Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Murder, theft, driving way too fast, using suggestive language, getting busy with girls of pleasure: all of these things were possible in last years’ Grand Theft Auto. The morality guys think this will turn a young, innocent toddler into a lean, mean, killing machine. On the other hand, there are the hype-haters. They find every game that has been hyped a bit bad by default. It’s just not done to follow the crowd even if it’s a triple A title. If everyone thinks it’s cool, we’ll think the opposite, because that’s the trick: being cool can be achieved by acting un-cool. Do you get the picture? No? Well good, because it’s easy to see that GTA: San Andreas is, in spite of the morality knights and in spite of the resemblances with a milking cow, a blockbuster game. It’s the shit esé.
The hype-haters will already look the other way now thanks to my enormous praise. But I’ve got good intentions with you guys. I’m trying to play in a cup. Because of your gruff attitude, you’re missing one of the best titles of this year and I would be so sad about it. Ofcourse there’s is a possibility that it’s just not your cup of tea and that I’m dissing your taste. In that case: my bad dawg, because there is no accounting for tastes. But enough preaching, back to the order of the day: the review.
Where you were able to fool around in the eighties during Vice City, you will now get the turbulent nineties to kick some ass in. You take on the role of Carl Johnson, aka C.J. This “black brother” has traded the colourless Los Santos for the colourful Liberty City (GTA III) when his brother died. When later on his mother passes away, he decides to return to the slum and resume his poor existence in the ghetto. The once succesful Grove Street Gang, of which C.J was part of, has lost much of its influence: Sweet, C.J’s brother, is left behind with Big Smoke and Ryder as the leaders of the gang. This trio is having trouble to keep its head above water. Your arrival isn’t really planned so you will have to prove yourself in order to be accepted in the Grove Street Family again. It shows immediately that Rockstar has traded the light and easy storyline of Vice City for a more serious approach. You can expect numerous twists now and then but I’m not going to tell anything about them; I’m not a partypooper afterall.
Grand Theft Auto is best known for the game in which you can steal any vehicle and then cause huge mayhem. Well, Rockstar has, once again, fine-tuned this concept with the addition of numerous new vehicles such as a bike and the ability to reach your destination by swimming. This will keep the cursing away when you’ve fallen into the depths of the ocean again with your car. Another new means of transportation that’s back is the train. In GTA III you were able to travel by train but this time around you can play as engine-driver yourself. It’s obvious that Rockstar has played a lot of NFSU lately as they’ve managed to implement a real tuning option into GTA: SA. You can adjust your car with hydraulics, big spoilers, over-the-top rims, new exhausts, a fresh paintjob and even a bassboost. Driving around in a virtual world has never been this cool!
The morality junkies have always had their eye on the violent side of GTA. San Andreas will be no exception as they offer you a nice range of weapons to fool around with. A trend that’s popping up in a lot of games lately is the ability to dual-wield. After some proper training (by shooting a lot with a pistol for instance) C.J will be able to use two guns simultaneously. It looks cool and it’s a lot more effective too. The aiming system has been tweaked too. It’s now possible to scroll through your targets. There is however a little snag; some villains like to take you from…behind and C.J won’t be able to aim at those “backstabbers”. This will result in some frustrating situations but overall the new aiming system works perfectly. C.J has learned a couple of new moves too. He can crouch and roll, making it possible to hide behind objects. He can also climb over fences making it possible to perform a quick getaway on foot. When you don’t have the money to buy some new guns, you can always rely on your own fists and feet. You can learn new moves at the gym. In San Fierro, for instance, you’ll learn a couple of karate moves that can be rather effective when an opponent is down. It’s also cool to cut one’s throat with a little butcher’s knife.
Too violent you say? Heck no, it’s all under control. Violence in videogames is an undeniable fact and one theory says that it’s a way to let your aggressive pressure out. Well, it works in my case, so why won’t it work on others? Mainly because the others will have a couple of screws missing in their head or they come from a less social environment. The social background has a lot more influence than the aggressive behaviour of our dearest C.J. Take in account the fact that in America, a gun is but a pedestal cupboard away and you know enough. I hope this discussion about the influence of violence in videogames is over for once and for all.
All in one could be the slogan of GTA: SA. They have always faded numerous genres in one but they’re taking it a step further this time. I was scared that it would feel like a grabbed bunch of styles without a real structure. Luckily this feeling was wrong all the way. San Andreas is a mix of different genres, perfectly blended together. They present some elements which can be found mostly in role playing games like keeping track of your stamina, your muscles, your fat, your sex-appeal, your swimming skills, your driving skills (divided into car, bike and bicycle), weapon skills,… These can all be upgraded in the gym, drivingschool, shooting range or simply by doing them often. You can also adjust your appearance by bying C.J some new clothes, tattoos or giving him a fresh hair cut. Aside from the role playing elements, there are also some stealth aspects to be found in San Andreas. Certain missions will demand a more stealthy approach like Sam Fisher or Solid Snake. These stealing missions can be done by grabbing a certain truck. You will have to sneak into houses and be as silent as possible. A little meter shows how much noise you’re making and if it’s full resident will be woken and you’ll have to make yourself invisible again.
The missions in GTA: SA are mainly based around the same principal as last years installment, namely: drive to point A, give the baddies a serious ass-whooping and escape from the irritating police. Thanks to the different angles of incidents they’ll never get boring or feel repetitive. In the beginning for instance, you’ll have to take on several gangmissions. By provoking other gangmembers you will unleash a real gangwar. If you’re able to lead all the gangmembers to heaven, you’ll be rewarded with their territory. This makes for some awesome gameplay but sadly these gangwars will cease once you’ve evolved to the second city.
As cool as the main missions are the numerous submissions. New is the possibility to play as a pimp. You’ll have to drop your girls off at the desperate guys, pick them up after the deed and now and then save them from aggressive customers. Every guy dreams of being a pimp one day and Rockstar offers you the ability to live your dream in a virtual world. Thank you Rockstar. Aside from that, it also brings in some nice money, which you can gamble all away at the horse tracks. With a bit of luck and a big enough bet you’ll be a millionaire in no time. Another new feature is the addition of mini-games like playable arcades, a “Dance Dance Revolution”-like game, the low-rider jumping and much more. To keep it short: you will never get bored in San Andreas.
The graphics have been, where possible, cleaned up too with the addition of a number of new effects such as the grainy look that we’ve seen before in Silent Hill, the fuzzy filter that’s used to create a boiling temperature and the blur effects during a fast drive. They all look convincing, but they might cause some slowdowns. You will also notice some pop-up and textures aren’t always loaded on time. But if you know that GTA consists of three big cities, separated by a huge country side and that there aren’t any loading screens (indoor locations not included), you will be happy to shot one’s eye on the graphical failures. Two thumbs up, Rockstar!
Long rides (from the top spot in San Fierro to the lowest part of Los Santos will take you 20 minutes) can often lead to deadly silences. But not in San Andreas, no less than ten radio stations try to ease your ears. My preferation went to Radio X with artists such as: Soundgarden, Alice in Chains and Guns ‘n Roses. The voice casting is ambitious to say the least. With celebrities like Andy Dick (from tv shows such as: The Andy Dick Show and The Assistant on MTV) and Samuel L. Jackson, you can safely say that Rockstar has tried their best to give players an authentic soundtrack.
I’ve managed to use 1755 words to describe GTA: San Andreas and I didn’t even mention the diversity in locations, the ability to fatten C.J, the hilarious dialogues in the story and on the radio and the lasting appeal that exceeds all the other recent games on the market. Everyone who’s still skeptic about GTA, should ask himself if you aren’t fooling yourself. Because you basically have no choice: GTA: SA is a blockbuster game that should be part of everyones gamecollection. The only excuse I can think of is the lack of a PS2 and the enormous patience you have to wait on a PC or Xbox version. In all the other cases: go out and buy it, dawg!