Review by Random-J

"Pure Wanksta"

It's one of them things isn't it? Something comes along shrouded in complete inevitability. There's no questioning of whether you will get involved, ‘cos you know you will. There's no point wondering if it'll hurtle to the top, ‘cos you know it will.

Grand theft Auto is that said something; A game that despite its critical acclaim, is plain predictable…Inevitable. And that begs the question; “Is this game really worth all the hype?”

Now, I'm not a huge GTA fan. I've played all the games, but have never considered myself a fan. I do however own this game, along with “Vice City”, so I'm kind of sat on the fence. Happily sat might I add!

I'm not a hardcore fan, but I'm not a hater neither. So with that, I proceed on with my un-biased review of GTA. Honesty is a reviewer's best policy, so I'm-a spit da truth ta ya'll!!!

“San Andreas” is like an interactive ghetto. Think “Menace II Society”, “New jack city”, “Boyz in da hood” and that sets the over tone of the game to begin with. It's all about loyalty, running the streets and making your name known by which ever means necessary, just as long as you stick wid ya homies. Now considering that GTA has always been a series to push boundaries in terms of violence and 18+ material, it's not that much of a surprise that the boys at Rockstar decided to live out their gangsta fantasies this time round. But it was a surprise to me. I didn't know much about this game before its release. All I knew was that it featured a black guy as a main character, but never had any idea that the game would adopt the black ghetto culture in such depth. This is one thing that Rockstar gets 2 thumbs up for. They set the tone well. They delve into the culture without it ever feeling forced or pretentious. Rockstar has achieved what many soap operas, films and TV programmes have failed to, and that's representing the whole “ghetto gangsta” style in a way that allows you to accept it and believe it and not see it as some sort of parody.

The game places you in the shoes of Carl ‘CJ' Johnson. You basically have to work your way up in the hood and start making money and gaining street cred. This is done in the form of missions; some fundamental to progressing the (smidgen of a) story and some on the side and for fun, such as playing Mr. Taxi-man, Policeman, Fireman, Ambulance man or even a Pimp.

I won't go into this game's story, as there isn't much of one to be honest. The game starts off with a stronger narrative than “Vice city's”, but this is soon left by the way-side once you've done your fair share of missions and other locations open up to you. The game soon seems to abandon its hardcore ghetto roots and story telling and opts for a more “Vice city” approach. Basically, the hood gets left behind and the game begins to faintly resemble “Vice city.”

Now for the technical aspects of the game…

Graphics >
“San Andreas'” graphics really aren't anything special. They are more or less identical to “Vice city”; the poor textures, the simple geometrics, along with the polygon clipping and bad draw distances. “San Andreas'” graphics just get the job done. It doesn't wow you in any way. The character models are just “okay” and the cars are just “alright.” Nothing stands out graphically and reveals the PS2's limitations more than anything. Either that or the programming skills at Rockstar are pretty shabby. Luckily for them, many will (undoubtedly) find themselves engrossed in the game and love it so much that the graphics won't really be much of an issue. But for those like me who aren't GTA fans and aren't easily blinded, the graphics do make you think “Couldn't they have done just a ‘little' better?”

Sound >
This is where GTA gets an “awww yay-eah!” As in GTA tradition you've got a good selection of radio stations to tune into whilst you're driving. The music selection here is vast and varied and every radio station caters to a specific genre of music ranging from old skool funk to rock and Hardcore gangsta rap to dance. The music in the game is impressive and no doubt you'll find a tune you re-call from your childhood (if you're as young as me! Me = just turned 20). Aside from the music stations, you get the (very much) welcomed return of the talk radio show. This station is hilarious and is a nice break when you don't wanna listen to music and want to be amused. It has never been in question that the guys behind GTA have wicked senses of humour and a team of witty writers, but this radio station really is a testament to their talents. Everything that is supposed to be funny is funny and you'll find yourself amused by some of the topics that are raised on the airwaves. However, I do favour the stations in “Vice city.” I cannot even try to articulate “Why?” but I just do. You tend to hear the same songs over and over in “San Andreas'” Every time I tune into a particular station I hear the same song. But still…the radio stations are a huge accomplishment, so I will not go on further and damper the efforts made. Because regardless of your musical tastes or favourability toward “Vice city”, the stations are still grand achievements and most real radio stations don't put the effort into their stations that Rockstar put into their fictional ones.

Sound FX:
Nothing special here. Pretty much the same sound effects you heard in “Vice city” and then “GTA 3” before it. All the guns sounds a little different so you can clarify they ARE actually different, but nothing spectacular. How exciting can you make the sound of a gun, really?! The cars all emit engine sounds and when you skid, you hear the tyres screech. When something blows up, you hear an explosion. The sound effects are just standard and don't greatly enhance or damper the game in any way.

Voice acting:
The voice acting in this game is brilliant. All the characters in-game have distinctive and familiar voices and each of them has their own unique flair that is reflected in their way of speaking. CJ is at times unsure of his ability to do something, but masks it and is quite hard headed and rude. He comes with that raw attitude, yet is loyal to those who are loyal to him and remains a likable main character. You do get the feeling he is a gangsta with a bit of a heart, especially in comparison to some of the characters you come across during your adventures!

The voice acting is one thing I cannot fault this game for. The voice acting is brilliant and sets the standard for other games. The only other title I'd hold in high regard for voice acting is “Metal gear Solid” and I'd go as far as to say that I even prefer “San Andreas'” voice acting because it comes off as a lot more natural and witty, where as “Metal Gear's” delivery is very sharp, intellectual and not often is it intentionally laugh out loud funny.

Overall the sound is top notch and sets a high standard for future GTA's.

Gameplay >
Now this is where it all falls apart for me. The gameplay just doesn't cut it. There are too many things wrong with this game concerning the missions to make it fun. If you have played “GTA 3” or “Vice City”, you know what to expect in terms of missions. If you're a GTA virgin, then a couple of examples of missions are;
a) Keeping up with a car and destroying it by ramming into it.
b) A race from point a to point b. Getting in a car to pick up somebody from point a and then taking them to point b to blow something up and then chase back to a hideout at point c with the police on your tail.
The missions rarely vary and whilst some are truly ingenious and great fun, others are a nightmare and very unfair. This is what ruins this game. Too often your progression in the game is stalled by a mission that is just too difficult and you cannot move on what-so-ever until this particular mission is completed. The game is too unforgiving in this sense and the lack of a “retry mission” or a “restart mission” option is unjustifiable. In GTA 3…it was forgivable. In Vice City…it was just about forgivable. In San Andreas it's flat out unforgivable as it's been a problem that has plagued 2 previous titles and really should've been sorted by now.

The scale of the map is another problem. The game forces players to make their way across vast distances just to get to a mission or to rendezvous with a character. Once again: unforgivable. Whilst I'm in favour of a larger city (the city is seriously vast), some of the mountainous areas and countryside locations could have been removed to make the city more compact. It takes far too long to make your way around the city and you'll find that you're never in one location for too long, so you're constantly going from one corner of the map to the next. You spend more of your time just getting to the point where you can start a mission than you do actually ‘doing' them. A warp system in the form of a bus stop, or a taxi would've helped things greatly.

Also, the mountainous areas just seem to be more barriers in the way of players' progression, as cars flip over far too easily at the touch of a blade of grass. Nothing is worse than when you are on a really hard mission and your car will flip over and then you have to get out of it to avoid the explosion when it blows up and then “BLAM!!!!! Mission failed – you destroyed your vehicle” and then you have to make a 30 minute drive to get to the point where you can restart the mission again. A system to rock the car back onto its wheels would have been welcomed to prevent a mission being failed simply because the game physics are rubbish or as I mentioned before, a “retry mission” screen would have eased the pain somewhat.

Overall >
I am not liking this game. When I first played it, I liked it. Then on day 2, it pissed me off. Now I can't bare to play it because too often all of the games problems are compacted into one session of playing. Your car will flip, you'll fail a mission, hustle to get back to a save point or to a point to restart the mission and then you'll think “F**k it!!!” and turn it off. I know I have. Such things plague this game and prevent it from being one thing “Vice City” was for me…FUN!

GTA fans may be able to forgive its shortcomings and have more fun with it than me. But as someone who is not a GTA fan and loved “Vice City”, I find this game tiresome and stressful. They made the city far too big, when it really wasn't necessary. There are far too many desolate areas where there are no cars, so you'll find yourself walking for hours to find one. There is a lack of health pick ups, so you're health is constantly low. Too much is wrong with this game for me to give a perfect 10, or even an 8.

I will confess there are some great moments in this game, but the problems that plague it are far too pre-dominant and if anything, this game exposes how GTA is in need of a bit of a rethink in some areas. Maybe next time Rockstar will take more time with the next GTA instalment…but it's highly likely they'll confirm the sequel and reveal the title of it within the next few weeks or so like they always do. *Psssccch!* As I said…predictable.

Play it. Rent it. Buy it. Do whatever you must (legally) in order to play it, but don't say I didn't warn you. It's a very hit and miss game and you'll either love it or hate… And I have to say more often than not; I hate it.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 11/17/04

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