Reviewed: July 5, 2005
Released: June 6, 2005
You know the drill. Out of the car and on the ground, both hands in front of you. Then the pigs will come over and the sweaty doughnut eater will wrench your arms back, none too kindly, and slap the cuffs on you. Donít they know youíll be back out tomorrow? Youíll be at it again, stealing cars, offing bangers with your crew green colors out so they know who did them. Grove Street needs respect, and youíre going to make sure they get it. Screw what Tenpenny wants; you need to find out who put one in your moms. You need to help your brother. You need to get a rocket launcher so you can give that helicopter what it has coming.
By now, if you donít know Grand Theft Auto you havenít been paying attention. The Doom of recent years, at least as far as video game violence is concerned, GTA has revolutionized how games are designed and how they are played, bringing players unprecedented levels of freedom in terms of game play and massive environments to explore. They say that getting there is half the fun, in GTA thatís only true if there are enough cops chasing you.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, the most recent installment is bigger, longer, and most definitely more challenging. There are more vehicles, more weapons, and more places to run to. San Andreas is a big place; I hope you brought your bulletproof vest.
As with the last GTA title, you divide your time between running around on foot, driving, and shooting. Also as usual you have missions to complete to advance the main story, side missions for flavor and extra cash, and a whole host of secrets, tricks, mini-games, races, and rampages to complete for that nice round 100% completion.
New additions with this title are bicycles, skydiving, and jetpacks not to mention being able to control your characterís appearance by buying individual pieces of clothing you can mix and match for that perfect look, working out to get ripped and do more damage with your fists, learning new fighting techniques, eating too much to get tubbed out, hairstyles, eye patches, and tattoos.
There is a LOT of content to this game, and it is almost all player-controlled. If you want to work out, you have to work out with a mini-game thatís different depending on what equipment you use. Itís essentially button mashing, but still itís more interactive than just pushing the button and then watching as you lift weights. Oh and if you want to keep that muscle you better come back often. If you want to learn new moves the gym trainer has to approve you, and then you have to fight him. You want to gain weight you have to buy lots of the biggest meals and stop going to the gym.
All this is of course detail to the main event. What you are really here to do is drive around town shooting gangstas, outrunning the cops, and generally causing a ruckus. You had better be prepared though, because now you have character development, not just in terms of muscle or fat, but also skills and respect. If you want to get a car full of homies together and do some drive byís youíd better be sure you have enough respect to lead a crew, otherwise youíre going solo. Sure you shoot straight on your own, but you want to hit harder? Youíd better put your time in at the shooting range. You want to get in police chases through all of San Andreas, get on the road and drive boy, because these cops are no slouches.
If you want to be good at anything you have to practice, but fortunately most of the time the practice is fun (especially the driving). The only real drawback to all of this content is that itís almost an exercise in too much of a good thing. There are three cities in this game, each with their own distinct look and feel (not that you didnít know that already), there are unique tasks to do in each of them, as well as the countryside in between.
One of the things that was particularly appealing to me about the last title was that there was only one, and that set the tone for the game (and letís be honest, who doesnít like eighties tunes to blow things up to?), where as here you have an overall ďimageĒ Ė that of California Ė but then each individual area is different. The game feels a little less unified than the last. I donít know that itís a bad thing, but it did make the game seem a little less fun to me.
Also, all of the extra content makes slows down the game for me, and much of it is simply filler. The gym mini-games are fun the first few times, but they pale quickly and you still have to do them. All of the stats that you can build in the game are also a bit slow, so you feel like you are barely crawling along even though you have been playing the game for the past 10 hours.
Core game mechanics have been bliss since GTA III, so you can expect nothing less from this title. The fighting interface has been improved and driving is as excellent as it always has been, so expect no surprises here. Mission completion is still totally in your hands within the bounds of certain requirements. If you need to perform some drive bys it is just as effective to run over the targets, as it is to let your passengers shoot them down. The freeform elements are still there, so have no fear that this is an enjoyable ride, itís just very different from what youíve experienced in Vice City.
Oh, and to those of you who have been complaining about it for so long, yes you can finally swim in this game.
San Andreas is dominated by dusty brown colors. It seems washed out, everything covered by a fine layer of dirt. This is despite having quite a wide palette of color; it seems that some shade of brown or tan is used more than anything else. Everything just looks dingy, and while this may more than appropriate for the more south central LA or Las Vegas sections of the game I would think it wouldnít be appropriate everywhere. Before someone accuses me of talking out of both sides of my mouth, just because there is a similarity between two things, that doesnít mean that they fit well together. Take Guinness and Bass for example, they can be mixed to form a Black and Tan, or they can just be poured into the same glass.
As far as comparing to the PS2, the graphics are better of course, but not really in a glaring fashion. Sure things are smoother, and load times are shorter (though in some cases not that much shorter), but the biggest difference comes when the camera is close to the characters, mainly during story sequences. Then each character looks more detailed, with better defined features and expressions than on the PS2.
Aside from displeasure at the color palette, this game is very good looking. There are a wide variety of character models wandering around in every city, and they are different for every city, or at least different sections of cities, so while in ďVegasĒ you see Elvis impersonators, and in downtown ďLAĒ you see very high class looking ladies. More specifically on character models a lot of work went into your character.
Building up muscle has a noticeable effect on Carl, as does simply gaining weight. There are also a wide variety of hairstyles and clothing combinations to choose from, not to mention tattoos. If you want to run from the cops in a Zorro mask and boxers with hearts on them you can do that. If you want to just look straight up like a gangster you can do that. If you want to throw on an Afro and eye patch and run around like Tyrone the funkiest pirate ever, you can do that too.
Special effects are here by the boatload. You get the nice blurred edges on your screen when you get up to speed in a car, and the rain effect is phenomenal. Explosions, and car crashes, spurts of blood, and gorgeous sunsets are all to be had inside.
Three words: Samuel L. Jackson. Oh, you need more? That isnít enough for you? How about this: James Woods. Still not enough? Peter Fonda. Ice T. Bijou f***ing Phillips. This game has a voice cast that you can make a film on, and not one of those cheap one either, this one would be directed by John Woo man, and it would have budget like you wouldnít believe.
Alright, so maybe I exaggerate a little, still that is an all star cast for a game that isnít a movie tie in. And, no I donít really know who Bijou Phillips is either.
The music in San Andreas is also as good as it always has been in the GTA franchise. Itís all licensed music that was popular at the time the game is supposed to take place, and with 11 radio stations to choose from thatís a lot of 90ís music. You get rap, rock, r & b, and just to mix it up a bit some country and reggae. Also included are a host of fake products, stores, public speakers, and talk radio that they had in Vice, so be prepared for a few laughs at what is totally inappropriate humor, but still funny as hell.
Sound effects? Hey, what can I say, explosions and crashes and gunfire. What more can you ask for? The cars have been given a little bit better treatment, so now they sound a little more individual than previously. In fact everything sounds very realistic, down to the gliding of a bicycle at high speed down the street.
If you havenít observed yet, this game is MASSIVE. I canít begin to think the number of hours you would actually have to put in to complete the game with 100% finished. Suffice it to say, well more than 80 hrs. Add on to that the fact that the main story of the game will take you at least that long to complete, not including all the random carnage engaged in along the way, and come on, this is GTA; you know the real reason you want to play is just to drive around and cause some damage. Yeah, yeah, great story, good voice actors, gimmie my rocket launcher and point me at the police and letís see how long the ride will last.
While I still prefer Grand Theft Auto: Vice City to this title, I will say that this is in no way a lesser offering. The game is huge, offers hours of challenge and exploration, and a fairly good plot with an excellent cast and all the twisted humor youíve come to expect from Rockstar.