|Violence, Blood, Strong Language,
| The Good
Massive game world
Noticeable improvements in combat
Missions are varied and interesting
Interesting story and voice acting
Tons of things to do
| The Bad
Character models are blocky
Textures has issues at higher speeds
|* While the rating is temporarily Adults Only
at the time of this review, the game was released as Mature
and a revised Mature edition will come out at a
I won't lie - when GTA San Andreas came out for the
PS2, I had no interest. I was burned out on the whole "sandbox"
gameplay genre that GTA had spawned. Now, with the
recent controversy over the "Hot Coffee" issue, my curiosity
was piqued in the actual game. Not in the hidden mini-game
because I've already seen footage of that and it looked downright
stupid. So, I have to work a couple hours to get to a point
to get a girlfriend, input some codes or downloading a hack
just to get a sex-oriented minigame? Yeah... I do have access
to the internet, you know. So, once I got into the actual
game, my faith in Rockstar's ability to put out a solid game
Once you get past the "gangsta" theme that Rockstar has used
to promote the game, you'll find an interesting tale with
a rich cast of characters, some damaged and some outright
funny. After five years away in Liberty City, Carl "CJ" Johnson
returns to San Andreas to find his mother dead, his gang scattered,
and his brother and friends treading in dark and dangerous
territory. Not five minutes in town, he's framed for the murder
of a cop by other police officers and left on a short leash.
Through missions from multiple people, you're shown more and
more of the story and given a wonderful view of the world
CJ lives in.
While a lot has been made of the heavy use of language in
the script, once you get into the story, the conversation
feels natural and fits the theme quite well. I really couldn't
image the script being toned down without some effect on the
overall theme. With that said, the script and content of the
story is not for the timid as it deals with a lot of criminal
elements, including drugs, gang warfare and corruption. The
cast is pretty damaged internally and it's hard to tell who
is good and who is bad.
As with the previous titles, San Andreas features
a living game world where the player is set loose to do as
they please, all the while collecting items and completing
tasks for various people. Even though Vice
City felt like a minor upgrade to GTA3,
San Andreas makes a multitude of improvements that
take the series to a new level.
Combat is improved, both in terms of hand-to-hand and gunplay.
CJ has access to a ton of weapons and items, each broken down
into groups so that you can only carry one of each group (handguns,
assault rifles, etc.). When you break out your guns, you can
target nearby enemies and even rotate targets. You can now
crouch down, which aids in both improving your aim and reducing
your enemy's ability to hit you. When targeted on an enemy,
you can strafe and even do a tuck and roll dodge move. Melee
combat is also improved as you can now throw combos, block
and earn new attacks by going to the gym. These moves allow
for running attacks and kicking people while they're down.
San Andreas gives players new content in a steady
stream as you progress through the missions. After a few hours,
you'll gain access to the ability to start gang wars. "Why
would I want to do that?" Well, if you win a gang war,
you'll earn that territory, which nets you more money. To
start gang wars, you just need to shoot up a few enemy gang
members in their own territory. After shooting your way through
a few waves of enemies, you'll be through with that territory.
Of course, you'll also have to keep enemy gangs out of your
territories when they attack.
Also introduced is stealth mechanics and stealth kills. You
can use these to do a few different things, like breaking
into people's homes, sneaking up on people and killing them
quietly or just sneaking past enemy gangs and cops on the
street. Players will also be able to gain girlfriends, who
they must keep happy and take out on dates. Each girlfriend
gives CJ a certain bonus when they're "happy", so choose wisely
and work hard.
The guys at Rockstar have really honed their ability to keep
the missions fresh. They've managed to make each mission varied
and complex without making them brutally hard. Most missions
can be completed with decent skill and those that provide
a little more challenge can still be completely with a little
thought and preparation. Along with pickup and drop-off elements,
there are races, assassinations, and straight burglaries.
As with Vice City, you can buy new properties. You
can also buy new clothes, get your hair done different ways
and get tattoos.
Along with tons of regular missions, you can partake in missions
by entering certain vehicles and activating their missions,
including taxis, police cars, and ambulances. There are tons
of things to find and collect, including oysters, shoehorns
and spraying your gang tags over your enemy's gang markers.
Probably one of the more noticeable additions to the series
is the inclusion of RPG elements, which includes variable
statistics for fat, muscle, stamina, and respect (among others).
As your fat and muscle stats vary, CJ's body type varies.
To change your stats, you need to exercise and eat. In San
Andreas, you regain health by eating at one of many fast
food joints. Each meal affects CJ in certain ways. You can
get some serious exercise by going to the gym and working
Visually, the game's graphics are all about the sheer volume
of activity on screen. San Andreas features a massive
game world. Rockstar North has managed to take the step up
from GTA3 to Vice City and take it even further.
This time around, the game features three pretty large cities
and connecting areas, all packed with tons of details and
style. Each area, even the smaller communities within each
city has a certain style to its surroundings. When it comes
to the finer details, the game does has more varied NPC models
and the interiors do look a lot better. Where the graphics
do show room for improvement is in the actual character models,
which still look very blocky. Fortunately, the faces look
pretty good and show a good bit of personality during the
story sequences. One of the other flaws in the graphics engine
is that sometime textures have a bit of delay in loading when
you're driving really fast.
As with previous titles in the series, the audio portion
of the game is stellar. The voice cast features a number of
big names (Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Penn, James Woods and
Peter Fonda) that really only to serve the fine performances
by main cast members, including Chris Bellard as CJ, Clifton
Powell as Big Smoke and MC Eiht as Ryder. Sound effects offer
a wide range of ambient sounds that gives a certain bit of
life to the game world. Guns and cars all his different degrees
of "gravity" to their tone, making more powerful cars feel
like they're tearing around the streets. As with Vice City,
San Andreas features a lot of licensed songs, broken
up into various radio stations and accented with DJ chatter.
The soundtrack features a strong bent towards rap and hip-hop,
though there is a rock, alternative and country station. For
those who loved the talk radio stations from before, there
is one channel just for you. Another great feature is the
addition of custom soundtracks to the Xbox version, allowing
you to play your own music if you don't care for the soundtrack.
San Andreas is a full-on upgrade to the series and
really does so much that gamers who love both the series and
the genre should own this title. If you enjoyed previous games
in the series, you should really have this game. It's a shame
that the controversy has overshadowed an excellent game. I
can only hope that Rockstar can make some graphical upgrades
with their next console effort as they've pretty much nailed
the gameplay down solid.