Letting-the-dust-settle---Grand-Theft-Auto--San-Andreas Letting the dust settle - Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

   08/11/2011 at 09:38       Phil May       7 COMMENTS.
 - Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Rockstar Games, Take 2, Carl Johnson, Rockstar North

At the time GTA San Andreas was released, the last generation of consoles was fast approaching its end. In a mere year's time, the Xbox 360 would explode onto the market like an atom bomb, swiftly followed by the Nintendo Wii and the Playstation 3. Unsurprisingly, Rockstar seemingly knew that this was the case and decided to pull out all the stops for their final Grand Theft Auto game on PS2 (and later Xbox and PC). 

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was so wide in scope and scale that it pushed my wheezing PS2 to its limits. Surprisingly the thing hung together long enough to allow me to get a substantial way into this huge game - but it remains one of the Grand Theft Auto series I never got round to finishing (you can also count Chinatown Wars on DS, Liberty and Vice City Stories on PSP, and GTA 1, GTA London and GTA 2 as well. Yeah I know, just shoot me). 

San Andreas embraced hip hop culture, gang warfare and rap in equal measure, both paying tribute to and parodying one of the most influential movements of the late 20th and early 21st century. Without pretension, GTA San Andreas pinpointed the highs and lows in the life of Carl "CJ" Johnson, a wayward soul coming back to his 'hood' after running out on them some years before. 

San Andreas eases you into the role of Johnson so slowly, that at times you feel like you're taking one step forward for every ten steps back. Your brotherhood of gangsters aren't exactly overjoyed to see you, and it takes a few illicit wrongdoings to convince them that you're still 'the man' and not 'the busta'. 

All the stock in trade ingredients of Grand Theft Auto's move to 3D were included and improved upon. But several of San Andreas' social, strategic and role playing elements proved unpopular, requiring almost as much upkeep as the game's storyline missions themselves. Carl needed to eat to keep up his stamina, he needed to work out to avoid turning into a fat sack of crap. He needed to keep his girlfriend sweet and perform various nefarious deeds to impress the nether-do-wells he hung around with. 

San Andreas kicks off in the run down suburbs of Los Santos (based loosely on LA), but also embraces San Fierro (San Francisco) and Las Venturas (Las Vegas). Sometimes it can take ages just to get across town to pick up the missions you must complete in order to progress. At first you're limited to foot-slogging, stealing bicycles or pinching cars. Later in the game you also get to grab motorbikes, helicopters and planes (in fact the latter are a real blessing when you have to travel between the various huge areas as your gangster empire expands). 

San Andreas' central storyline has Carl Johnson acting as a glorified errand boy, hitman and heavy, taking on a wide variety of missions from closing down drug dens and gang houses (at the behest of the twisted Officer Tenpenny, gloriously played by Samuel L. Jackson), to hijacking illicit arms to keep space cadet Ryder sweet. 

As the Grove Street crew begin to claw back their respect and their turf, just keeping abreast of the multitude of tasks you're set takes a heck of a lot of time and effort. In comparison to Grand Theft Auto IV's relatively lean number of missions, San Andreas turned CJ into a one man army, capable of just about anything from aerobatic flying to taking out fields of marijuana to scupper hillbilly drug barons. 

San Andreas felt so massively different to the pastel-hued world of its predecessor, Vice City, that I couldn't actually gel with the game at first. It's taken a few years of dipping guiltily back into it to try and polish it off to convince me of its greatness. 

Now the Grand Theft Auto V announcements have been made, and the first fleeting glimpses of a fully revamped San Andreas have been seen, it looks like Rockstar has pared back the gigantic play area which could be both good and bad. One of the major criticisms of Grand Theft Auto IV was that it was fairly light on content, short (by other GTA game standards) and it took the release of the two huge DLC packs to give the game the overhaul it needed. Perhaps this will be the case with Grand Theft Auto V. Perhaps we'll eventually see the game embrace the gambler's paradise of Las Venturas and the huge wilderness surrounding it. Perhaps we'll get to dip into San Fierro's hilly streets once more, and perhaps Rockstar are playing it canny, planning a similar swansong for the Grand Theft Auto series running on the current generation of console hardware. 

Whatever happens, San Andreas still remains one of the best games in the series. Not my favourite (I am still an 80s kid, and still a sucker for Vice City's setting, soundtrack and of course its central character Tommy Vercetti) but definitely a game that still feels involving, immersive and above all, a hell of a lot of fun to play. 

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Ironlungs76 - on 08/11/2011 at 10:09 wrote:
Nice article :)

By far my favourite part was mowing people down with the combine harvester (something completely OTT that was lacking from GTA4 imo) but, on the other hand, it did have the stupidly hard remote controlled plane missions which were seemingly impossible and totaly frustrating.

With the recent news of GTA5 I'm tempted to stick on SA again to see if it still holds up today. I have a feeling the shonky controls might sully my memories of it though :(

peej - on 08/11/2011 at 10:13 wrote:
The controls aren't actually too bad, in fact it was a bit jarring moving to GTA IV's control methods after this. I think the cameras were better in San Andreas, vehicle handling was spot on and I quite liked the on-foot / flight controls too.

Using a 360 pad can be a bit cumbersome when you want to do things like move between locked-on targets (you have to simultaneously use the RB and LB buttons AND the triggers) and there's no way to remap these but it's all definitely doable.

Didn't like those remote plane missions either, they were as tough as old boots!

Ace Grace - on 08/11/2011 at 10:19 wrote:
I never did get into SA. I am an 80's kid too.

NewYork - on 08/11/2011 at 10:30 wrote:
San Andreas remains the only modern GTA I haven't finished.

It was too open, there was too much to do.

FlexibleFeline - on 08/11/2011 at 10:33 wrote:
Nice write up. I agree with New York. I did like it but never got around to finishing it, unlike every other GTA. Too much going on. Having said that, perversely, I really hope the huge world returns....I did love flying across it in a jumbo jet found in a hangar. And also, parachuting out over the bone yard in the desert before that area was unlocked, and trying to survive for as long as possible.

peej - on 08/11/2011 at 11:44 wrote:
I'd like to see the huge open world return. It might not have been as densely populated as the seething metropolis of GTA IV, but I'm still astonished how much you can find out in the wilds. Buildings, people, interesting landscape features, vehicles all pootling around going about their business. It's probably the closest 'modern' game I can think of to the timeless Elite for fooling the player into thinking that there's this massive persistent world (universe) sitting there going on regardless of what you're up to at any given time.

I am determined to finish it this time but when I look at my stats and how many hours I've sunk into it so far, it feels like it'll take me till GTA V's release to make a dent in it!

Binky - on 09/11/2011 at 12:34 wrote:
Cracking write up!

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