Review by TownRanger

"Great Improvements, and Nearly Perfect!"

Dedicated to be a classic cross-platform action game, GTA: SA (Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas) becomes yet another excellent GTA produced by Rockstar. With many great improvements in the gameplay and the graphics, GTA: SA is a must-have gaming experience for all action gamers.

In this review, the enhanced gameplay in GTA:SA will be illustrated with examples. The downsides of the game will then be discussed. A final overall score will be given to the game at the end of this review.

Some illustrations in this review are based on their counterparts in GTA: VC (Vice City). A little experience in VC will make this review more comprehensive.

New Features
New vehicles are added into GTA: SA; bicycles, trains, trucks, tow trucks and new cars are scattered all around San Andreas. While all helicopters and boats look very much similar as those in VC, the cars resembling their real life ones are rendered in more details and look more realistic. The resemblance is obvious in the top-tier sports cars – ZR350 as in Mazda Rx7, Sultan as in Subaru Impreza WRX, Infernus as in Honda/Acura NSX, Super GT as in Toyota Supra, Bullet as in Lamborghini Diablo SV, and many more. These newly added cars make the 90's theme in GTA: SA stand out. With nitros and a screen blur effect, a feel of speeding is now made very strong like what Rockstar did in their Midnight Club driving series.

Three new weapon slots; the gift slot, the equipment slot, and the parachute slot, are now available for the hero in SA. Together with the new abilities of swimming, diving, sprinting, climbing over obstacles, hiding in darkness, and sneak attacks, the hero is now better off excelling in the battlefield in a versatile way.

The newly added level-up system requires the hero to practice and improve the skills. There is a variety of skills to be maximized to your advantage. There are mainly three areas; physical skills, driving skills, and weapon skills. An increase in either of these skills will allow the hero to either sprint longer, handle cars, bikes or bicycles better, or fire a weapon with an improved accuracy and damage.

With the new system of dating girls and acquiring gang territories, SA now allows some more flexibility of what to do when not in a mission and when all missions are done. You will not be bored when you get caught between difficult missions or when you have finished the story missions.

GTA: SA now provides you with the option to customize the hero's outfit, appearance, and cars. The outfit does not come in one single entire piece like those in VC but comes in items that can be purchased and put on individually in any combinations. The hero's beard and hair style can also be changed in a barber shop, and tattoos are also available. Not only do the outfit and appearance have a visual effect, they also count towards the hero's respect and sexual attractiveness.

As for the cars, GTA: SA puts them into different groups. The hero can now drive a unique car out of the garage instead of hijacking a car that looks exactly the same as other completely identical ones out there in the street.

The pedestrians now react more real. If a gun is aimed at them, they will surrender. If they hear shooting regardless of whether there are injuries or deaths, they will scream, protect their head, squirt onto the ground, and run away. If they are attacked by the hero on foot, they will usually strike back with their weapon. This makes killing random pedestrians not as easy as in VC.

The drivers are more serious about accidents. If they are rammed, they will get off and pull out their weapon to cause some destruction, or they will ram the other car back.

The recruitment of Groove Street Gangs is also a new feature that enhances the gameplay. There is no need to sit at 100% completion to wait for two body guards like the case in VC.

There are more interiors in GTA: SA that can be entered. An example is in the burglar mission where houses can be entered, and in the street there are more fast food shops, clothes shops, and barber shops that do not exist in VC at all.

There is a wider variety of missions which include not only the repetitive gun fights but more driving missions instead. The idea of schools allows players to gain access to cars, boats, bikes, and aircrafts that handle completely different from one another.

Some missions are two-fold in that two or more tasks are required to be done at a time. There are also some long missions that players do not want to fail and start off all over again wasting the efforts. This makes GTA:SA more challenging.

Because of the small size of towns in San Andreas, the paramedic mission is like looping around those tiny areas up to the required level of 12. As for the taxi mission, the game registers the player as having passed it with only 50 passengers dropped off but not 100. These adjusted vehicle missions make the game less frustrating in pulling players too far away from the storyline.

The landscapes look very realistic; from the three large cities and some small towns to the wide country and the rural areas. The change in weather makes them even more fascinating.

Other Improvements
The top-tier sports cars now appear far less frequently in San Andreas which is something very different from VC in which the Cheetah and the Infernus will not show up nowhere after a 30-minute drive around VC. Now in SA with the increased number of sports cars and non-seasonal cars like the fork lifter, the mower, and the harvester, it is now more difficult to encounter any one of them in the big cities. This gives a more real-life-based feeling.

Since there is a possibly existing but controversial glitch stating that GTA: VC's failure to register a valid Unique Jump locks up the game's progress, the Unique Jumps are now not required for 100% completion in San Andreas.

GTA: SA overuses cursing in nearly all the cutscenes. It could be embarrassing if someone else in the player's home overhears the swear words. That can also be offensive sometimes.

Regarding the gameplay, there are still some flaws that are brought forth from VC.

The cops are very annoying in that they will continue crossing red lights and suddenly show up on the wrong side of the road. The police vehicles will touch the hero's car and then give him a one-star wanted level. Extreme care must be taken when any police vehicles are in sight. Now the SA cops will start to shoot if the hero has only got a one-star wanted level.

Same as in VC, 100% completion in GTA: SA again is not worth it. There will be no new additions to the gameplay after 100%. It will be better to have a new mode unlocked after 100%, for example, replayability to any mission, a mini-game mode, or something similar.

The collection task is now more demanding in San Andreas. There are 100 graffiti tags to be sprayed, 50 snapshots up in the sky to be taken, and 50 horseshoes and 50 oysters to be collected. Two of those oysters are in the water in the extremely dangerous restricted area the Eastern Naval Base where the cops will try to kill the hero at all cost. With the huge size of the entire SA map, the collection is a lot tougher than the 100 hidden packages and 35 rampages in the not-that-large VC map. It is the annoying and twisty roads in SA that make the collection even frustrating.

The control of helicopters is even more horrible than that in VC. It is arguably the default control scheme of the keyboard that makes the planes and helicopters out handle very easily.

Another drawback is that Rockstar never seems to be licensed to publish real car names. As in the previous GTA versions and the Midnight Club series, the cars look like their counterpart in real life but they do not have the same name as their counterpart's.

The last downside of GTA: SA is Rockstar's carelessness in hiding a supposedly X-rated mini-game in the dating of girlfriends. There are the girls' bedrooms hidden in the data file in the GTA:SA DVD. Modders then found ways to unlock the sex content and published the “hot coffee mod” which is a mod that unlocks the hidden sex games with the girlfriends.

Not long after the “hot coffee mod” is released on the Internet, there has been outcry of Rockstar publishing sexually explicit content in a violent game which spoils young minds. The current and newest AO rating that Rockster got on GTA: SA has badly affected the sale; video game shops usually do not sell copies of an AO game.

No matter whether ESRB's rating is correct or not, and no matter whether that famous person in real life speaks right or wrong, Rockstar's huge mistake is part of the reason that GTA:SA may be facing a bad sale in the future.

Final Score 9/10
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is an excellent action game. The improved graphics and enhanced gameplay make GTA: SA an addiction. Some weaknesses in VC, however, still remain in GTA: SA. The game is worth a play, and at least one replay.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 05/31/06

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