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Don't let your kids play these three awesome Rockstar games for iOS

Rockstar Games just released Max Payne for iOS, so I decided to round up the other classics from the same developer for a little entertainment that's loaded with gritty content, and isn't for kids.


Rockstar Games is known for not pulling any punches with its incredibly popular video games offered on consoles, desktops, and mobile gaming devices. Frequently controversial and in the headlines for all the wrong reasons, Rockstar's games are violent and give players the freedom to do whatever they want -- both good and bad.

This week, Rockstar added another of its classic games to the App Store with the same dark, compelling story lines and action-oriented gameplay that made the developer famous. So leave your morality at the door and make sure the kids are in bed, because when you're dealing with the gangster underworld in this collection of games, you often have to make deadly decisions.

This week's collection of iOS apps is not for kids, but there is an enormous amount of dark underworld content to explore. The first game started on mobile gaming devices and is a huge hit for its top-down open world and interesting use of the touch screen. The second lets you play in a similarly gritty world in full 3D with the game that made Rockstar the megapopular gaming company it is today. The third is the latest from the developer to reach iOS devices, and it offers the same dark storyline and gun-blasting action that made the original a hit.

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars
Drive to quest markers to complete missions, but don't startle the cops unless you want a chase. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars ($9.99) (iPhone | iPad) brings the popular handheld title to iOS devices, and it does not suffer at all from being on a touch screen.

Grand Theft Auto games tend to delve deep into the gangster lifestyle. As in all of the GTA games, you'll be sent on missions to steal cars, take out rival gangsters, and carry out other nefarious activities. You view the action from a top-down (yet 3D) perspective, and the control system involves an onscreen joystick and onscreen buttons for driving, shooting, punching, and kicking. I should warn you that driving takes some getting used to, partly because of the onscreen controls and also as a result of the top-down view (making it hard to see what's coming). I definitely prefer the driving on the console versions, but with some practice I was able to get where I needed to go without too much trouble. The controls also make it difficult to shoot or use melee attacks with no targeting system, but fortunately the game is forgiving when it comes to aiming.

Even with the well-written storyline and challenging missions, what makes this game even more entertaining is the clever use of the touch screen. Little things like spinning your finger to take out the screws of a panel to hot-wire a car, or swiping your finger to move trash bags out of a Dumpster to reveal a hidden gun, add to this game's charm. Though some of the actions get kind of repetitive, it's fun to discover the various ways Rockstar utilized the touch screen.

In between missions you'll be able to visit your apartment to save the game, view a bulletin board where you can play previous missions, and log in to a laptop to check your e-mail. Like in older GTA games, you also can save cars you find by parking them in the garage at your apartment before a save. There are several apartments to unlock as you play through the game, all of which will make it easier to complete specific missions in different locations.

It's important to note that this title costs $9.99 and is not a universal app, so, if you have both an iPad and an iPhone, you'll want to decide first which device you'll play it on the most. It has gone down to as low as 99 cents in the past, so if it seems a bit steep now, make sure to check back for the next cost decrease. You also have the option to play Lite versions for both iPhone and iPad.

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars is an excellent game for iOS with few issues, mostly revolving around the controls. Once you get used to the driving and melee fighting, Chinatown Wars offers an engaging storyline, unique cartoonish graphics, a city that's alive with constant action, and music that puts it among the best games for the iPhone. The mature content makes it an adults-only type of game, but the sandboxlike gameplay and huge open world will make adults remember why they liked video games in the first place.

Grand Theft Auto 3
You can complete quests or just drive around and explore the expansive Liberty City. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Grand Theft Auto 3 ($4.99) is the full-featured, faithfully recreated (and even graphically improved) universal iOS version of the critically acclaimed console game of the same name.

This title isn't just a piece of gaming history: with 30+ hours of aspiring-crime-boss content and big sandbox environments, Grand Theft Auto 3 is a terrific deal for an iOS game -- especially when you add in its groundbreakingly good narrative and voice acting (with the likes of Kyle MacLachlan and Robert Loggia), extensive retro soundtrack, and plenty of potential for pick-up-and-play mayhem (be warned that, like the others in this collection, this is a "mature" game, and was even considered controversial at the time).

Since the content is the same as or better than the original, the big question for iOS users is how the touch controls stack up. Unfortunately, its virtual touch pad and touch buttons (for shooting, accelerating, braking, and so on) will never be as precise as console controllers -- but the good news is that they're awfully close. The controls for moving your character, on foot or in a vehicle, are actually pretty good (even given the original's touchy car controls and erratic auto-aim), and it's just the camera controls that can create frustration at times. The AI camera control does a decent job the vast majority of the time, but for those times that you need to swipe the screen to adjust the camera (for example, if you're jimmying your car around in a tight alley), you have to briefly abandon all your other controls to make that adjustment. That said, it's an infrequent annoyance, and the iOS version partially makes up for it by adding autosave and mission retry, which were absent from the console release.

If you were a fan of the original, Grand Theft Auto 3 is definitely worth picking up. And if you've never played this video game classic, the iOS version gives you the perfect excuse to remedy that, with a surprising amount of fun at an affordable price.

Max Payne
Early in the game you'll need to navigate the New York subways in search of clues. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Max Payne Mobile ($2.99) is another great Rockstar game that just made its way to iOS. Like the other games in this collection, Max Payne has plenty of violence and adult themes and is probably not suitable for children. With that said, adults will definitely appreciate this game, which lets you live the life of a fugitive cop on a mission for vengeance.

Max Payne was made famous by its introduction of "bullet time" -- a game mechanic that slows down the action in gunfights, letting you blow away multiple targets and also adding a significant amount of drama. There's nothing quite like entering a room full of bad guys, tapping the bullet time button, and going into a slow-motion dive as you blow them away with dual Beretta handguns. The graphics look beautiful but may not be on par with other top-tier shooters on iOS devices. Even so, the storyline in Max Payne still manages to keep you on edge as you try to clear Max's name and uncover the truth of his slain family.

The control system for Max Payne consists of an onscreen joypad on the left, and buttons for shooting, jumping, and bullet time on the right. You also have a life meter in the upper left, and your current gun and available ammo in the upper right. You can swipe on the right side of the screen to look around, and it works well enough to play the game, but with three buttons already on the right side of the screen, I found that it got a little crowded. Fortunately Max Payne offers a completely customizable interface, letting you drag buttons wherever you want them. The game also has several options for aiming and you can switch to a game pad for looking around if you also feel crowded by the buttons.

Max Payne is a faithful re-creation of the classic Rockstar hit, with hours of dark, story-driven gameplay. If you like Rockstar titles or have never tried Max Payne before, this game is a great bargain and makes a great addition to any iOS gamer's collection.