Grand Theft Auto San Andreas escapes to Windows Phone, but without Xbox Live

Last November, gaming giant Rockstar Games surprised us all by announcing that their mobile pot of Playstation 2/Xbox hit Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas would be coming to Windows Phone 8 alongside the iOS and Android versions. A lot of the larger console publishers end up skipping Windows Phone with their mobile ports, so the announcement of a Windows Phone version seemed to prove that our platform has reached a new level of market penetration and acceptance.

On December 11, Rockstar announced that San Andreas would release the following week. But then the release date rolled around for iOS and Android with no Windows Phone version in sight. Rockstar went on to belatedly explain that our version would be coming soon. How soon? Here we are a month later, and San Andreas has arrived at last! But exactly which Windows Phone devices will it run on, and does it support MOGA controllers? And why doesn't it have Xbox features? Find out after the break!

Supported devices?

Displayed prominently at the top of the game’s Store page is this ominous warning:

“PLEASE NOTE: Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is only supported on the following devices: Nokia Lumia: 1520, 1320, 822, 820, 810, HTC: 8XT.”

Nobody with any sense expected San Andreas to run on 512 MB RAM devices like the Nokia Lumia 520 - developers often struggle to get technically demanding games running on low memory devices. So the exclusion of the 520 and its brethren comes as no surprise.

What is strange is the exclusion of several devices with at least 1 GB of RAM, starting with the Lumia 920. Considering that the 920 was Nokia’s flagship phone in 2012, San Andreas’ failure to run on it would come as a blow. Nor is the Lumia 1020 (which bears twice the RAM: 2 GB) on the supported devices list. Does that mean that two of Nokia’s most popular and powerful phones can’t play this Grand Theft Auto?

Luckily, that’s not the case. As you can tell from the photograph and video in this very article, San Andreas downloads and runs just fine on the Lumia 920. We can only assume the 1020 plays the game as well. Perhaps these devices (and their variants) have compatibility issues later in the game. Either that, or Rockstar’s team simply left out a few compatible Windows Phones by mistake.

Other reader-confirmed compatible devices include: HTC 8X, Lumia 925, 928, and 1020, Samsung ATIV S.

Note that when you first download the game, you’re just downloading a 20 MB installer. The installer than downloads the rest of the 2.5 GB game. The advantage of this approach is that it appears to circumvent the need for 4x the extra space that Windows Phone 8 usually requires for game and installations. You should be able to install San Andreas with as little as 3 GB of free storage. Let us know your experience in the comments!

Screen time-outs will interrupt the download process, but thankfully the installer supports resuming. Still, I recommend turning off screen time-outs while downloading (if your phone supports it) to make things go smoother.

Controls and MOGA support (or lack thereof)

San Andreas offers several control options, such as a traditional classic control scheme and an adapted one. Either way, players control protagonist CJ’s movement with a virtual thumbstick n the left side of the screen. Action buttons such as attack and “take vehicle” appear on the right side of the screen. Button positions can even be customized to your liking. After securing a vehicle, you can choose between three control methods for steering.

The touch controls work very well, and anyone who plays console-style titles like those produced by Gameloft will feel right at home with them. But no touch scheme can ever match the responsiveness of a physical controller – not when the game was originally designed for controllers. Hence many of us hoped for MOGA controller support, especially since the Android version of the game supports it.

Sadly, the Windows Phone version of San Andreas does not work with MOGA controls at present. Developers tell us that adding MOGA controls is fairly easy and painless, so we can only assume that Rockstar’s Windows Phone team did not know about MOGA’s Windows Phone support. The MOGA website’s product pages and packaging make absolutely no mention of Windows Phone, after all – something I lamented in my MOGA Pro Controller review.

San Andreas is a massive game, and thus will likely require a few title updates for bug fixes and optimizations. There’s still a chance of Rockstar adding MOGA support in a title update. Whether or not you own a MOGA controller yet, please email and tweet @MOGAanywhere and @RockstarSupport to let them know we want MOGA support in San Andreas for Windows Phone!

No Xbox Live, no cloud

Woe to Achievement hunters: the Windows Phone version of San Andreas does not support Xbox Live features. The original Xbox version of the game didn’t offer Achievements either, so it’s not like we’re losing out on something that people got on other platforms. But Grand Theft Auto IV and V on Xbox 360 do both take full advantage of Xbox Live, so it’s a shame that Rockstar chose to skip out on Xbox Live features for the Windows Phone version.

The decision to publish San Andreas as an indie title is emblematic of the problems Xbox Live on Windows Phone has faced for the last couple of years. Because Xbox Live certification is more time consuming and costly than iOS's Game Center and Android's Google Play, many publishers - even those with strong relationships with Microsoft - choose to forego Xbox Live on Windows Phone. Microsoft still seems to be securing a few Xbox Live releases here and there, but those releases are few and far between. Nor does the big MS make any real efforts to promote the few Xbox Live games that do sneak onto their mobile platform.

The lack of Achievements is one thing... After all, iOS and Android don't get Xbox Live Achievements either. But the Windows Phone version of the game lacks the cloud save support that the other versions offer. Save data seems to be stored solely on the phone, which means you'll lose it if you switch devices (as I'm about to do) or have to reinstall the game for any reason. Combined with the lack of MOGA support, it feels like we got slightly short shrift on this one. Not that we shouldn't be grateful for Rockstar's support! But Windows Phone users do need to tweet and email Rockstar to ask for those missing features.

Get your grand theft on

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is a massive open-world game that takes place in a fictional California setting in the year 1992. The game tells a thrilling crime story, filled with violence, betrayal, drug use, and harsh language. The story will take dozens of hours to complete, and with optional side missions and races you could easily get a hundred hours of gameplay from this one.

The game offers a number of graphical settings that allow players to tweak the game’s appearance to their tastes. Want a huge draw distance? You can do that, if you turn the detail down a little. At default settings on a Lumia 920, the frame rate is smoother than any of Gameloft’s 3D Windows Phone 8 games. The beefier Lumia 1520 should be able to display even more detail without losing too many frames.

If you crave console-style games on the go or just love Grand Theft Auto (and your phone can handle it), don’t miss San Andreas on Windows Phone. You'll live without the Achievements, I promise.

Thanks to SlimAndShady, TNTJudbud, and everyone else who tipped us about the game's release!

  • Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas – Windows Phone 8 (1 GB of RAM or more) – 2.5 GB – $6.99 – Store Link

Paul Acevedo

Paul Acevedo is the Games Editor at Windows Central. A lifelong gamer, he has written about videogames for over 15 years and reviewed over 350 games for our site. Follow him on Twitter @PaulRAcevedo. Don’t hate. Appreciate!