Gameplay 9.9
Graphics 9.5
Sound 9.0
Value 9.9
Distributor: Take2 Interactive
Classification:
MA15+
Review Date:
July 2005
Reviewer:
Tory Favro

9.9


Grand Theft Auto San Andreas

For those of you who have been living in a very deep hole in the ground you play the part of Carl Johnson, also known as CJ. You left the streets of San Andreas and went to Liberty City when some really bad stuff went down in the hood. You've returned as your mother was killed and it's up to the sons to bury her. Upon your arrival you are framed for the death of a police officer by other crooked cops and thus your adventure begins. No money, no weapons and only a bike leaning against a fence in an alley.

After this brutal return back to life on the streets, CJ comes back with a vengeance with you at the helm as he wins the respect and loyalty of both his brother Sweet and the rest of the crew he used to run with, the Grove Street family. From the very get go you are gonna find yourself totally immersed in the 1990's West Coast America gang bangin' scene with the vehicles, dress and tunes of the time in a gameworld that sure is one of the biggest ever created for any format.

There are a swag of missions here that will truly stagger you, ranging from the very very easy to tasks that will have you doing them over and over again. The best advice that I can give is that you find a safehouse nearest to the tasks, buy it and then save before taking on your next mission as the map is so huge that it literally can take about 10 minutes just to get from one area to the other. It took me about forty odd minutes to get from one end of the game world to the other and that was in real time folks without stopping for missions or any other distractions. It's so big that you can actually get lost.

The sense of authenticity that you have come to expect from the series has also come back with a great deal of environments being explored. You'll start with the ghettoish seedy streets then making your way through to the sticks where the rednecks live and all environments have been done with such detail that you really do forget that you are just some couch potato twiddling your analogue controls. You become CJ and nothing else matters.

I always feel odd when I'm reviewing a game of this calibre as there is no real way that I can let you know just how good it is and truly do it and you any justice as words aren't enough to describe the actual gameplay experience that lies in wait for the person who picks it up. All I can say and will most likely repeat is that this is the best hundred bucks that you can spend on a game, so if you have to budget, make this the one that you get.

Something that really surprised me (what didn't?) about this game was the inclusion of two player mode. There are several points in the various areas that you unlock that have a two player symbol that appears, the first of which is at your girlfriend's house, yes you get to pick up the chicks in this one legitimately and take them on dates! Instead of your standard date taking place, simply bung in the second controller and go on a killing spree with a mate who will take on the guise of whatever non player character was meant to go on the date/mission with you. As you will find, each date goes toward your overall status with the ladies and they will eventually give you presents and maybe even a hotted up vehicle if you play really nicely.

Oh by the way, you can swim in this game. That's right, no more crashing off a bridge and dying, just get out of the car and swim to safety. Need to elude the authorities? Just go underwater and see if they lose the scent. The game has built up a system similar to role playing games where CJ builds up experience if he keeps repeating a certain activity and that includes accuracy when firing weapons. Some advice if you want to get into this game and kick butt is to get weapons early and do all the shooting you can. Eventually you'll get hitman status with that weapons and then go crazy with guns akimbo (two at same time) on certain weapons. Machine pistols such as the Tec 9 are absolutely deadly when wielded in this way.

CJ's appearance also changes through the game depending on how much you let him eat and how much time you spend on foot. Your muscle mass can increase by going to the gym and pushing weights or you can become a couch potato if you so choose. The thing to take into consideration is that if you do the right thing by CJ, then it rewards you in terms of stamina, accuracy etc. The gym and other relevant areas appear accessible in the game after completing certain missions, just like Vice City.

Non player characters abound in this game bringing with them a host of celebrity voice talent including Samuel L Jackson as corrupt cop Officer Tenpenny and Chris Penn as his sidekick Eddie Polaski. You name, it and these guys are into it, bringing CJ under their control through coercion and threats. You also have an older brother Sweet and sister Kendl along with all your old homies from the hood. The player is welcomed into their midst and there is a real feeling of being part of a big family. Once your sphere of influence extends beyond this point you will find that CJ has a respect meter that can be viewed along with his other stats. Once your respect is high enough you can recruit non player characters from Grove Street to come with you on drive bys and the like. This is one of the few times that it annoyed me a bit. Your homies will lean out of the car gangsta style and shoot at enemy gang members, even when the cops are there and the law won't react one bit. Get out of the car to help them and then the law comes down on your head. There will be the odd cop chasing someone but not to the extent that I thought would occur.

Three major metropolis' wait for you to make your way through starting with Los Santos (Los Angeles), San Fiero (San Francisco) and Las Venturas (Las Vegas) with the action kicking off in Los Santos and then as the game progresses, the other areas open up. All sorts of modes of transport are available to the player as well from the 90's including Latino low riders, beat up old cars, motor bikes, quad bikes, boats to name but a few. There are aircraft available but if you go over to them without going to flight school, I found that I couldn't get into the planes, the doors are all locked.

Back again is an outstanding soundtrack with multiple radio stations and songs from that period in time. The in game DJ's react to changes in the weather in the city and if you listen closely there are tons of in jokes including some from Chuck D, front man for Public Enemy who does the voice over as Forthright MC stating that he MADE Public Enemy! There are also the obligatory chat channels and when you go into Ammunation (where you can buy all sorts of weaponry and also hone up on your accuracy), make sure you stand still and just listen to the instore advertisements!

For you freaks who love customization, you can rip your own soundtrack in this game which is a really cool option and adds itself as a radio station to your game. You can add some DJ banter in there if you want to but it does sound a bit disjointed.

Character reaction to CJ is featured in the game and NPC's will react to your clothing, appearance, tattoos and either diss you or give you ups. There are a number of clothing stores that you can buy from which are then added to the wardrobe of all the safe houses you can buy. But money doesn't come easily initially until you notice that drug dealers start showing up in the game. These are predominately a black man in a black singlet, jeans and a beanie with his arms crossed, or a white guy wearing a grey hoodie. They always have money (between 1 -2 grand) and are always armed, but a great way to get cash fast. I found approaching with stealth with a knife and taking them out to have best results.

As with the previous games, the physics of all the vehicles in this game is spot on with access to garages to increase the ability of your vehicle. You can make your very own pimped out ride complete with nitrous boosters that will get you going at crazy speeds that generate a blurring effect similar to when you achieve burnout in the game of the same title. If you feel slack and don't want to drive, simply get onto the train at the train station, how cool is that? Possibly the only vehicle I didn't like was the quad bike in terms of handling and having fun and considering that you have to ride one in a mission with Catalina sucked!

There are so many side missions and secrets built into this game that you really are never going to finish it as far as I am concerned. Aside from the general gameplay, there are buildings to tag with your gang's logo, things to find in the water and a host of other activities to choose from. I would quite often lose track of the proper flow of the game when I was playing around with all the other things you can do in these massive cities that truly have lives of their own. Take the time to truly explore all these areas for yourself and you will see what I mean.

Make sure when you are exploring that you take advantage of the Xbox-centric feature that is the super duper 30 second replay! I loved this feature and used it when I had a hardcore gun battle that just had to be replayed, this was just perfect to go back and live the glory all over again.

I think part of the reason that San Andreas is so spectacular is that you can get lost within the game. Similar to Vice City, you can simply roam around and cause mischief, ride your BMX at a skate park or simply go for a swim, not to mention the amount of gambling you can do at Las Venturas on a number of real games, players are going to find their progress crawls along very slowly unless you are determined to just get the missions finished and done with. I must admit even at this point in the game, I am pretty damn sure that I am not near the finish yet, however have clocked in so many hours on the game that I reckon that I am even dreaming about driving through the streets, everything has that washed quality that presents in the game.

The best thing about the Xbox version is that despite the PS2 version being absolutely magnificent, the visuals on the beefier Xbox are great and then some. Put into the context of the hardware being used on each system they are both displaying the game to the best of their ability. That said this version is the sexier of the two hands down! There are clearer textures and better looking character models that reinforce the perception of an even more vibrant gameworld.






 
 



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