the pacing in GTA games has never seemed an issue, so long as you play around the rules when you can and complete the game not always in the fashion it suggests, but instead utilize the wider variety of options that the game makes available. San Andreas has always felt like the best GTA to do this sort of thing with. But again, that's just a matter of preference.

4/5 was a fine rating, but I just felt as though it sold the game short. With PocketGamer giving it a 9/10 (And stamping it with a gold award), Slide to Play a 4/4, and Touch Arcade a five stars out of five, I was shocked to see it stabbed with a point that, though valid, was less so in comparison to the previous games (Maybe that's why the controls felt more refreshing to me in San Andreas than cumbersome)
Not saying that it deserves a perfect score, and not saying that your criticism wasn't unreasonable, I just feel as though the points mentioned did not carry enough strength to drag the final score down from the 5/5 that so many other great-but-not-necessarily-as-deserving (again, all opinion) games earned

And on a fairly unrelated note, I just want to mention that I've enjoyed your reviews and narration for a long while and enjoy your work with the PocketGamer podcast. Keep doin' what you're doin'! :)