Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (PlayStation 2) review
"2 years later, here we are again. "
2 years later, here we are again.
When Vice City was released, many gamers complained about the similarities between it and the infamous Grand Theft Auto III. These gamers were not satisfied with the larger city, the new vehicles, the new weapons, the superb voice acting, nor the better story. Although I am not entirely sure what these critics wanted (after all, too drastic of a change could have made Vice City too unlike Grand Theft Auto III, which would have turned many gamers away), but I cannot help but believe that they are satisfied with what Rockstar has given us this time around.
Behold, the masterpiece that is Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
Vice City, the city itself, was enormous. Everything from the beach to the slums was represented to a tee and I could not have been happier with what we were given. Rockstar, being the overachievers that they are, decided to aim higher this time. The result of this vision is three magnificent cities at our disposal, as well as the countryside in between. Keep in mind, these aren’t anything like the three small islands in GTA3, oh no. These are massive, thriving cities that could have been the center of a game all by themselves. These three cities – Los Santos, San Fierro, and Las Venturas – will undoubtedly keep gamers satisfied as well as keep them busy with their incredible depth.
The protagonist this time around is a man named Carl Johnson – a former Los Santos gangbanger heading home after a five year stint in Liberty City. The death of his mother brings Carl back to his former home, but he is met with a city not willing to let him back out. On the way to his ‘hood, Grove Street down in Ganton, two corrupt police officers frame him for the murder of another cop (we later learn the real truth behind these accusations). What was supposed to be a brief homecoming for C.J. could turn into something longer, something far more involved than he could have imagined on the outset of the journey.
Some gamers play the Grand Theft Auto series for the story, some for the freedom to do what they want with their time. But it is more than apparent that just about all gamers come back for the gameplay. It has been the trademark of the series and has stirred up controversy worldwide. The gist of it is this: in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, you can do just about whatever you want. You can progress through the story and shoot for 100% (and major kudos to you should you get it), or you can attain all the weapons you can and start World War III. It is so open-ended that the possibilities are endless in this game, as they have been in the previous games.
So the gameplay is great. We all know that. What many concerned potential buyers want to know is what has been added to the game to make it different from the previous installments. I can assure you that the additions are worthwhile and make vast improvements on the depth of the game.
The first noticeable gameplay addition is the stats. Pressing L1 when not in a vehicle will show you some basic stats you have. These include respect, fat, stamina, muscle and such. All of these have direct implications on how you play the game. For instance, if your stamina is poor, you will not be able to put up that big of a chase on foot. This makes you a sitting duck for police if you are not in a car. Likewise, if you buff up, your punches and kicks do more damage. So keeping your character in shape is definitely something you should consider.
Another notable difference is how you regain health in this game. Aside from a few exceptions, the only way to replenish health is to purchase food at various restaurants scattered around the state. However, if you eat too much and never work out, your character will become overweight and a laughing stock on the streets.
One of the best additions to the game is the new turf wars that rage throughout the state. Unlike Vice City, where all gang turf was set from the beginning, you and a few gang members can take over the turf of rival gangs. Your goal, of course, is to encompass the entire state with your gang’s rule. Not only does this make your gang more powerful, it also earns you money at the Johnson home, which is a big plus.
Since we’re on the subject of money, I want to let readers know that money DOES play an essential role in this game. In Grand Theft Auto III, the only thing you needed money for was guns, car bombs and paint jobs. In Vice City, they added the idea of property in the form of additional save houses and assets that would start pumping out cash once you turned them into cash cows by doing a few missions. San Andreas incorporates all of the previous reasons and adds a heap of new options. Money will now purchase clothes, tattoos, food, car customizations and the like. Earning money is tougher as well, because you spend a good portion of your time doing missions purely for respect. I have found that the value of the money has drastically increased from the previous installments.
Of course, I’m just scratching the surface of the new features. There are also new mini-games like Pool, arcade games, casino games (blackjack, slot machines, and roulette to name a few), and even skydiving. There are a few more R3 missions as well, which include valet services and pimping. Yes, that’s right. Pimping. Car customization also helps spice things up and gives a greater sense of ownership, as you obviously would not want to go nuts in a car you just spent a couple grand on. Driving in a pimped-out car also increases your sex appeal, which is necessary when you are trying to take out your girlfriends (oh, that’s right, did I mention you can have girlfriends too?).
Rockstar has also amassed an impressive soundtrack, much like they did with Vice City. They have loads of era-relevant songs, and a little something for everyone with radio stations ranging from country to reggae to gangster rap. The voice acting is top notch, as Young Maylay makes an impressive debut in the role of Carl Johnson. Other notable voice actors include Samuel L. Jackson, Dan Woods and Charlie Murphy. If you listen close, you will notice that a radio station is hosted by none other than Ice-T. Rockstar has spared no expense to bring you the best gaming experience.
You may have noticed I have been quietly avoiding the subject of graphics until now. I will not lie, the graphics are incredibly disappointing, especially in the cutscenes. While improvements have been made since Grand Theft Auto III (contrary to what you may have read on the boards), the graphics are what truly hinder this from becoming the closest to perfect that we as gamers have ever seen.
However, even the graphic discrepancy cannot even begin to detract from the fact that this is a truly magnificent game worthy of all praise given it. I can say without hesitation that it is the best PlayStation 2 game I have played by far. Rockstar has made leaps and bounds since Grand Theft Auto 3 and I think I speak for everyone when I say I cannot wait to see what they have in store for us in the future.
Community review by primalmayswindu (February 10, 2005)
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