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Grand Theft Auto (GTA)™: San Andreas (Special

Action and Adventure video game by Rockstar Games for the PlayStation 2

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Super Fun Happy Time Across the West Coast, Brotha!

  • Mar 19, 2005
Pros: New mechanics make the series feel like it really went somewhere

Cons: You would be one if you attempted these things in real life

The Bottom Line: Los Santos, San Andreas? San Fierro, San Andreas? Las Venturas, San Andreas? They don't sound as good as their real counterparts.

The second I knew Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas went above and beyond its call of duty as a video game occured at a point when I was nearing the end of the area known as the Badlands: The main character, Carl Johnson, had recently been dumped by his main squeeze. Around the time of a street race from the top of a Badlands hill, Carl runs into her, and she tells him all about her newly-formed plan to move out to Liberty City with the new boyfriend she had just picked up. The boyfriend looks oddly familiar to fans of Grand Theft Auto 3, the game which brought the series to the attention of casual gamers: The pants are different, but the general look is the same, the expression-less face is the same, and the general indifference to anything around him is also the same. He has no name, and he doesn’t say a word. The fiesty woman’s boy toy of the hour is none other than the silent star of the Grand Theft Auto series’ controversial first foray into the third dimension!

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is what Grand Theft Auto: Vice City should have been. While Vice City felt like little more than an expansion pack for Grand Theft Auto 3, San Andreas takes the series into a few areas which the series has never been to before.

There’s a plot too, complete with a main character. It’s been five years since our heroic criminal, Carl “CJ” Johnson, left his drug- and gangland violence-infested hellhole in the city of Los Santos, San Andreas, for the greener grass in Liberty City. (Funny. Grand Theft Auto 3 promoted Liberty City as “the worst place in America,” and people want to go there?) Now it’s 1992, and Carl flies into Los Santos to deliver the traditional post-life props to his murdered mama. Not ten minutes after his plane touches down, Carl finds himself being picked on by a pair of corrupt cops who accuse him of murdering a police officer. After that, Carl returns to the Grove Street neighborhood where the Grove Street gang once reigned supreme, only to find a disaster: His family has fallen apart, his homies are dead or heading toward disaster, and the only light in the impending darkness is the headlight of an oncoming train. Vowing to restore his old ‘hood to its former glory, Carl sets out to re-establish the Grove Street gang as the ruggin’est, thuggin’est gang on the streetz. His journey takes him across the entire state of San Andreas, from the easygoing Los Santos to the artful, rich San Fierro and the glitzy Las Venturas and everywhere else in between.

There’s a hip hop flavor to the game, and the plot has smatterings of those ‘hood gangsta movies like Boyz in the “Hood and Menace II Society. Carl Johnson is a Tupac-like character who’s been hardened by life is his crime-ridden ‘hood. His explosive toughness contrasts wildly with the silence of the nameless man from GTA3 or the rugged, worker-like toughness of Tommy Vercetti from Vice City. CJ is loud and crazy, and not averse to dropping the regular f-bomb or n-word. However, he’s not going out and commiting his acts of violence without reason. We know his motivation from the very beginning, and the way the story moves along makes sure that there’s always a reason for the missions he’s running. There’s no more “go out and just whack this random guy” in San Andreas. Granted, the excuses used in the game would still never be good in real life, but I have to admit, when I broke into a drug dealer’s house and shot up the dealer because one of the characters wanted me to get the stuff off the streets, I felt important.

Since the title os the series is Grand Theft AUTO, you’ll spend a good chunk of the game learning new, colorful uses for cars. Cars in the Grand Theft Auto series are not transportation so much as they are tools. In San Andreas, you’ll be using cars as sightseeing vehicles, weapons, battering rams, defensive barricades, decoys, and explosive devices. It’s safe to assume that since the series revolves around being able to carjack any - and I mean ANY - vehicle you find, whether there’s someone inside it or not, you’ll be stealing, racing, and then randomly crashing or abandoning quite a few different vehicles. True to the series, there are many different types of weapons-on-wheels to beat up, all of which have different top speeds and styles of handling. The handing in San Andreas seems to be much more defined than it was in GTA3 or Vice City. If you abondon an SUV for a nice luxury car, you really feel it. Since you’re not limited to just the typical old vehicles this time, you’ll be having a lot of fun learning just what does what. You can even drive the train, or fly airplanes or helicopters. Not the clipped-wing types of planes that frustrated everyone in GTA3, but full-winged aircraft which are easy to just pick up and fly! Play your cards wrong, you’ll even have fighter jets chasing - and shooting - you down!

The gameplay in San Andreas is about as open-ended as it could possibly get. About the only things Carl is NOT allowed to do are buy drugs, go to school, and repair the kitchen sink. Other than that, you’re free to roam around the cities, doing whatever you please. Beating up pedestrians, shooting it out with police, taking over territory from a rival gang, taking a girlfriend out on a date, eating, and robbing houses are only a few of the fun activities Carl is allowed to do to pass the slow days. Unlike the last two GTA games, San Andreas also gives you incentive to do a lot of little things: The big one, of course, is the money, because there are a number of missions which you get nothing save respect for running. However, you can also make Carl stronger by lifting weights at a gym, you can go to parties, buy property, get new clothes and haircuts, and even just driving around and shooting will serve the purpose of increasing Carl’s driving and shooting skills. You’re even allowed to learn combo moves for when your last bullet flies from its chamber and you have to resort to fisticuffs. While some of those elements - like the ability to nourish Carl - tend to get annoying after you’ve done them a few times, the idea gives the series an interesting new dimension which will hopefully be used in the future to a much bigger extent.

As for the main game, well... It’s Grand Theft Auto! You run from boss to boss, from mission to mission, doing all that fun illegal stuff you always wanted to in order to turn Carl from a petty thug into the top businessman on the San Andreas coast. Along the way, yyou meet colorful, interesting characters like the violent and vengeful Big Smoke, crooked police officer Frank Tenpenny, the insane Catalina, and a rugged hippie named Truth. The missions have also gotten a lot more interesting. In one mission in Los Santos, you have to drive a motorcycle to keep up with a train while your partner picks off enemies who are on the top of the train. Other missions have you stealing by creeping around Metal Gear Solid-style, illegally street racing, taking packages from the backs of speeding motorcycles, and acting as decoys for the higher-ups. There are also enough mini-games crammed into San Andreas to give games like Mario Party a run for their money. Just about every kind of video game ever made has one kind of representation or another in San Andreas, so it’ll be a long time before you get bored.

It’s true that the three cities in San Andreas are bigger than the cities in GTA3 or Vice City - however, that advertisement never clarified whether it meant “bigger than any single section of the cities in those games or bigger than all the sections of Liberty City or Vice City put together. I’m slightly disappointed to say that I believe it to be the former. There’s a significant difference in size between Los Santos and any single section of the last two, but that wouldn’t really be much of an accomplishment. If yyou really want to get technical about that little complaint, you should keep in mind that it doesn’t mean the cities in San Andreas aren’t big. They’re very big. I’m just pointing out that the advertisements may have been misleading in a way. Just for the record, despite what certain other reviews may say, San Fierro and Las Venturas are NOT open for business the second the game begins. Carl DOES have the ability to swim (one of many abilities which Carl can improve over the course of the game), and he CAN swim to the shorelines of San Fierro and Las Venturas, or at least to a boat to take to either. However, the roads leading out of Los Santos are all blocked off when the game begins - and any effort you put into reaching the San Fierro or Las Venturas city limits will be for naught the second you set foot on the shore and the first four stars of your wanted level immediately light right up.

If you’re just in a criminal mood one day when you play, but you feel bad about just running around killing random people, don’t worry. The AI in much of the game - yes, that includes even outside the missions - is so agonizingly stupid, you won’t feel bad about chasing and blowing up that maniac in front who keeps switching lanes for absolutely no reason. Bad driving is in abundance in San Andreas, and more than once you’ll end up the victim of a hit-and-run. In this living, breathing state, people actually react very little to certain kinds of stupid and criminal behavior. You’ll have the few people who dive out of the way if traffic is backed up and you decide to drive on the sidewalk, but most of the drivers on the roads on San Andreas are at least as bad as Carl. The real beacons of artificial stupidity, however, comes in the foot missions. Very few of your foes will react when you’re shooting at them. Instead, they’ll just stand up and absorb every bullet you fire in their direction. The computer feels like it was programmed to simply be persistent, and while this works for a few rounds, eventually you’ll figure out their patterns and make yourself the computer’s daddy. Even when an enemy does veer off its selected pattern, it isn’t far enough to make a big difference in how you approach the mission.

The graphics in San Andreas are some of the worst on the Playstation 2. I have yet to experience any slowdown, and that’s the lone good thing about the graphics. Every other aspect of the graphics puts San Andreas light-years behind GTA3 or Vice City. They’re flickery, buggy, have countless pop-up problems, and there are times when the camera just can’t figure out what it’s supposed to be pointing at. I’ll grant that the massive scope of the game may be a contributor to the graphic problems, and for that reason I’ll be a little forgiving in my rating, but these graphics are just awful.

San Andreas is a Grand Theft Auto game, and with the Grand Theft Auto series, what can we expect but lifelike sounds on the outside, and a plethora of radio stations in cars? It’s always been one of my favorite things about the series. Since the game takes place in 1992, don’t expect to hear anything beyond that year. Since the game has a hip hop tone, the music has a hip hop lean. Radio Los Santos plays gangsta-style rap, the explicit versions of songs including now-classics like Dr. Dre’s Dre Day, NWA’s Express Yourself, and Ice Cube’s It was a Good Day. Playback plays classic hip hop including Public Enemy’s Rebel Without a Pause and Eric B. and Rakim’s I Know You Get Soul. There’s also an entire station devoted to playing new jack swing, that blend of urban music and r&b which was so prominent in those days, and a station that plays nothing but funk. Yes, there’s a chat box which features an appearence by Lazlow, and there’s K Rose, KDST, and Radio X for country or rock fans. The voice acting in the cutscenes is excellent, and features a lot of real name talent like Samuel L. Jackson as Offficer Tenpenny, Ice-T as Madd Dogg, and hippie icon Peter Fonda as Truth. For those wondering, yes, the Guns ‘n’ Roses song Welcome to the Jungle, featured in the TV spot for San Andreas, is played on Radio X. Axl Rose himself also leends a voice to the game as the rock-suck-up deejay of KDST, as does New Edition and Bell Biv Devoe’s Michael Bivins as the showbiz-obsessed deejay of CSR 103.2 - the new jack swing station.

There isn’t a lot about the gameplay that’s noteworthy, except to mention that a developer finally got the camera right. Without going into first-person view, you can rotate the camera in every direction 360 degrees. It’s so simple it’s almost stupid, and it’s the right way to do video game cameras.

Times have changed since the release of the Playstation 2. Back then, Grand Theft Auto 3 was THE game. However, with many other selections for the Playstation 2, GTA3, while still an outstanding game, has become lost in the shadows of titles like Kingdom Hearts, Final Fantasy X, Katamari Damacy, Shinobi, and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. However, the Grand Theft Auto series conttinues to evolve, and with San Andreas, it still ranks among the top in the hearts of Playstation 2 owners. San Andreas is a new, much-evolved game in the series, and will be among the top Playstation 2 games until Rockstar learns how to top themselves. If San Andreas is any indication, the series will continue to get better. Let’s just hope the next game doesn’t come off like an expansion pack - you know, like Vice City was to GTA3.

gameplay - 8
graphics - 6
audio - 10
replay - 10
overall - 9.4


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review by . November 01, 2004
Pros: Vast Maps, Well written, great support features.     Cons: Negative stereotypes and brutally violent.     The Bottom Line: A true classic and a must for mature gamers.     The latest chapter in the controversial Grand Theft Auto series has arrived and Rockstar has not only continued the trend by crafting a slick and engrossing game that is going to be the most controversial game ever released.      Combining the …
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Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is no doubt one of the most controversial video games in the industry’s history. It not only garnered attention for its content, but also for its excellent gameplay and deep, engaging storyline. Spanning several recreations of some of California’s most storied cities, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas brings plenty for players to enjoy and deserves a place in anyone gaming library. The Special Edition features the documentary entitled Sunday Driver which details the Southern California lifestyle that is represented in the game.
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ESRB: AO - (Adults Only)
Number of Players: 1
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Release Date: October, 2004

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