Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

Review

posted 12/8/2004 by Charlie Sinhaseni
other articles by Charlie Sinhaseni
One Page Platforms: PS2
I’ve had my differences with the Grand Theft Auto franchise in the past. When it first appeared on the PS2 I applauded the game for its open-ended nature but bashed it for its poor mission structure and buggy nature. Vice City grew on me quite a bit but it was too short and many of the problems that plagued GTA 3 were prevalent throughout the experience. With San Andreas it seems like the developers were finally able to hammer out most of the bugs, leading to one of this year’s best gaming experiences.

You’re Carl Johnson, a petty thug who left the mean streets of San Andreas five years ago to pursue his dream of becoming a carjacker in Liberty City. At the outset of the game it is learned that his mother has been murdered, forcing him to return to San Andreas to pay his respects. As he arrives at the airport he soon discovers that much has changed in the past five years; his gang no longer owns the streets and crime is rampant at every turn. He then makes it his mission to find out who murdered his mother while restoring some semblance of domination in the name of his gang.

As you enter the game you’ll notice a certain air of familiarity. If you’ve ever played a GTA game you’ll feel right at home in San Andreas. The control scheme remains virtually unchanged and the only tweaks have been made in the sake of improving the overall feel of the game. You can now cancel a carjack by pressing a button while CJ is in the process of “borrowing” a vehicle. It’s a nice feature for when the game accidentally targets the wrong vehicle. Simply press a button, cancel the animation and move on. You can now move while crouching in order to make yourself a harder target. This is perfect for shootout situations where you need to remain mobile while utilizing coverage. A tweak has been made in the driving mechanism that allows you to control the height of the camera. This is especially useful as it allows you to see over hills and crests that you couldn’t see over before. The last real change comes in the radio station mechanism. Previously the radio had been mapped to one button that allowed you to cycle through the stations. This was effective but it forced you to cycle through all of the stations if you accidentally passed over the one you wanted. In GTA:SA the radio function is mapped to the up and down arrows so that you can manually choose which way to cycle through the stations.

As the game progresses you’ll be treated to some engine-rendered cutscenes that shed some light on the situation. This is both the game’s strong suit and Achilles heel. On the good side this is where all of the franchise’s trademark storytelling comes through to the gamer. These guys are very talented when it comes to developing an engaging story and it holds true in this game. On the downside this is where the engine really begins to show its age. The developers tried to mask this by utilizing some cinematic camera angles but it can’t hide the engine’s deficiencies. All of the models are pretty scrawny and the technology introduced in the Xbox version of the GTA: Double Pack is missing here. It’s especially disconcerting to see the characters gesture. Their hands are stuck in a perpetual state of “I’m gonna cap your ass” with the trigger finger extending out from the rest of the hand. It’s not detrimental to the overall experience but it takes you out of the experience when you notice it.

Luckily the game features the vocal talent to back up the action. The cast isn’t as star-studded as it has been in previous years, but the developers do an excellent job of working with what they had. Throughout the game you’ll encounter characters voiced by Samuel L. Jackson, Faizon Love, Ice-T, Charlie Murphy, Axl Rose and more. All of the actors do an excellent job of delivering dialogue that’s effective and convincing. If you follow any of the aforementioned actors you’ll immediately recognize the actors as they appear in the game. The rest of the cast is comprised of primarily unknown actors, many of whom were probably either developers or friends and families of people associated with the project. Even the lead character is voiced by a relatively unknown up-and-coming rapper. He’s not Ray Liotta but he still does an excellent job with the material given to him. In the past the voice acting has played a key role of engulfing the gamer in the world and it serves its purpose here as well.
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