Up until 2004, I was a PC gamer all the way. Consoles felt underpowered, binary, and infantile.
The Xbox360 has changed that; no doubt, along with the adult realization that buying a house and going on holiday with loved ones is probably more important than 99fps at maximum resolution and detail, but it wasn't adulthood or current gen consoles that made me buy a PS2.
I bought a PS2 to play GTA: San Andreas.
It was certain to come out on the PC, of course, and it would be a good deal shinier and easier to control when it did, but I couldn't wait that long. GTA was huge. It made the news.
In 2008, GTA IV became the first game I ever pre-ordered. It came out amidst unprecedented hype, with journalists from every conceivable outlet scrambling to extol what would certainly be the best game ever made. It earned an impressive number of perfect scores, and, like its predecessor, it made the news.
That was the end of April 2008, more than 16 months ago. Since then the GTA series has taken a couple of surprising turns. Firstly, Chinatown Wars arrived for the DS, scoring critical acclaim but not enormous commercial success. Secondly, a version of the highly DS-centric dual-screen-and-stylus-using Chinatown Wars was announced for the PSP. And then, against all possible expectations, a version was announced for the iPhone.
That means three of the GTA releases this year, all of them highly adapted versions of the same game, are coming out on handheld consoles. And one of those consoles arguably isn't a console, but a telecommunications device or a music player, depending on whether you own an iPhone or an iPod touch.
Of course, we can't predicate any hypothesis on the direction of one franchise, but GTA isn't the only franchise moving into the handheld market. This year and next will see PSP versions of GT, Assassin's Creed, LittleBigPlanet, MotorStorm, Soul Calibur, Metal Gear Solid, and others, even as Sony moves towards the casual market with its digestible Minis range.
On DS, meanwhile, a portable sequel to Okami has been announced , called Okamiden. On the Pocket Gamer podcast this week we jokingly invented a rumor that an iPhone version was in the pipeline. No such version exists to our knowledge, but with each passing week it becomes less implausible.
The PSP was always a hardcore handheld console, but it seems clear that its rivals are joining it, and the iPhone in particular. GTA: Chinatown Wars isn't the only hardcore game to be announced lately: we've also had Call of Duty-clone Modern Combat: Sandstorm, GTA-clone Gangstar: West Coast Hustle, Soul Calibur-clone Blades of Fury and Diablo-clone Dungeon Hunter, all from casual mobile studio Gameloft.
But what's the strategy? Today Firemint's casual iPhone game Flight Control reached 1.5 million sales just six months after it hit the App Store. Meanwhile, GTA: Chinatown Wars on DS sold disappointingly, and the hardcore PSP has always struggled against more casual competition. The direction in which success lies is clear - cheap and casual rules on the handheld.
Rockstar's announcement that GTA: Chinatown Wars is coming to the iPhone is a good thing for iPhone gamers. It means the industry is taking it seriously. But is it good for the franchise? I'm not so sure. Will it make the news? Probably not. Will it outsell Flight Control? Absolutely not.
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