Grand Theft Auto San Andreas
Developer: Rockstar North
Publisher: Rockstar
Release Date: Out Now
Players: 1 or 2
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Okay, so it’s only the sequel to the best-selling console game of all time. That’s all. Tommy Vercetti has put his feet up in Vice City so San Andreas features a new character, black kid Carl Johnson (CJ to his ‘homies’) as the playable hero/antihero. Carl is leaving Liberty City (remember that place?) and going home to Los Santos in San Andreas state because of the death of his Mom. He’s given a “warm” welcome home by dodgy cop, Officer Tenpenny (played with his usual style by Samuel L. Jackson). All hell breaks loose as his family and friends are attacked at the funeral, and things spiral into gang war, with naturally, Carl at the centre of things…

The story soon becomes a gang-based tale of drugs, prostitution, murder, corruption and violence (lovely!), but, with the gangsta rap ‘street’ language and racial stereotypes, it all started to drag a bit for me. Fortunately things pick up later on, become less serious, more tongue-in-cheek and enjoyably twisted and daft. They also nicely tie the three GTA games together, and it turns out that this all happened before GTA III and after Vice City...

GTA III was set in Liberty City (based on New York), then Tommy Vercetti had his adventures in Vice City (Miami). San Andreas is a state modelled on California and Nevada, and contains three cities (each one as big as Vice City) comprising Los Santos (Los Angeles), San Fierro (San Francisco) and Las Venturas (Las Vegas). These cities are divided by large expanses of water, wilderness or desert and it soon becomes apparent that the play area is huge. HUGE. The number of missions and variation in the amount of things to do are equally impressive, the feeling of scale is immense. In fact there’s so much rough country between the three cities (complete with one-horse towns and ranches) that at times San Andreas feels like another much-loved Rockstar game, Smuggler’s Run.

A new map system with a checkpoint marker that you can set helps you find your way around the labyrinthine streets and back alleys of Los Santos, or guides you to a point way out in the country (particularly handy when flying), and as a GTA addict who eventually learned both Liberty and Vice cities like the back of my hand I can honestly say that I’d be screwed without it – so complex and vast is Los Santos that you’ll certainly remember bits of it after a while, and obviously know which direction to go in thanks to the on-screen map, but I can’t see myself ever ‘learning’ the city like I did with the others. This is both a good thing and daunting, and when you realize that San Fierro and Las Venturas are just as big and complex as Los Santos, it really hits home what an immense, complex game GTA San Andreas really is.

Anyone will tell you that the joy of the GTA games is the freedom, and it’s never been truer than in San Andreas. You can follow the story and do missions or just mess around – it’s entirely up to you, and the GTA play set just got a whole lot bigger. There are far more vehicles than before, including loads of old favourites than have had a facelift, and at least 8 different motorbikes. The first thing you get to ride is a BMX bike and they’re great fun and you can even do a few tricks (you hold X to pedal normally or tap it to sprint). You can now fly several types of aeroplane (including various jets) and even head to the airport and take a scheduled airliner flight from one city to another. Trains rumble between the three cities too, and can be a good way of escaping attention from the cops.

Eating and exercise are now all part of the GTA lifestyle. CJ needs to eat to keep up or replenish his energy (there are fast food joints all over the place), and exercise to build up his stamina (allows him to run further/faster and his punches have more impact in a fight). But just like in real life, eat too little and CJ will start to lose energy and even weight, and conversely if you pig out on too many burgers or pizzas, and never exercise in a gym, run or cycle anywhere he’ll get fat and slow. New clothes can be bought and mixed and matched, or you can go out in your briefs – it’s up to you! There are several barbers around San Andreas, and you can get several different hairstyles and colours. Once you’ve changed CJ’s hair, you’ll want to get a cool tattoo as well, and there are loads to choose from…

Driv3r’s developers Reflections weren't slow to have a pop at the GTA series because you couldn’t swim in either of the first two games, but CJ swims like a torpedo (and gets his own back on Driv3r), he can even dive underwater (this feature is handy in missions for avoidance, and also in free roaming as there are secret oysters to find underwater). Back on land, and instead of hidden packages to find as in the earlier games, CJ now sprays his gang’s tag over rival gang’s graffiti, or takes snapshots (you can save your photos onto the memory card), or finds horseshoes. CJ can also jump and grab ledges now, and the possibilities for exploration that this opens up are almost endless. No longer do you have to wonder if that roof would have made a good vantage/sniping point, you can nearly always drive/fly/climb your way there and find out.

Apart from the usual GTA ways of wasting time (like listening to all the radio stations), CJ has dozens of new pastimes as well; relationships play a part, and you can court a couple of mad women (although they’re definitely not worth the time and effort), you can become a burglar and nick TVs and other valuables, there are races of various kinds, rhythm action type games, driving, boat, bike and flight schools, and video games of various types are spread around the bars (he has a games console at home too – how sad is that?). I was amazed to find that CJ can play basketball or even go base jumping (leap from a sheer drop with a parachute). There’s a hint of The Fast and the Furious as CJ can mod cars, customise paint jobs and add nitros and hydraulic suspension. He can also play pool (and win money off the local hustler, who is rubbish). Now this isn’t exactly going to rival Codemasters excellent World Championship Snooker as a master of the green cloth, but when you walk up to the table, whack the balls and they all spread/roll realistically you can’t help but be impressed when you think that this is the same game engine that allows you to drive an articulated truck, leap off a mountain, fly a helicopter or a fast jet all with equal style and credibility – flying has seldom felt more realistic, regardless of which game or format you’re talking about..

Amongst the new vehicles, you’ll get to drive and play with a monster truck, quad bike, forklift truck, dune buggy, 900cc motorbike, 500cc GP bike, hovercraft, private jet, biplane, sea plane, combine harvester, bulldozer, 18 wheeler (yes, you get to pull trailers with the big rigs now), flatbed trucks (that you can actually carry other vehicles on thanks to the improved physics engine)… there really are too many to list.

The addition of 2-player co-operative rampages at first seemed like the coolest idea ever, but was soon tempered by the realization that you can’t do any missions together (not even fire or vigilante missions – surely you should have been able to do those? – above all else they’d suit a co-op mode). At one point in the game CJ can also recruit gang members to follow him around and “rumble” with him, if you come across a rival gang your homies will do the shooting and all you have to do is pick off the stragglers, and of course, collect any money and weapons they drop.

Graphically things haven’t changed all that much from previous GTAs, but certainly have improved here and there. On the down side, there’s still a ton of pop-up, annoying slowdown, things often get drawn or change detail levels way too late, and there’s still a lot of clipping (things pass through objects they shouldn’t). Cars still disappear in front of and behind you way too quickly, and you daren’t leave a vehicle you cherish alone for too long because that will vanish too. But as for the uppers, well for a start the character (both CJ and the non-playable ones) are all more detailed than before (as always they all seem to have their own little lives and conversations going on, and will even talk to to CJ), and every single vehicle is more detailed too, and many seem to resemble real ones more closely than before. You get real time lighting too – so smashing your headlights can be a real pain if you’re driving at night and you can also hide in the shadows in certain missions. Smoke and flames look a lot better now too, and you can start a real blaze with a flame thrower. Take to the skies (and you will, a lot) and keep climbing and you’ll pass through some of the best clouds I’ve seen in game, big-assed PC flight sims and all. The weather seems to have more effect on things too; when it rained in GTA 3 or Vice the roads were always more slippery, but your visibility gets noticeably affected now, and you really don’t want to go flying in a desert sand storm.

Subtle improvements in the graphics aren’t all, there are some nice touches as regards to control over the camera. The aiming is improved (not difficult) but the R1 “lock on” is still crap - it works, but in a broken kind of way – and disappointingly you still can’t fire a weapon forwards out of a vehicle, only out of the side window, drive-by style – even though Tanner could in the much-maligned Driv3r (although you can still fire to the front on bikes). Sam Fisher-style stealth kills and sneaking are all part of the game now, and CJ really is a bit of a Lara Croft on the quiet too, with loads of clambering to be done.

If you’re a fan of the series then you’re already playing this and loving it, but if you’re in any doubt about playing San Andreas on grounds of taste then forget the violence and the bad language and allow yourself one of the most complete gaming experiences you’ll ever have – it’s just a a game, remember? Despite its comic book world and looks, you’ll need driving, shooting and piloting skills as good as many dedicated games and simulations, and will have a heck of a lot of fun along the way. With all the shooting and law breaking, San Andreas is simply the best driving and flying game on PS2 – bar none.

Whatever you think of the subject matter (particularly the barely intelligible “street talk” and foul language, the violence and adult nature of some of the game), the game’s frailties (graphical glitches and some control issues), GTA San Andreas comes through all criticisms and niggles thanks to its superb production values, sound & soundtrack - and most of all because of its hugely varied gameplay, it’ll have its critics, but it punches them in the gob, gives them the finger and disappears into the sunset in a stolen jet plane. The End

Best Bits

- Loads to do - be as bad as you want.
- Loads of vehicles.
- Huge play area.
- The most complete game we’ve played yet - immense, complex, simple, challenging, easy, awesome, ugly. Grand Theft Auto doesn't even begin to describe it.
Worst Bits

- Lots of pop-up.
- Frame rate drops.
- Some dopey AI.
- The camera loves to mess you up.
- Some intrusive loading between interior locations.

by: Sloppy Sneak

Copyright © Gamecell 2004

I just don't know how they do it.

Who are these genius people who create these GTA games? And how can I get hold of their atomic time slowing device that they surely must use whilst concocting their next epic and jam packed game.

There is a life time of work that has gone into San Andreas, indeed you experience a life time in the game itself.

It's funny, I thought a dedicated RPG like Fable on the Xbox had a lot of 'secondary' work and detail put into it's world but it pales into insignificance compared to San Andreas, whose primary function isn't as an RPG!!!

Yeah yeah, you might say that they have merely built upon previous code, but extensive exploration of this California clone reveals all manner of outstanding detail. Swimming, skydiving, weight training, clothes, gang wars, BMX-ing, dating...... it just takes the piss.

And I tell you what, the missions are easily the best of the three. I have never enjoyed doing what used to be the 'slightly mundane' tasks of the GTA games more than I have here.

Geographically exploring the place is just a dream because now there is proper topography and a sense of height, you feel like you are in the wild, the mountains, in a river valley. And districts appear individual populace wise as they should. I even love the music, cos despite me not really being that big on Hip Hop, '92 was around my era and was the last time that music really offered a cutting edge.

Plus the voice talent is some of the best I have heard. So much so that I am in love the fiesty and deranged sadist Catalina. She has to be real, she has to be......

By 4th Decade