Review by thesickness03
"A Good Game, But Nothing Spectacular"
Obviously, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was one of the most anticipated games of last year, and, for the most part, it lived up to the hype. The game had its problems, but it wasn't a disaster and it had a pretty good story to boot.
The story begins in the early 1990s with CJ, the main character, returning home from Liberty City to his hometown of Los Santos, one of the three main cities in the game. Shortly after arriving, CJ is harassed by two cops who let him know that he is wanted for a crime he couldn't possibly have committed. They leave CJ in hostile gang territory and the game begins from there.
Throughout the course of San Andreas, you'll be involved in gang warfare, intense police chases, large-scale shootouts, and even a casino heist. Quite simply, there's an awesome variety to the missions in this GTA and many of them are pretty damn cool.
Well, if you've played GTA3 or Vice City, you've pretty much played this one. Obviously, some new features have been added and the aiming system has been ever so slightly been improved, but overall, the gameplay is remarkably unchanged in this third installment of GTA in the current console generation.
To be honest, this lack of change is really a downer. The aiming still sucks, even after the improvements. You'll still find yourself targeting the wrong enemy from time to time and this can cause problems, even deaths. Honestly, I think it's time for GTA to adopt a fluid analog aiming system like the one used in Mercenaries. A system such as that would allow players to actually target any enemy they want rather than whichever enemy the game decides its time for you to kill.
Thankfully, the other controls are much better. The driving is still great. The swimming works all right(although Rockstar should remember that, in video games, swimming ALWAYS sucks). However, it is nice to be able to crash a car in the water and not die. Having missions based around swimming(and requiring you to get a certain amount of practice before-hand) was more annoying than anything else.
One other problem I encountered was during the rail-shooting segments. I really felt that the aiming should have been inverted(or they should have let me choose when starting the game). I missed an unnecessarily large amount of shots because I almost always play games of this sort with inverted Y-axis controls and they didn't appear to be offered at all in San Andreas(I looked through the menus and found no options).
Finally, controlling the planes was tough, especially at first. However, helicopters controlled great and were a lot of fun to steal and create havoc with. The driving missions in the game are still the best, although some of the racing ones can be frustrating when you spin out every time something taps you while the other cars plow through light poles like tanks.
Customization is something new to the gameplay and it does really help. You can actually craft your character into something unique. He can be a muscular titan, a saggy, overweight mess, or anything in between. The one problem that comes with the new skill system is micromanagement. In order to max out your skills, you'll often have to spend an unnecessary amount of time on redundant activities(much like building skills in Morrowind) such as diving underwater or running. It can get annoying at times and, while the concept is overall a good one, it could have been refined a bit more.
Overall, the gameplay in San Andreas is adequate, but it's nothing special. There haven't been significant improvements over Vice City, so the score remains slightly above average. However, the game is still really fun, so props to Rockstar for that.
The story in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is one that becomes pretty epic and involves a huge myriad of characters, from cops to gang-bangers to federal agents. You'll likely be intrigued by the story as a whole and by the individual segments as well. Each of the three main segments involves a new city and the countryside around it. There are some decent twists here that force CJ to move from one location to another. You'll often find your old city to be hostile territory should you return there later.
Overall, the story is well-written and the characters are interesting throughout. Like in previous GTAs, there are all manner of crazy characters, including a paranoid toy builder Zero(whose missions can get pretty damn tough). It's also not all that predictable and I maintained a solid interest throughout.
The graphics in this version of GTA actually seem to have regressed from those seen in Vice City, and those weren't what I would describe as great. They do their job, yes, but it almost feels like taking a step back to the Playstation and N64 days when I load up a game of San Andreas. While I do think the graphics in San Andreas are bad, I will credit Rockstar for making the game so vast.
I think that the main problem here is that the game is being developed on the wrong console. The PS2 just doesn't have the graphical prowess to create environments on scale with San Andreas while making the graphics look beautiful as well. So, really, it's not so much the fault of the developers as the fault of the system it's being developed on.
The graphics engine powering San Andreas is, sadly, the same one that powered the last two installments. Sure, improvements have been made(slight ones), but it seems like Rockstar is milking the franchise for all it's worth while they can rather than taking the time to upgrade the engine and make the game look better.
Overall, the graphics are decidedly mediocre. The draw distance is pretty good, but the game chugs at times and the character models aren't all that great. Textures are nothing special either. The only reason the game gets 5 points is because the world is enormous without any loading times other than the initial one.
Just like Vice City, the sound in San Andreas rules. The voice acting is excellent, with particularly good acting coming from the upstart rapper(Young Maylay) who voices CJ. Other notables include James Woods, Samuel L. Jackson, Ice T, Charlie Murphy, David Cross, and many others. There weren't really any voices that were stand-out bad, which is always a good thing.
Another area where GTA once again does very well is the music. The radio stations are yet again a highlight for the series. There are even more options here than ever before and there's well over an hour of different music to listen to and enjoy. All of the music was well-chosen and really represents the times the game takes place in.
Disappointingly, there is only one talk radio station in this game and it doesn't quite measure up to the greatness of either of the two in Vice City. That was my only real complaint when it came to the radio stations.
The cars all sound all right, as do the weapons. Other effects are decidedly okay as well.
Overall, the sound excels in some areas and is just average in others. However, the good outweighs the bad here, hence the 8.
This game is long. It will take you well over 20 hours to complete the main story-line and, if you decide to do some of the dozens of sidequests, that time could easily be doubled or even tripled. There's plenty to do no matter where you are and there are plenty of secrets to discover.
However, San Andreas, to me at least, doesn't have the allure of Vice City and I wasn't nearly as compelled to finish the game or find all of the hidden things as I was in the previous entry in the series. I think this may stem from the fact that Rockstar has just recycled the formula for the third time and, quite frankly, I'm ready for some innovation. Sure, they added some new types of quests, but you may find yourself with an empty feeling at times while playing the latest GTA.
Overall, though, the game does have plenty of replayability. You won't be likely to start a new game, but there's always plenty of things to do in the game even after you've beaten it.
Like the title of the review says, San Andreas is indeed a good game. Rockstar knows how to make one and they've proven that time and time again. However, the game isn't really spectacular and lacks something that Vice City had(possibly Ray Liotta...heh). While the game definitely saw plenty of development time, it almost seems like Rockstar is going through the motions in this game.
The story is good and the sound is great, but the gameplay hasn't really changed in three games, which, to me at least, is a problem. Particularly, there aren't any huge improvements over the previous game aside from the skill system, which is at best hit or miss. However, the series does have a bright future once Rockstar moves on to bigger and better consoles and, hopefully, they bring in some much needed innovation to a formula that is rapidly becoming tired.
Overall, the game is worthy of purchase and the game is really fun most of the time, just don't expect anything that you didn't see in Vice City.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 03/16/05
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