Review by Evil Insane

"Violence and debauchery in a grand scale"

Rockstar Games are widely respected by all. They create games that surpass the boundaries of videogaming. They single-handedly brought the free-form gaming into popular gaming with Grand Theft Auto way back in 1998. They then, systematically, changed the world by causing controversy with its sequals, GTA2, GTA3, Vice City, and with games such as Manhunter. Their games are the fastest-selling as well as most popular games on the market, and their games are the single reason a lot of people own the Playstation 2. In short, they are geniuses. Each game has been better than the last, and they have reached a level of brilliance surpassed only by Nintendo, Blizzard and Sega.

Their fifth game in the Grand Theft Auto franchise is GTA: San Andreas. Named after, like its predecessor, one of the three cities within the first GTA game, it has been hailed as the greatest game ever made. Do I agree? Yes and no.

Story 7/10

You are Carl Johnson, better know as CJ. Your mother has been murdered and you are called back to your home in Los Santos, San Andreas to deal with the funeral. Along the way, however, you get accosted by a few dodgy cops, and, before you know it, you're thrown into a rival gang's territory. You then go on a tirade of murder, carjacking, gang wars, and general crime.

The story isn't really one story at all, but a bunch of separate adventures, as it were, revolving around the protagonist, CJ. However, they don't seem to have much structure. As opposed to going on a vendetta and finding out who killed his mother, he skips merrily along, doing errands for people. It doesn't seem to really have a structure and means that you've got no reason to do half the actions because they lead up to nothing.

Gameplay 9/10

One word to describe the gameplay would be “varied”. Another would be “boring”.

Not that the action itself is boring, but you feel that slight sense of deja vu, as if you've been in these instances before. And you have. For the last three games. I'm not saying it's not fun, of course, but there are instances when you think that the missions in question (generally errands or car chases) could have been left out, or at the very least tinkered with. A few of these missions are fine, but when they appear every two missions, you have a feeling they clog up the works.

The game is, however, as I said, very varied. One minute you might be killing a bunch of crack dealers, the next you could be planning an assault on a hotel filled with cops, and the next doing a cross-country drive to get to a friend before he's beaten to death. And these missions are pure genius. You want to complete them because they're so fun. You have an immediate sense of fun when you play these missions, that is, that you enjoy that the developers did something different for a change.

The game has added some magnificent features to the game. There are more mini-games including gambling, playing pool, trucker missions, girlfriends, taking over gang territories, going to various schools, and taking over freight trains. These are fine in their own right, but they very rarely offer rewards. In Vice City, you could buy various franchises, (clubs, taxis, auto dealership etc.) and, once completed, you reaped the rewards of lots of money. In San Andreas, there are no franchises to buy, and as such, there are very little side-quests.

To wit, almost all missions in the game, bar a slight few, are within the main storyline. So, even though you have an immense amount of missions, most are compulsory. Thus, if you get stuck on a particularly hard mission, nine times out of ten, you're pretty much stuck playing that hard mission until you complete it. Although this gives the game a structure, it takes away from the “free-form” nature of GTA games. About 90% of the missions are story missions, so once you've completed the game, aside from the random-generated quests like taxi-driving, vigilante and the like, you're desperately short of any true missions. Of course, you can always wreak havoc, steal cars, shoot pedestrians, fight the police, have car chases and generally cause bother. And this is where San Andreas shines.

The map is massive. Easily three or four times the size of Vice City in its entirety. There are three main cities – Los Santos, (Los Angeles) San Fierro (San Francisco) and Las Venturas (Las Vegas). There are also smaller hamlets mixed in there for good measure. To connect these cities, there are winding backroads, deserts, freeways, countryside, oceans, bridges and mountains. Driving from place to place, although time-consuming, is beautiful to behold, especially when you consider that this entire area was created, bit by bit, rock by rock, by Rockstar.

The downsides, however, to creating such a massive map is, of course, that a lot of it is empty space. That is, that nothing of value is contained therein. Red County, although expansive, only contains a total of six points of interest, and entire portions of the cities are never used in the missions and exist only for you to explore, which is great in its own right, but the annoying thing is that if the game was shrunk so that only the places of interest were shown, the game would be about the size of all three of GTA3's islands. Vice City, although being only a fraction of the area used in San Andreas, was at least utilized to maximum capacity, so that you felt like you were really squeezing every last drop out of it.

San Andreas begs to be explored. The game helps you along by giving you a number of collectables to find. GTA3 and Vice City had the hidden packages. San Andreas has spray paint tags, oysters, horseshoes, camera icons, and other such hidden things to strive for. A fine idea, but it would take you forever to find them all, and the rewards are not large enough to warrant such an extensive search.

Rockstar have implemented an RPG-like stats system within the game to help you create a character that is as customizable as they could get. You can train CJ in many aspects including his fitness, hunger, strength, stamina, sex appeal, body fat, expertise in weapon types, driving skills, swimming speed and lung capacity. Eating a lot of fast food to quench hunger, driving everywhere and not running enough can make CJ fat. Likewise, training can tone him up, make his attacks more powerful, and help him fire more accurately.

You can also customize what CJ wears, his hairstyle and his facial hair, as well as his tattoos. These affect certain parts of the game, but it would have been nice to see it having a more integral part in the gameplay, such as wearing a rival gangs colours in order to infiltrate their ranks for some side-quests, or make you invulnerable to attack in their territory.

You can also pretend that you're on that TV show, Pimp My Ride, and bring in a vehicle to add such things as decals, change the paint, and add turbo, hydraulics, and different hubcaps. A nice addition.

The game is by no means perfect, but it isn't a bad game. It's a good game that tries too hard to be too many things at once and only succeeds in a few. Take the mini-games for instance. Although a nice distraction from the real game, you can play different games in shops or even in one of your many hideouts. Except the games are shallow, and probably cost the developers a total of two lines of code. Even if they only put in one game, but made it decent, I wouldn't have minded, but it just seems like no effort was put in. But, that said, San Andreas is a crime-simulator, and not a life-simulator, so it's forgivable.

Graphics 6/10

Dear oh dear, Rockstar. Where did you go wrong? I played both the Playstation2 and PC versions of the game, and both feel like the game was created circa 2001. The graphics are actually worse than Vice City. I checked. Vice City, a prequel, is better than its sequel. Perhaps it's the game's size that pushes so much pressure on the processor that it couldn't handle decent polygon models, but either way, the graphics are below average expected.

The cut scenes are dire and don't seem to provide the cinematic atmosphere that they desperately try to give. It does have moments when it could almost pass for a decent-game, but these days, it just looks blocky and false.

The in-game graphics are acceptable, but by no means perfect, especially regarding the pedestrians. The game does, however, have excellent lighting effects, especially later when you enter the desert.

The mediocre graphics do have their upside, however, when driving through the cities. Everything feels so smooth, it's like sliding on butter. There is very little pop-up and if there were any frame rate drops, I didn't see them.

The graphics grow on you the more you play the game, but if you look at Doom 3 and Halo 2, the significant drop in quality almost makes your eyes bleed.

Sound 7/10

The sound is excellent, very well presented. The voice acting is superb, containing such legends as Samuel L. Jackson, and the now-deceased Chris Penn. The music is great, relying, rather heavily, on the rap genre, which is acceptable considering that the game revolves around the “urban gangster” stereotype, reminiscent of Boyz N Da Hood and Menace to Society. The rock stations, however, are excellent, and are a welcome change.

The profanity, however, is overdone. The game is, no doubt, realistic. All “bad words” are said here. All. Every last one of them. I think Rockstar actually created new ones to be used specifically for this game. The profanity, however, is saturating the game, realistic or not, the script seems like it was written by a team of pirates, drunken sailers and fifteen-year-olds.

Even the radio stations curse. GTA3 was genius because it lampooned popular culture through the tongue-in-cheek radio. Vice City was also great because it focused on the Cold-War era fear of Communism, as well as fashion that was cool in the eighties, but is very much uncool now. San Andreas has none of this witticism; instead the “comedy” is crude language and unintelligent digs at the working-class Americans that no doubt listen to that type of radio. You won't laugh, you won't think its intelligent, and, most of all, you'll think it's superfluous. It could have been made much funnier by limiting the language and using it only when needed, instead of every other word.

Don't get me wrong, profanity doesn't insult me, but I think that if it were only used when necessary, i.e., in certain cut scenes, and when it has the most powerful effect. Instead, it's used throughout the game, so much so that it loses its impact before you even reach the second city.

Presentation 7/10

All the menus are laid out very well and give you all the info you need, including the famous GTA stats menu, which tells you everything from bullets shot to cars blown up to gang members killed. The HUD gives you all the usual info – weapon selected, heath, armour, map etc.

The traditional health meter has changed. As opposed to being a numerical value, which gradually reduced as you took damage until you hit zero and died – it is now an actual meter, which is handy because it is expandable, but it lacks the “oh crap” affect that the numbers had. When the meter is a quarter full, you think everything fine, but if it was 25 points worth of health, you'd be extra cautious. A minor issue, but an issue nonetheless.

Control 10/10

The controls, as with most of these newfangled PC games, are customizable to the Nth degree. As the game is a port of a console game, its best played with a controller, but good fun can be had without, and can actually serve you better, as you can aim with the mouse for better accuracy, especially in the hectic gunfights.

Using the Playstation2 arrangement, the buttons/keys have different actions depending on whether you're on foot or in a vehicle, and contain the usual run, jump, shoot, target, look functions when walking, or drive, reverse, exit or enter a vehicle, side mirrors, rear view mirrors, use the hydraulics in a modded car, lean forward or back when on a bike, handbrake, change radio station and activate the vehicles special mode such as turrets, bombs, machine guns and rockets. It's easy enough to find a good key layout and become comfortable with it, although some might find there are too many buttons.

Extra features 9/10

A small amount of extra missions, but the game makes up for this with gusto by adding the hundreds of pickups, as well as the games, gambling, playing pool, racing, going to school, getting a girlfriend, having gang wars, taking territory from rival gangs, vigilante, taxi, fire engine, ambulance and other such missions as well as just going crazy and killing a bunch of innocent people for kicks. This game isn't made to make you bored and you'll have fun whatever you want to do.

Play Time 7/10

Since you have to complete 90% of the 200 plus missions in order just to complete the story portion of the game, it should take you quite a while. I racked up about 20 hours, but that wasn't counting the amount of times I reloaded because I couldn't be bothered going the whole way around the map and collecting a bunch of weapons just to complete a mission. I'd say its closer to 30 hours.

Replayability 7/10

I don't know if I'd like to play the story missions again for anything other than to have fun with them – and some of them are pure fun from start to finish. I'd fire it up every now and again to cause a bit of violence and drive at incredibly high speeds in a souped-up Banshee, but I'd still rather play Vice City.

Buy or rent? 10/10

Buy. Not an outstandingly excellent game, but still one worthy of play. The sheer size of it would warrant a purchase, as there is no way in blue blazes that a rent could give the games enormity any justice.

All in all, the game is flawed, but it is still a good game, if inferior to Vice City. The devices implemented, although they could have been done better, were fine ideas in their own right, and some of the missions surpass anything the other GTA games have given us. An experiment in gaming that will be remembered as one of the most ambitious projects in modern programming, and a fine job it was too.

Percentage: (The separate scores added together) 79%

Score out of ten: (Rounded to the nearest whole number) 8/10

GameFAQs score: (Not an average) 8/10


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 01/30/06


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