Game Over Online ~ Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

GameOver Game Reviews - Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (c) Rockstar Games, Reviewed by - Jeff 'Linkphreak' Haynes

Game & Publisher Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (c) Rockstar Games
System Requirements PlayStation 2
Overall Rating 97%
Date Published Monday, November 22nd, 2004 at 12:16 PM


Divider Left By: Jeff 'Linkphreak' Haynes Divider Right

There are simply some titles that captivate audiences for years at a time due to their addictive gameplay and their rich environments. These are the games that constantly seem to host newer challenges or larger secrets each time you play the game. Mario did it on consoles in the 80s. Command and Conquer and StarCraft did it in the 90s. The entire Grand Theft Auto series, from its humble PC roots to the more elaborate console versions, have taken this concept to a new level. The captivating plotlines, autonomous cityscapes and massive layers of gameplay depth and interaction have not been simple successors to a popular franchise; each release revolutionizes the gaming industry, pushing developers to create more complex titles.

Along with this incredible track record comes an incredible amount of pressure to meet or exceed expectations of previous titles. Up till now, the GTA series did that handily, addressing or improving on a number of gameplay facets across the board while retaining that trademark flavor. However, the typical measuring stick of success no longer applies to Rockstar’s latest title. Simply put, San Andreas obliterates any potential comparison to its forefathers with its sheer scale alone, a feat that easily establishes it both as one of the best PS2 titles made as well as (arguably) one of the best games ever made.

San Andreas is the story of Carl “C.J.” Johnson and his ill-fated return to his home town of Los Santos. A leader in the brutal Grove Street Families gang, Carl left the ‘hood more than 5 years after his brother was killed and moved to Liberty City. (GTA fans will recognize this connection) Unfortunately, C.J. received a phone call one day saying that his mom had just been killed as well. Jumping on a plane, C.J. arrives at the Los Santos Airport, only to be arrested by Officer Tenpenny and his group of corrupt cops. Not exactly the homecoming that Carl wanted, Tenpenny’s thugs strip him of his cash and implicate him in the murder of some police officers (cops that were close to discovering Tenpenny’s illegal schemes). Even worse, they drop a defenseless C.J off in Ballas turf, Grove Streets greatest rival. After escaping this deathtrap and paying his respects to his mother, C.J., along with his brother Sweet and friends Ryder and Big Smoke, plans to elevate Grove Street back to the most feared and respected gang in all of San Andreas.

There’s an obvious flair of West Coast circa 1990 on that permeates San Andreas. The obvious connection to films like Menace II Society, Boyz N The Hood and other movies of that era are apparent throughout all walks of life. Everything from the pimped out bicycles to the hydraulically enhanced lowriders smacks of gangsta living. This hasn’t been lost on many of the characters you interact with either; Ryder visually seems to channel the late Eazy-E, which seems completely appropriate with the San Andreas setting. That’s not counting painting over other gang tags, doing drive bys on gangs or other “illegal” jobs.

Yes, San Andreas still holds onto the concept of taking on missions to advance the plot, acquire money and expand your influence. However, San Andreas focuses much more on your character and the actions you choose to undertake in this game than ever before. For instance, players will have the option to choose from a number of appearances in the game, including the latest fashions from a number of clothing stores, a lot of different haircuts, and plenty of tattoos if you’re so inclined. This can affect just how some people initially perceive you, and you’ll hear plenty of comments from the other San Andreans if you roll up on them and they don’t like what they see. This isn’t simply held to your wardrobe, however, because one of the more dramatic features of the game is the varying physical stats of C.J. throughout the game.

Players will now have to focus on making sure that Carl has eaten to keep his energy up. Otherwise, he won’t be able to move effectively through the streets. He won’t be able to take down anything he gets his hands on, though, because exhibiting poor eating habits will result in an obese Carl, which decreases his stamina, making it harder to run, swim or perform many actions for long. The only way to balance this out is to hit a gym and work out hard. You’ll be able to focus on weight training, cardiovascular strength, or focus on hand to hand combat in boxing, kickboxing or martial arts styles, amongst other options. The upside is that visiting a gym will totally cut C.J. up, with plenty of muscle and better stamina to go along with it, giving him a bonus to physical attacks and easier physical exertion.

There’s another side benefit to looking cut up: You gain a better sense of respect from the denizens of the city if you look buff than if you look overweight. Potentially above the importance of all other stats is that of respect. Gang members want to follow someone that looks like a leader instead of a buster. Every mission you take, from capping some fools that try to endanger your homies to stealing firearms to winning races provides some boost to your respect stat. It doesn’t seem like much, until you realize that you’ll be able to recruit gang members to carry out drive bys or acquire girlfriends.

Tracking stats, particularly those that pertain to these gameplay features, only scratches the surface of the number of tasks that you’ll be able to undertake in San Andreas. Most players have become used to car chases, catching air by driving over ramps and buying property in the GTA series. San Andreas puts all of these options to shame. For instance, did you know that you could run a triathlon in the game? For you gamblers out there, you’ll be able to lay down a couple of bucks at the track or try your hand at blackjack, among other games of chance. In fact, there’s so many side games, optional missions and quests that you’ll need something like the Official Signature Series Strategy Guide from BradyGames simply to track down every single feature of the game that you wouldn’t typically think about. I won’t waste your time trying to go over every single detail, this really is one of those things you should experience on your own because it just doesn’t do the game justice in words. And yes, that’s including the stealth missions or two player rampages that you can partake in.

Instead, I will talk about some of the improvements that have been made since GTA 3 and Vice City hit shelves, tweaks that make San Andreas a much more impressive title than most people would expect. Longtime GTA players will be pleased to know that water is no longer the instant kiss of death that it once was in previous games. C.J. can actually swim in San Andreas, which is a much improved addition to gameplay. Governed by his stamina statistic, a fit Carl can swim for very long times, including, if you’re extremely eager to “play ahead,” swimming to other cities. Firearms, which have always been a constant in GTA titles, now have three levels of skill attached: poor, gangster and hitman (there’s also a double weapon hitman level, so you can wield two firearms at once). While you’ll be able to kill targets with poor skill with a shotgun or an AK-47, spending time to get used to a weapon, whether that’s constantly firing it or going to a range, definitely helps when you have multiple targets to take out.

Targeting and locking onto enemies has also been refined, so you’re no longer worrying about aiming at dead bodies or constantly focusing attention on distant threats instead of closer ones. It’s now works much better than it used to, which reduces the frustration of being killed in gunfights by enemies you weren’t expecting. Now, if you’re shot, it’s probably something you did, not something you wanted to do and your character chose differently. Aside from that, driving, one of the cornerstones of GTA’s gameplay, has been radically altered. Now, when you drive one of the numerous vehicles in San Andreas, you can completely feel the difference. Muscle cars actively feel stronger than sedans or lowriders, and you can definitely tell the difference in handling between types of vehicles. This includes everything between bicycles and motorcycles to boats and planes, and players can seek out schools to improve their control with these vehicles.

Perhaps the most striking improvement to the game is the setting of the title across an entire state as opposed to that of a city. Previous GTA games set the action within a lone town, and while those cities were extremely large, you were cutoff from leaving town or even other sections due to weather (a plot device) or the simple boundaries of the game world. Now, players will be able to leave the Los Angeles-influenced Los Santos for the fog shrouded streets of San Fierro or the glitzy flamboyant streets of Las Venturas. But this won’t be a simple case of being teleported from one area to another or flying from one city to the next; instead, you’ll take plenty of “road trips” that will involve driving from one town to another. In the process, you’ll drive through plenty of rural areas, including desert landscapes and other less populated areas. What’s more, the persistent world that GTA players have gotten used to seems much more interactive. This means that as you’re walking down the street, you might notice a cop having a shootout with some gang members or someone getting mugged. The huge world, which exhibits virtually no load times (with the exception of a few seconds for at the start of every mission) is truly impressive.

There will probably be a number of people that will look at the screenshots of San Andreas and be completely unimpressed. This is completely understandable, and if there’s a weak spot to be found within San Andreas, this is it. The engine used for the game is definitely beginning to show its age, and it’s pretty hard to avoid the rampant amount of slowdown that plagues the game at random moments, whether it’s displaying a ton of traffic or just rotating the camera. It also has a large amount of graphical pop in for textures. However, if you take the visual flaws on face value with the level of detail that San Andreas attempts to capture, these concerns become pretty small. Draw in distance seems to have been substantially increased for San Andreas, which can be detected from cars or planes. Character models appear to be much more detailed than previous titles, environments appear to be much more detailed, and cutscenes appear to be much sharper and fully animated. In fact, the level of animations included in San Andreas is simply phenomenal, and considering the large amount of things you can do in the game, you’ll be astounded by what the designers have thrown into this game.

The sound for the game, however, far surpasses any expectation for a video game. Easily packing the largest soundtrack any game has ever seen, San Andreas’ radio stations play an eclectic mix of rock, rap, country, and R&B songs from the ‘90s. We’re talking about everything from Dr. Dre, Tupac and NWA to Danzig, Rage Against The Machine and Stone Temple Pilots. Inevitably, you’ll find at least one channel that you’ll find yourself listening to constantly, if you don’t literally switch from station to station. But on top of that, San Andreas is packed with the GTA brand’s typical humor that infuses every title in the series. Supporting this immense and truly awesome soundtrack is an impressive array of actors providing voice acting talent. Samuel L. Jackson as the corrupt Officer Tenpenny is a standout with his delivery, but MC Eiht, James Woods, Ice T and Peter Fonda, amongst a virtual litany of other actors comprise a cast that’s exceptional and brings the world of San Andreas to life.

I said it at the beginning of this article, and I’ll say it again…San Andreas is probably the best title ever made for the PS2. Thanks to the sheer level of detail and the amount of gameplay you’ll be able to engage in during C.J.’s adventures, San Andreas surpasses just about any game that’s come along in the PS2’s history. If you own a PS2, you MUST own this game. Fo’ Sho’.

 

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Rating
97%
 

 

 
 

 

 

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