"Half a game... but half a game that may be worth playing."

GTA: San Andreas is a solid port of a halfway decent PS2 game, and definitely should be a model for other ports to PC. However, behind the amazing graphics and horrible sound, it's only really half a game - but half a game that is done so well you might consider it a full game. To begin with, the aiming controls. On the PS2 version of this game, there is a Lock-On system by which you can simply hold R1 and fire, and the game will aim for you. However, this feature appears to have disappeared from the PC version, instead being replaced with the ability to aim with a mouse. While aiming with a mouse definitely bests aiming with an analog stick, the lack of lock-on makes some missions (Gray Imports to name one) a bit more difficult.

As for the game itself... there is a mix of boring, tedious, hard missions that will cause you to rip out your hair in frustration and missions that are actually fun to play through more than once. However, the ratio of bad missions to good missions is five to one, making it more like half a game. A good example of one of the boring missions is a raid on an army base for guns, where the player has to use a forklift (with horrendous controls, I might add) to lift crates of guns into a waiting van. The problem with this mission is that doing it the way it was meant to be done is long, boring, and overly difficult due to poor controls (it takes almost five seconds in real-time to raise or lower the forks on the forklift enough to move the crates, and you have to come in perfectly straight to meet with the van). Compare that to one of the good missions, where you find yourself in the middle of a building filled with crazy drunken Russians shooting at you, only to go to an amazingly well-done bike chase. On another note, many of the better missions were taken from the previous Grand Theft Auto games. A good fifteen percent of this game is just recycled from GTA III and GTA: Vice City.

The major advantage this game has over its predecessors is one thing - size. GTA III and GTA Vice City had large areas (and in fact, one of the major selling points of GTA Vice City was that it was supposed to be several times bigger than GTA III was). However, most of the city in Vice City and GTA III was just empty space. GTA: San Andreas manages to fix this problem somewhat by allowing you to enter certain buildings. However, none of these buildings (besides a few you encounter in missions late in the game) have any interiors really worth looking at. One of the other things that should definitely be mentioned - the main selling point of San Andreas was that it was supposedly several times bigger than Liberty City from GTA III and the entirety of Vice City combined. However, most of this new area is just boring, empty space - a huge desert, most of which has nothing in it and is impossible to drive on anyway, and the "badlands", which are also large, boring and empty. In reality, if you condensed the game down to the three major cities and the more important outlying areas (the small towns that are used all of once), it would probably be only about twice the size of Vice City, which is not all that big.

There were many "features" added in to GTA: San Andreas, namely the statistics system (however, the newfound ability to swim is also somewhat useful). For example, you can get better at driving motorbikes (less chance of falling off when hit) by driving motorbikes long distances. Also, you can increase the size of your health bar and how long you can run for by walking around a lot instead of taking a car. Your statistics also effect your skill with various guns, allowing you to do things like move and aim at the same time with some of the bigger guns (the AK-47 and the M-4) and/or dual-wield two of the same gun (two Sawed-Off Shotguns are possibly the best anti vehicle weapon in the game, besides the rocket launcher). However, many of these statistics are also completely useless or are only used once. Lung Capacity (how long you can swim underwater) is a perfect example, as is Sex Appeal (you can pick up hookers better or something if this stat is at maximum, but in reality it doesn't matter because hookers will get in any car with you if you've got money, and no one ever uses the hookers to begin with).

The best part of this game is probably the graphics, which are dramatically improved over the PS2 version. The lens-flare effects from the sun, the lighting on the cars and the breathtaking scenery are all blatant examples of how much better the graphics are on the PC. However, the best eye-candy this game has to offer comes by grabbing a Banshee (the fastest car in any GTA game), modding it with nitrous boost, and then driving at max speed down the highway and using your nitrous. The blur effects and lighting are AMAZING. The thing is, you can tell the developers spent far more time making every facet of every vehicle animated than bothering with character models. Take the fat white police officer, Pulaski. His ears are both squares, and his face is quite polygonal, and this is in what's supposed to be a cut scene. The other problem is, you'll need a pretty high-end computer to be able to run this game with maximum graphic capabilities (I've been running it on an Athlon64 3200+ with a Radeon 9600 and noticed no lag or other problems). However, there are also tons of minor problems, including many clipping errors (especially if you do something like get in a car and then get rammed on the driver's side and try to get out).

GTA: SA's music is horrible, and is outdone by both of its predecessors. For instance, GTA: Vice City had a good eighties soundtrack that fit perfectly with the eighties theme of the game. However, this game's soundtrack consists largely of rap, all of which will sound exactly the same to those who do not listen to or like rap. While the developers added in the ability for the user to copy files into a directory in their My Documents folder to make their own radio stations, I can only imagine how bad playing this game was on the PS2 version without the ability to make your own radio station. Also, there is much more swearing and language in GTA: San Andreas than there were in any of the previous games. The swearing gets so bad that if you're playing this game near your parents or younger siblings that you may just want to turn off the sound entirely.

The real problem with this game is where and when they teach you how to do certain things. An example of this - one of the missions for the second city involves taking a priest's limo (which is virtually bulletproof against your pathetic sub-machine gun that is also the only gun you can use on drive-bys) off the road. However, you have to do this with the worst car in the game - the "pimp-mobile". To a person on their first play-through, this is a daunting and almost impossible task that will cause hours of annoyance (because failing the mission requires you to restart and do another ten minutes worth of errands until you can get to the chase). The thing is, the maneuver used to force a car to crash (called the "P.I.T. Maneuver") is only learned at a driving school that opens up immediately after you finish the chase mission. Another example of a bad manner of telling the player something - one of the last missions for the first city involves taking a group of your gang members to a funeral home in order to assassinate a high-profile target there. During the mission briefing, they highlight random words. For instance, in that particular mission, the briefing is "Take your homies to the Los Sepulcros funeral home across town!". As if the game's developers expected that their players are mentally deficient, they highlight the words "homies", "funeral home" and "town", like they expected people not to know what a funeral home or a town are.

My final word on this game is simple. If you have a high-end PC and a lot of time and patience, and don't mind the fact that this is essentially half a game, go ahead and buy it. If not, avoid this game like the plague. In the end, I give this game a five, because, as I mentioned before, it is only half a game, but half a game that may be worth looking in to.

Reviewer's Rating:   2.5 - Playable

Originally Posted: 06/21/05

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