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Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (PlayStation 2) artwork

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (PlayStation 2) review

"Grand Theft Auto has perhaps the biggest cult following of any video game. Ever since part three, GTA has scorched its way across the gaming world as one of the most sought after and anticipated franchises ever. The game is so popular that copycats and mirrored images are being produced faster than a plague, but with its latest installment—San Andreas—Rockstar once again proves in this sick world of free-roaming death and mayhem they are still king. "

Grand Theft Auto has perhaps the biggest cult following of any video game. Ever since part three, GTA has scorched its way across the gaming world as one of the most sought after and anticipated franchises ever. The game is so popular that copycats and mirrored images are being produced faster than a plague, but with its latest installment—San Andreas—Rockstar once again proves in this sick world of free-roaming death and mayhem they are still king.

Carl Johnson is a scared kid. You could gather that much information from reading the box. While his family struggled in the ghetto of Grove Street he took it upon himself to hightail it to Liberty City and live the calm life. Five years later, the death of his mother and sibling shatter Carl back into a sense of loyalty and he finds himself returning to the heart of San Andreas—the decrepit, deceitful world he once tried so hard to leave.

There’s no welcome back party planned and if things were rough for Carl before they are about to get a lot worse. Aside from the constant scrutiny and scorn he receives from his brother and friends for leaving, the first people to greet C.J. when he gets off the plane aren’t his family but a mass of dirty cops. I’m not sure how you can kill a cop when you’re thousands of miles away and neither is C.J. But according to Officer Tenpenny he did. It’s a ploy though; a simple frame up to “entice” C.J. into doing favors for these cops who want the dirty work done, but don’t want to do it themselves. So this is where C.J. finds himself: Blackmailed by the cops, un-trusted by his brother and ridiculed by his homies. It’s up to you to drag him out of this mess. Have at it.

I’ll be the first to admit that storyline didn’t grab me, mostly because I preferred the eighties neon feel that Vice City had. I would rather be a slick, suit wearing mastermind snorting coke off a hookers thigh then a dread wearing, drive by shooting thug flashing gang signs. Things aren’t always what they seem however and though C.J. has his flaws, I came to actually enjoy playing him. This time around, the story becomes so much deeper. While Carl’s past is laid out pretty quick in the beginning, as time progresses you start to see the emotions that push him forward; the underlying loyalty that he possesses and his undying will to do anything for Grove Street and his family. Carl may have been a cocky, mouthy punk when he returned from Liberty City but as he finds friends where he didn’t think possible, learns firsthand what betrayal feels like and starts to look out for himself you become attached as you watch him turn into a man.

Individuality isn’t the only progression Rockstar decided to add this time around as your player now has stats. Carl has the ability to gain muscle, fat, a greater lung capacity and more stamina. All of your stats help Carl perform many of the rigorous tasks ahead. More stamina allows you to run, swim and cycle for longer. Building muscle not only improves your sex appeal but also allows you to beat someone to death without breaking a sweat. The longer you drive around, the better your driving skill becomes making it that much harder to swerve out of control. Carl is less likely to fall off a motorcycle if your bike skill is at a higher level as well.

The stats are all based upon usage, even the weapons. There are three upgradeable levels, from poor to gangster then finally hit man. Some weapons can even be held in both hands if you reach hit man level, like pistols and sub-machine guns. Your lock-on distance and rate of fire also go up as your weapon skill increases.

Better skills and a hefty amount of weapons are going to help you take on the insane war that is San Andreas. Don’t forget that you’re a gang member and the one thing that a banger always has are enemies. Drive too far from your turf and you run into the purple donning Ballas, who will take shots at you upon recognition. During the game you can also enter into “turf wars”. The city map is highlighted with purple (Ballas), Green (Grove Street Families) and yellow (Los Santos Vagos) and later on five more. Tread into any territory that isn’t your color, blast three enemies and a war ensues. The property flashes red and the gang members come out of the woodwork to protect their turf. Survive all three waves of angry gun-totting thugs and the territory becomes yours allowing all your Grove Street buddies to roam freely and giving you a pretty paycheck in the process.

Aside from taking potshots from local hoods you still have to worry about the fuzz. Keep your head up though; hiding from them has never been this easy. If you were on foot in Vice City with a wanted level the cops would spot you in a minute, but Carl’s a little luckier then Tommy. He can change his hair, his tattoos and his clothes. Granted, you could change suits in Vice City but this time its no longer pre-rendered outfits. The clothing stores allow you to mix and match what you want to wear, making it so much easier to disguise yourself or change your look when you get bored.

The addition of stats, customization and full on war waging push the fun factor to a new level. The massive free roam is still available, with a much bigger map to peruse then Vice City. If you get bored with the same old thing, try your hand at one of the mini-games such as playing pool or the “dating game”. The missions provide a lot of variety as well beacause a fair amount don’t simply consist of shooting everyone that tries to stop you. I won’t give anything away, but smacking people with that crane was a blast.

GTA is also known for having one hell of a soundtrack and high profile voice-overs. Needless to say with Samuel L. Jackson, Andy Dick, James Woods and so many talented others, Rockstar has done it again. The soundtrack got a little repetitive, but that was only because I like one station. But with about ten stations and ten songs if you like to switch you won’t be getting bored any time soon.

Graphics seem to be an issue. Not for me at least, but so many others seem to complain about them. They aren’t mind bending by any means, and no one seems to show a lot of expression in their face but I don’t have any hard complaints about them. The environments can be a bit cluttered and the cut-scenes aren’t spectacular but the vehicles are diverse, the underwater segments are fascinating and all the tiny details—such as the fog, rain and dust spewing from the dirt roads—have an intricate perfection.

While the graphics and the sound are stellar, the controls are lacking. The analog stick responds well when you’re driving, but during gunfights the targeting system needs a lot of work. It’s irritating when one moment you’re slinging bullets at countless gang members, then—for some odd reason—C.J. decides he wants to show off so he turns around and starts firing into the air for no reason. It strikes me as bizarre the way he moves some times, and it always seems to be at the worst possible moment—like Carl suddenly grew a conscience and doesn’t want to kill anymore.

So anyone hoping that the popularity of GTA is going to fizzle out may have to wait a while. Rockstar not only takes what we love about the game and throws it into a new decade for us to wreck havoc with, it adds so many new elements it’s insane. San Andreas takes such a huge stride forward with this new system that even the imitators won’t be able to keep up. I don’t need to tell anyone what a phenomenon Grand Theft Auto is, but if you still need proof Grove Street is always recruiting.

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Community review by True (July 22, 2005)

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