iPhone GTA San Andreas means it's time to take mobile gaming seriously. Here's why...

GTA San Andreas is coming to mobile this December. Not only will it offer the full mission structure of the PS2/Xbox classic, it’s got fancy new features like improved draw-distance, better character models, texture resolution and colours. I know, right? Sounds superb. But there’s one feature in particular that’s spiked my interest even further: iOS 7 controller support. I can’t emphasise enough how big a deal this is for gaming. Mark my words: We’re on the cusp of a revolution.

Rewind to earlier this week: I’m in a meeting with some PR reps and they want to show me a mobile game they’re working on. Sure, I’ll take a look. I am handed an iPhone 5S, but it’s unrecognisable because it’s got one of those newfangled iOS7 controllers attached to it. Imagine an iPhone with a sawn-in-half DualShock attached to the ends. As I look at this Frankenstein’s Monster of a device, I don’t see an iPhone. I see a Vita-beater. A full-fledged handheld console. And it’s brilliant. 

If these things were glued onto the end, you could market this device as a new handheld gaming platform. Many, many gigabytes of internal storage, 4G capability for playing online games and downloading new ones in mere moments, twin analogue sticks, four face buttons, triggers and shoulder buttons and a multi-touch screen displaying 1136x640 resolution visuals. Lightweight, powerful... the works.

The A7 chip is already rendering top-end mobile graphics that really are as-near-as-dammit to the quality of mid-range Xbox 360 games, but on this screen size the already denser-than-Vita screen resolution makes the display look super-sharp. I’m used to retina graphics, but now I’ve got a controller in my hands with the screen in the middle, it suddenly seems better.

And it’s a good controller. Not amazing, but the analogue sticks are like the 3DS’ circle pad and there’s no noticeable input lag as I play the game--probably because this particular unit (the Moga Ace Power) connects via the iPhone's Lightning connector. It’s comfortable but light and the device itself can unplug, push together and fit in your pocket. It’s even got pressure-sensitive buttons. Colour me impressed.

I should of course point out that Android controllers have existed for a while already. But compatibility is never guaranteed because the layouts are different, games don’t have a single model to support and devices vary in size too much. I do love Apple products, but even so, it’s easy to see the benefits of iOS 7’s controller compatibility because it’s the same for all apps. They either support it or they don’t.

Also, from my brief hands-on, I’m not convinced the controls are completely worth their current price point, which is $99 (about £62). That’s a lot to pay for the current list of games that support the feature. But it won't stay this way for long. More games will come, as will competition in the peripheral space, so prices will soon come down to a much more affordable level.

And that’s not the only fast progress that will be made in a very short space of time. Smartphone technology is advancing so quickly, some current-gen (now last-gen) games are getting ported in their entirety. Games like X-COM: Enemy Unknown, which are exactly like their current-gen counterparts, only with a few graphical compromises. Then there’s Castle of Illusion, which just received an iOS port from XBLA/PSN. It’s literally the same game. Console-quality gaming on a phone. Look at it:

We probably haven’t seen many full-fat console games getting ported to iOS because the controls haven’t been up to replicating the console experience. Well, no longer. In my article three years ago which asked can mobile games hit PS3 quality in 3 years?, I said at the end that it wouldn’t matter if they did because (and I quote) "they'll still control like a bitch". Well, not only are the graphics finally approximate to mainstream PS3 titles, I was wrong. The control is far from that of a teated dog. In fact, the control is perfectly adequate.

This is it, folks. All this needs is for the mass market to adopt it and for games to start focusing on supporting these peripherals and mobile gaming will shake everything up again. There will always be a place for single-finger swipe games for casual play, but now the tech is there to deliver console-grade gaming like San Andreas, there's a massively exciting emergent platform for core gamers.

With the smartphone market so healthy in terms of competition, I don’t see how Sony or even Nintendo are going to keep up. If I had to make a prediction, I would say once Vita and 3DS have had their day, your next handheld console will be a phone.


  • db1331 - December 3, 2013 7:29 a.m.

    People have been saying this about phone gaming for years. It will never be a significant contender. There will never be anything on your phone to rival something like A Link Between Worlds. And do you really need to play San Andreas on the bus? You can't just look out the window for 10 minutes, or heaven forbid talk to someone? This controller will have about the same effect on established gaming platforms as the Ouya did. That is to say, none.
  • vicky_john - November 29, 2013 4:12 a.m.

    i want to know whether gta sa game coming for mobile phones
  • zelta38 - November 28, 2013 11:03 a.m.

    Until micro-transactions are out the door (or significantly reduced so as not to poison gameplay) and sane pricing is viable for the base game, hardcore mobile phone gaming will remain relegated to ports and gimmicked larger games (look at the infinitely looping but very highly polished - and aptly named - Infinity Blade for a fine example). How can anyone expect $40 3DS/DS games to be developed and sold on platforms where free and $1 are the expectation (which is not the truth since to actually complete the game you easily have to pay $40+ in microtransactions or waste the better part of the year replaying the same level)? Even $15 games struggle to find an audience in the face of such a ridiculous price structure and outright ignorant market. Let me give you an example: I corrected the entry for Rage iphone on the iPhone gaming wiki stating that rage PC was based on Rage iOS (a ridiculous claim as we all know) and a mod actually reverted that stating the release date of the iOS version was before that of the PC version so the wrong information was correct according to him (I did provide the simple top of Google search proof to get the correct information accepted ultimately)! Mobile has a mob, it does not have an audience, I do hope it builds one or gaming at large is in trouble, look at how XBone is trying to bring micro-transaction stupidity to living room gaming and EA's experiments with Dead Space 3. As a light counterpoint I have played some excellent built for mobile games but those that do not stealthily attempt to gouge the player's wallet are rare.
  • HowlPendragon - November 27, 2013 5:03 p.m.

    All I read is basically: phones are getting more ports of already existing titles. This is why mobile consoles like the 2DS are going nowhere, they are specialized and they are the ones bringing the new IPs. You rarely see an iPhone game being ported to PS or Xbox.
  • HowlPendragon - November 27, 2013 5:07 p.m.

  • Whiteblaze88 - November 27, 2013 4:24 p.m.

    i dont see why someone would want to buy a $99 for a conroller just to play any game, even one as good as GTA San Andreas, on there phone. Especially when you can get San Andreas for $9.99 on PSN and Xbox Live.
  • CrazyEight - November 27, 2013 7:16 p.m.

    You also can't take PSN or XBL with you. Also, $100 is a one-off and then most of the games are <$5.
  • Whiteblaze88 - November 27, 2013 9:04 p.m.

    One-off or not its still a $100 dollar controller. Also if you traveling then you most likely dont have the time to sit down and play a game like GTA.
  • CrazyEight - November 27, 2013 9:09 p.m.

    Perhaps you've never commuted for any length of time on bus/train/tram before?? Plenty of time for exactly that sort of thing.
  • Whiteblaze88 - November 27, 2013 9:12 p.m.

    Actually no i didnt think of that. I live in the woods where we dont have buses/trains/trams. Next question, will the phones battery last long enough?
  • CrazyEight - November 27, 2013 9:14 p.m.

    Both controllers released so far have on-board battery capacity that can also charge / top-up the phone at the same time.
  • Jackonomics - November 27, 2013 11:05 a.m.

    I don't understand what's the big deal Vice city has already been on phones, just because San Andreas is coming with the controller support, it makes it a huge deal?
  • HowlPendragon - November 27, 2013 4:59 p.m.

    Apparently, lol. It would have made more sense to include something newer like Enemy Unknown in the title. But then it wouldn't have baited as many clicks as mentioning San Andreas did.
  • michael-bennett - November 27, 2013 10:23 a.m.

    I've been playing games with a ps3 controller that cost me less than £10 on my nexus 7 for ages. iOS is late to the party
  • DarthPunk - November 27, 2013 8:46 a.m.

    I hate using the terms casual and hardcore but I can't see many casuals bothering with the controller and the hardcore might just stick with the 3DS and Vita. I really wouldn't be surprised if the controller dies a death at retail
  • mafyooz - November 27, 2013 8:36 a.m.

    Surely something like San Andreas running on a phone would destroy the battery life in minutes?
  • Frieza - November 27, 2013 10:15 a.m.

    I have GTA Vice City for the iPhone, and it does surprisingly well. It's been a while since I've played it, but I remember playing the game for over an hour without a battery recharge. While it's true it does destroy the battery (and make your iPhone heat up a lot), you'll be fine if you don't play it for more than an hour. Of course, this was on a new battery, so I don't know how well it will run on a battery say, a year old or so.
  • GR_JustinTowell - November 27, 2013 12:59 p.m.

    The controller pictured actually doubles as a backup charger so it charges the phone while you play. Obviously finitely, but still good for heavier gaming.
  • Cyberninja - November 27, 2013 7:20 a.m.

    I won't say my next handheld will be a phone, at this time I don't even have a smart phone and they are expensive and you have keep paying for them, plus if you switch phones and carriers you would lose all your games and lastly most people don't even try with mobile games and I doubt a handful of good games will be worth switching from a normal handheld to a device people are only going to use to play candy crush
  • GenderBender_9000 - November 27, 2013 7 a.m.

    Well I hate to it, but this could be the end of Nintendo. Nintendo screwed up big with the Wii U. I think their hand helds are the only thing keeping them afloat at the moment. But now that cell phones can play PS2 and Xbox games, it's just a matter of time before they completely surpass Nintendo hand helds. In some ways they already have. Game over Nintendo, game over.

Showing 1-20 of 27 comments

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