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Grand Theft Auto is a franchise that puts players into sandboxes, letting them do whatever they desire, sparking controversy for its violent and sexual content and criminal elements. Grand Theft Auto III was a groundbreaking title and its successor, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, refined some things and introduced some cool new stuff and ways to outrage ignorant people. But the next game in the series would be one of the most ambitious and successful titles of its generation and also one of the most controversial.
Developed by Rockstar North and published by Rockstar Games, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was released for PlayStation 2 in October, 2004 and PC and Xbox in June, 2005. For this review I played the PC version. I will never forget the time leading up the game’s PS2 release. San Andreas was the first Grand Theft Auto game I was able to acquire at launch. It was also the first game I ever pre-ordered. I had just turned fifteen the month before it came out and I had saved whatever money I had to buy it. Sadly, I couldn’t make it to the store on the day of release. The weekend before, I went to go see Team America in theaters with friends and then came down with strep throat which kept me out of school for most of the following week. That also meant I couldn’t go to GameStop to get my copy, so my dad picked it up for me on his way back from work. Not only that, he also bought me the guide which was a pleasant surprise.
By the time San Andreas was announced, I was already completely absorbed into the franchise. I was playing GTA III and Vice City religiously. So I was eagerly awaiting San Andreas and every time new information was released, I would only get more excited. I read every single article about the game I could find. I remember one that stated the 1992 setting was when and I quote “gang warfare was at its peak in California”. For some reason, that bit of information stuck with me. If you were around at the time, San Andreas was a pretty big deal. Fucking huge, in fact. It was an extremely ambitious title for its time. San Andreas isn’t a city. It’s a state. A state based upon sections of California and Nevada. When I discovered it consisted of not just one city but three, along with a countryside and desert, my jaw dropped. I would stare at the pre-release screen shots and watch the official trailers every single day leading up to the game’s release. There was one screen shot that showed gang members performing a drive-by shooting that mesmerized me. The idea that gang warfare would be a focus had me beyond ecstatic.
I did install the game from the disc, specifically version 1.0. This is the only version of the game that was re-rated Adults Only because of the controversial “Hot Coffee” content. “Hot Coffee” is actually a mod that enables players to participate in a sex minigame that is inaccessible by normal means. You must hack or mod the game to access it. The protagonist, Carl Johnson, can date women and the minigame basically lets the player control Carl as he has sexual intercourse with them. The minigame was officially disabled in the final version of the game but was not actually removed. I did try it once because everybody was going on and on and being fifteen years old, naturally, I was curious. I remember it being tedious. In fact, the whole girlfriend feature is kind of tedious but I’ll get to that later. After the mod, controversy ensued, the game was re-rated, Rockstar released a patch to remove the content completely, and it was officially removed from the subsequent version of the game. Ultimately, the whole thing was completely ridiculous.
With that out of the way, the real reason I installed version 1.0 is because I assume it’s the best version for mods. I did not install anything that would enable the “Hot Coffee” content. But I did install some mods and fan-made patches to get the game running properly on a modern system. I did, of course, consult the game’s PCGamingWiki page to see what’s recommended. It should be noted that you can downgrade the 2.0 version of the game and if you want to use your saved game, you will need to convert it to be compatible. I did install Silent’s ASI Loader so I could install other mods like the SilentPatch which fixes numerous issues. I installed ThirteenAG’s Widescreen Fix so the game runs in a proper widescreen resolution. The game does officially support 16:9 resolutions but it comes with issues like a stretched HUD among other things. I also installed GInput which adds full support for XInput and DualShock 3 controllers. I did not install anything that would alter the vanilla experience.
Set in 1992, in the state of San Andreas, Carl “C.J.” Johnson returns to his home city of Los Santos after learning his mother was murdered in a drive-by shooting. Upon his arrival, he’s intercepted by C.R.A.S.H. officers Frank Tenpenny and Eddie Pulaski who frame him for the murder of a police officer. Carl eventually meets up with his brother, sister and friends who are all part of the Grove Street Families gang and he learns they’ve lost most of their influence on the streets to their rival gang, the Ballas. Carl decides to stick around and help strengthen the gang. After his brother his shot and arrested following a shootout, he tries to find a way to get him out of prison which ends up taking him on an adventure across the entire state. He makes new connections, working with different criminals and criminal organizations, all while trying to keep C.R.A.S.H. at bay, and learning that there’s more to the criminal life than just the hood.
San Andreas is another tale clearly influenced by popular films and includes nods to several movies like Boyz n the Hood, Training Day, Casino, Easy Rider, and Terminator 2 among others. Just like the previous two games, the story is accompanied by a lot of celebrity talent including Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Penn, Faizon Love, Frank Vincent, Clifton Powell, Ice T., Peter Fonda, Charlie Murphy, James Woods, David Cross, William Fichtner, and rapper Young Maylay. Even some of the in-game radio stations feature notable talent like Axl Rose and Andy Dick. Personally, I think this is the best story in the trilogy and showcases solid writing, humorous dialogue and great voice performances. I particularly enjoy Young Maylay’s performance as Carl and James Wood’s performance as Mike Toreno. Mike has an aura of mystery surrounding him and I really enjoyed the interactions between him and Carl.
In typical Grand Theft Auto fashion, San Andreas is a satirical take on American culture and centers on the criminal underworld. Most of the characters are criminals or shady or morally corrupt and they live in a world full of terrible people. Violence, sex, drugs, and greed are all on display here and are often catalysts for the events of the plot and the motives of the characters. The plot touches on subjects like loyalty, friendship and betrayal and references many real-world events including the crack epidemic of the 80s and 90s, gang violence in California, the 1992 Los Angeles riots, and the L.A.P.D. Rampart Scandal. C.R.A.S.H. stands for Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums and was a real anti-gang unit of the Los Angeles Police Department established in the late 70s. It was disbanded in 2000 after the Rampart Scandal exposed widespread corruption within the unit. More than seventy officers associated with C.R.A.S.H. were implicated in wrongdoing.
One thing I really love about San Andreas is the balance of realism and over-the-top elements. Its connections to many real-world events and Rockstar’s knack for world building and detail really immersed me into the experience. Many of the action-packed set pieces are reminiscent of things you might see in blockbuster action films and the writing, celebrity voice talent and performances give the game a cinematic quality. It’s this kind of balance I love. What you might experience, see or hear about in the real world mixed with what you would see in the movies. But in my opinion, it never goes so far over-the-top that the immersion is broken. The attention to detail and immersion in this universe as a whole is something special and whenever I would mod these games, I always looked for mods that respect the universe and lore. For example, I always stay away from mods that turn the protagonists into super heroes or give them super powers. To be clear, I have nothing against mods like that but those are things I would never want to see in a Grand Theft Auto game. Rockstar did a great job crafting this universe to make each world feel alive, from the stories and characters to the little details in the worlds to the fictional brands, companies, and advertisements and their presence and consistency in each game. Both Vice City and San Andreas include numerous reference to their predecessors which does help make each world feel connected in some way.
A lot of the references are subtle and can easily be missed. Gardening with Maurice is a show on the WCTR station and it was actually referenced in GTA III. Also in that game, Lazlow Jones, the host of Chatterbox says he was kicked off a rock station, and he was the host of V-ROCK in Vice City which chronologically precedes the events of GTA III. There’s multiple interactions in San Andreas that reference Tommy Vercetti and the mob presence in Vice City. The ZIP chain of clothing stores in San Andreas were actually introduced in GTA III. If you look around Liberty City, you’ll find them. Each game is self contained, as in you don’t need to play them in any particular order to understand what’s happening in the plots. But there are characters who make an appearance in multiple titles and nods to the other games. You really have to pay attention to notice the little things and there are so many. San Andreas even includes references to Carcer City which is the main setting of the game Manhunt. In fact, both Manhunt games and Bully are all in the same universe as the 3D Grand Theft Auto games.
One thing I do want to point out is some of the problematic humor. While I still enjoy the satire in these games, some of the humor doesn’t come across as satire or even clever, it’s just blatantly homophobic and transphobic. Now I’m a simple guy, a lot of things make me laugh, even juvenile shit and I admit when I was a teenager, some of the problematic stuff here made me laugh. Regardless, it is problematic. It’s not hard to see that some of the humor is just punching down on minority groups.
Now I’ll talk about the size of the world which is significantly bigger than Liberty City and Vice City. It’s big enough to contain three distinct cities, a countryside and desert. The cities include Los Santos which is based on Los Angeles, San Fierro which is based on San Francisco, and Las Venturas which is based on Las Vegas. Not only is the world huge, it’s seamless. There are no loading points between areas. Load points are only encountered when Carl enters buildings. Speaking of which, there are numerous buildings you can enter including houses, shops, restaurants, strip clubs, casinos, and gyms among others.
As big and impressive as the world is, it does come with some annoyances and issues, some of which have only gotten worse with age. For one thing, you can’t just fast travel to anywhere in the state. You can visit airports and take planes to other cities and take a train around the state but these only take you to specific locations. Typical means of travel include walking or running, swimming, bicycle, vehicle, boat and aircraft. San Andreas does feature a Jetpack which is not only awesome and fun to use but is also a great way to get around and proves to be very helpful for finding certain collectibles. One nice feature is that you can place custom waypoints on the in-game map which will also appear on your radar or minimap. Travelling long distances can be time consuming to the point of being tedious and it becomes more of a problem when you get to the countryside because this is where you can encounter multiple mission start points with considerable distance between them.
Flying is usually the quickest way to traverse long distances but the game doesn’t introduce flying until much later in the story. So until then, it’s often easier to drive everywhere and the countryside contains a mountain, hills, rivers and different elevations of terrain, all of which can act as obstacles preventing you from taking off-road shortcuts without having to get out and run, swim, and/or change vehicles at certain points. You can use boats to get around on the water and the Vortex is one of most viable options for navigating the countryside. It’s a hovercraft that can move on both land and water but you need to know where to find one. When driving vehicles, it’s often better to stick to the roads to get where you want to go. There’s highways and long stretches of roads with numerous turns and branching roads that lead to different destinations and it can be easy to miss turns if you don’t reference the in-game map.
Luckily, navigating around the the cities is easier and much more enjoyable. Plus, they’re not so massive that getting around feels like a chore. They also include a lot to see and do. Looking at the game through a modern lens, it’s obvious that much of the countryside and desert are just filler or empty space. There’s various towns and minor locations to visit and explore but in between are just roads and a lot of terrain. Granted, this feels like more of a problem now than it did back in 2004. The scale of the world and the all the details packed into it was impressive for the time. Plus, each region, city, area and town feels distinct.
Most of the mechanics that have been carried over from the previous entries have been significantly refined or overhauled. You can rotate the camera around Carl and when playing with a controller, the targeting system doesn’t completely suck. The camera stays focused on whatever NPC you lock onto, you can move around while locking on with most weapons and the lock-on reticle will reflect the health of the NPC. Plus, you can free aim with any gun. I do think aiming with a mouse is still better than with a controller but I still prefer a controller when it comes to driving and flying.
San Andreas introduces a lot of new stuff. Carl can swim, move while crouching, roll, climb onto things and over obstacles like fences, sneak around and respond to people’s comments on the streets. Some missions encourage stealth which means sneaking around, hiding in the shadows and silently eliminating threats with a silenced pistol or knife. San Andreas also borrows elements from the RPG genre. As you do things, you’ll improve various skills like driving, bike, and weapon skills among some others. The more a skill improves, the more efficient Carl is at whatever the specific skill is.
As his bike skill improves, he’s less likely to fall off motorcycles. As his driving skill improves, vehicles become easier to handle. As weapon skills improve, his accuracy, strafe speed, and rate of fire will improve and reaching a certain skill level with certain weapons will allow him to dual-wield those weapons. Skills are primarily improved through repetition but you can improve them faster through certain activities. For example, taking and passing all the tests at the driving, bike, and pilot schools will quickly improve their respective skills. And you can visit the Shooting Ranges at Ammu-Nation shops to quickly improve certain weapon skills.
In addition to skills are various stats that can be improved or changed including fat, muscle, stamina, sex appeal, and lung capacity which determines how long Carl can hold his breath underwater. He can visit gyms and exercise to lose fat and gain muscle which will increase the amount of damage his melee attacks inflict. The melee combat has been overhauled. Carl can perform a variety of moves, block and learn new moves at gyms. Over time, Carl will get hungry and need to eat, indicated by the loss of fat or weight. You can pay for food and drinks at restaurants, food vendors, and vending machines to satisfy hunger and consuming food also replenishes health. If he doesn’t eat, and loses all his fat, he will start to lose health. I am happy to say this never becomes annoying. I was able to play for hours without the need to eat. Unless Carl is literally running everywhere on-foot, he won’t need to eat regularly. For example, I didn’t have to stop whatever I was doing every five minutes just to feed Carl.
The Sex Appeal stat indicates how women will react to Carl’s appearance. It’s influenced by his current vehicle, attire, tattoos, hairstyle, fat and muscle. Carl can date women. He meets some of them in the story and others can be found in the world. In order to date the ones found in the world, he needs to meet their requirements which is usually tied to his Sex Appeal or physical appearance. Finding all the Oysters, which is one of many collectibles, does eliminate the requirements. Once a woman agrees to date Carl, they’re only available at certain times. Carl can give them gifts and kiss them and the goal of each date is to do what they want to do which will improve his status with them.
A date could mean taking them out to eat, dancing, or simply driving around among other things. Once Carl’s status with a girlfriend reaches a certain point, they’ll invite him in their homes for sex and eventually give him their car keys. Some of the women he can date come with perks. For example, dating Barbara means you won’t lose your weapons and armor after getting busted. Most girlfriends also give Carl a gift after reaching one hundred percent status and it’s always a unique outfit. It should be noted that dating women to one hundred percent does not count towards one hundred percent completion of the game.
Given the size of the world and dating activities, the whole girlfriend thing becomes tedious. The dating activities get old fast. When I first played the game, I had Carl dating all the women and remember them frequently calling him to the point it became very annoying. Depending on where you are in the world, you may have to travel a long distance just to get to one and participate in one of the mundane or tedious dating activities. It wasn’t long before I decided to kill them and it was extremely satisfying. So now whenever I play through the game again, I only date them so I can get all the outfits and then kill them like a true psychopath. And here’s a little tip; kill Millie after completing the mission that introduces you to her. Unless you want to date her, of course. She doesn’t give you an outfit and I guess it’s because you get one during the mission. The game encourages you to date her so you can continue a particular arc of the story but killing her will progress things a lot faster.
Customization is a big part of San Andreas. Carl can get various tattoos, change his hairstyle, and buy different types of clothing like shirts, pants, shorts, shoes, shades, chains, watches, and hats. And all purchased clothes are stored in his wardrobe at his safe houses. There are multiple clothing shops around San Andreas, all offering a ton of clothes and, unfortunately, trying, buying, and even changing clothes at your wardrobe are all tedious tasks. For each piece of clothing you want Carl to try on or buy, he has to go into a closet or room to put it on, then he comes out and you have to watch an animation. So if you want to buy all the clothing items in a shop in one go, it will be a tedious process. And you know what’s stupid? You have to buy hats in different directions like forwards, backwards, sideways, etc. Those are each individual purchases.
Carl can also take vehicles to mod garages to customize them and doing so is much smoother and faster than buying or changing clothes. You can change paint jobs, colors, exhausts, wheels, skirts, bumpers, increase the bass of the stereo system, and add hydraulics and nitro. Other than increasing Carl’s Sex Appeal, I can’t say I ever felt the need to customize any of my vehicles for any specific purpose but it’s nice to have the option.
San Andreas gives you plenty of toys to play with including some new weapons, a lot of vehicles, boats, and aircraft, and even equipment like a camera, night and thermal vision goggles, and more exotic items that can be given to girlfriends as gifts or used as weapons like flowers, dildos and vibrators. You can actually use the camera to take photos that can be stored on your PC. Carl can ride bicycles, utilize a parachute while freefalling, and put out fires with a fire extinguisher. I do think the vehicle handling is the best in the trilogy and all vehicles have an excellent sense of weight compared to those in the previous games. Aircraft proves to be more useful here than it ever was in the previous games mainly because of the size of the world. You can fly various planes, helicopters, and even an attack jet called Hydra.
The Wanted system remains the same with some minor changes. Standard police, S.W.A.T., F.B.I. and military forces will come after you depending on your wanted level. You’ll often encounter cops on bikes and you can now lose a two star wanted level by navigating around the map and evading police.
San Andreas sends you on typical Grand Theft Auto style missions. You’ll have to kill people, follow people, drive people around, rescue people, retrieve items, race, and destroy shit. Several missions are tame but cool in nature. For example, torching a weed farm and planting drugs in a DA’s car. Others are more action-packed and I think several missions in this game are some of the best in the trilogy. You’ll rob a Las Venturas casino, rob several businesses in the countryside, rig a vehicle with a bomb to blow up a crack lab, get chased through the streets by Russian Mafia goons, and infiltrate a government research facility. And there’s a lot of cool action-packed set pieces and scripted sequences including jumping out of planes, on-rails car chases, you’ll shoot your way through a motel being raided by police, intercept a plane mid-flight and wipe out the hit squad onboard, and even do a hit in Liberty City.
Not every mission is incredible. Most of Zero’s RC missions are some of the worst in the series. Luckily, I had less trouble completing them on PC than I ever did on PS2. I have heard multiple stories that indicate the “Supply Lines” RC mission in particular is more challenging in the PS2 version. Like it gives you less fuel or fuel constantly drains even if the RC plane isn’t moving. But I have never confirmed or compared the versions, myself. Regardless, the mission still sucks and I know just based on experience, I had more trouble with it on PS2. Any mission that takes you long distance can be a pain in the ass, especially if you fail because you’ll have to travel all the way back to the mission start point. So it’s wise to save often and at whatever safe house is closest to the mission start point so you can simply reload your save if you fail and want to quickly start over. There was one mission I failed and then went back to start it again and I was taken directly to a segment later in the mission, kind of like a checkpoint. But I never encountered that again after failing other missions. So I looked it up and it apparently, the “trip skip” feature is only available during certain missions.
You’re not always rewarded with money for completing missions, especially early in the game. But you are frequently rewarded with Respect. Respect is important because the more respect you have, the more Grove Street gang members you can recruit to join you and you can command them to follow you or stay put. Respect is also earned by taking over territories and killing enemy gang members. Different gangs control different territories around Los Santos and you can take them over. Once you enter enemy territory, you simply need to kill some enemy gang members on-foot to initiate a war. Then you must eliminate waves of enemies to successfully take over the territory. Enemy gangs can try to take over your territories as well and you’ll have to defend them.
I think the whole gang war system is very cool. But it does expose how terrible the AI is. Friendly gang members will shoot at and kill enemies and can prove to be helpful but they’re pathfinding sucks. They would frequently fall behind when following me on-foot and get in my way during firefights. Enemies will sometimes take odd routes to the war zones and they’ll often come running in a straight line. Winning a war is not very difficult. They’re basically shooting galleries and it’s often easier to fight a war without the help of Grove Street members. I was frequently able to drop foes before they could get close enough for my allies to start firing.
You will need money to buy items and various properties across the state including safe houses and businesses that can generate revenue. And just like in Vice City, you do have visit each business to collect your money. Some businesses or assets cannot actually be purchased. Instead, you must complete missions for them to generate revenue like Trucking missions, Quarry missions, courier missions and Valet parking. You can spend money on weapons and ammo, clothes, food, at spray shops and mod garages, strip clubs, on hookers, and gamble it at casinos. If Carl ends up gambling all his money away, he can borrow money from a casino and if he doesn’t repay the loan, he’ll start receiving calls and eventually gunmen will be sent after him until the debt is paid.
Despite early missions not rewarding you with a ton of cash, there’s plenty of side missions and activities that will put plenty of money in Carl’s pocket. Unfortunately, most of them suck. Paramedic and Firefighter missions are still long and drawn out. The Vigilante mission follows the same structure but it’s easily the most enjoyable because you can recruit gang members to assist you and the target vehicles will have multiple enemies firing at you out of windows so the chases become very action packed. You can still drive people around in a Taxi and to complete the mission, you simply need to complete fifty fares instead of the one hundred required in the previous games.
Burglary is one of my favorite new side missions or activities. At night, you can break into people’s homes while they’re sleeping and steal their stuff and then deliver the goods to a lockup for a profit. Pimping is kind of cool, too. You drop off girls at the locations of clients and then pick them up and collect your cut of the profits but sometimes the clients get rough or refuse to pay and then Carl has to get involved. You can also play pool, shoot hoops, play arcade games, attempt numerous vehicle challenges, the lowrider challenge, checkpoint races, compete in stadium events, race tournaments, and Triathlons (which I despise), drive a train to deliver goods around the state, and complete vehicle deliveries or exports. The exports are actually a great way to earn a lot of cash and you’ll earn more for vehicles is in good condition.
Needless to say, there’s a lot to do in the game. Most of the side content must be completed for one hundred percent completion of the game which does come with its own rewards like infinite ammo and extra vehicle strength among other things. The problem is a lot of the side stuff simply isn’t fun, feels like busy work, or can be downright frustrating. At least I think so. A good example of a mission that feels like busy work is the Valet. You have to park a certain amount cars within a time limit and there’s nothing particularly enjoyable or even challenging about it. It’s stuff like the gang wars and burglaries that I love the most. The criminal stuff and/or anything action-oriented.
Luckily, the rewards for completing most of the side stuff are beneficial. For example, being fireproof can make certain missions a lot easier which is why the Firefighter mission is one of the first missions I complete before doing anything else. That and the Paramedic mission which rewards you with increased max health. One of my favorite rewards is granted for completing the Pimping mission. Hookers will pay Carl to have relations with them.
If you’re one who likes to complete these games to one hundred percent and thought finding the one hundred hidden packages in GTA III and Vice City was tedious, well San Andreas is a new type of hell. Each city has its own set of collectibles. You must use a spray can to spray one hundred tags in Los Santos, use the camera to take photos of fifty snapshots in San Fierro and the snapshots can only be found at night, and find fifty horseshoes in Las Venturas. You also have to find fifty Oysters spread all throughout the state and they are usually found underwater. I find this all to be excessive and I fucking hate it. You also have the option to complete the seventy stunt jumps and, thankfully, they don’t count towards one hundred percent completion.
As expected, Rockstar’s attention to detail is something to behold. There’s lot of little things in the world to help make the experience immersive. You’ll actually see vehicles drive into places, park and an NPC will get out of the vehicle and walk away. If you shoot the gas tank of a vehicle, it will blow up. NPC passengers can now perform drive-by shootings which can make car chases a lot of fun. You’ll encounter drug dealers on the streets and police chasing perps on-foot as well as in vehicles. The Combine Harvester will dismember NPCs and you can see their blood and bones come pouring out the back. And broadcasts and characters on the radio will often reference events that occur in the story. There are so many little things that help make the world feel alive but sometimes the immersion is broken by some of the same oddities and annoyances encountered in the previous games like city streets feeling a bit too empty at times. San Andreas is yet another entry in the series where vehicles don’t always spawn on the roads when you need one and that becomes annoying. Also annoying is when your vehicle disappears which happened to me sporadically.
San Andreas does feature different genres of licensed music spread across multiple in-game radio stations but I can’t say I enjoy the music selection as much as that of Vice City. I enjoy K-DST the most. It’s a classic rock station with tunes from artists like Foghat, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Eddie Money, The Who, Kiss, Boston, Grand Funk Railroad and several others. The Radio X station also features tunes I enjoy from artists like Ozzy Osbourne, Guns N’ Roses, and Danzig. It also features alternative rock and grunge artists. Other stations play other genres of music like rap, reggae, soul, funk, pop, and country. There is a talk station called WCTR with different shows and the game does feature a station for custom music. Without the music, it just plays commercials, many of which are quite humorous.
Just like the previous games, the presentation showcases great aesthetics and the look and feel of each city and area is distinct, giving the world a lot of personality and atmosphere. San Andreas does look better than its predecessors but I can’t say any part of it looks particularly good. Even for it’s time, San Andreas was not a looker. I noticed a lot of low-res and blurry textures, clipping, and pop-in is rampant. In fact, I remember pop-in being more problematic in this game than the previous ones, specifically the PS2 version. I remember flying the Hydra directly into a tree or object in the world on more than one occasion because they didn’t pop-in or appear in time for me to see them. I do think the size, scale and ambition kind of make up for the lackluster visual presentation, especially for a PS2 game released in 2004. The audio work is good. Many weapons have a nice punch to them when fired and each part of the world comes with appropriate sounds. Rural areas are quieter than the more populated urban environments and distant gunshots can often be heard in certain locations which I thought was a nice touch. On the technical side, the frame rate stuttered here and there but most of the time the game ran smooth and I did not encounter any major issues.
San Andreas is one of the greatest video game experiences of my life. Back in the day it didn’t feel like just another action game or GTA title. It was a fucking adventure. At the time, I was actually sad to see the story come to an end. From the day the game was announced to the day I completed the story for the first time was one hell of a ride. The characters, the story, the scope, the scale, the ambition, the content – I was just overwhelmed with excitement and joy for so long. So when I realized it was all coming to an end, that really hit me. But that’s not where the fun ended. I completed the game to one hundred percent and the fun continued for years.
What really makes San Andreas special to me is that it exceeded my hype and expectations. Sure, as I progressed through the game, I thought of things that I wished the developers implemented or would have done differently, and playing it now, I can’t say everything about it has aged well, but it was all impressive in 2004. And for me, a lot of it was just one surprise after another and that includes much of the side content I really don’t care for. I was amazed that the world gave me so much to do. I actually went into it expecting not to enjoy some of the side content because that’s what I grew accustomed to from playing the previous two games. For example, I expected a lot of hidden collectibles and stunt jumps and the long and drawn out Paramedic and Firefighter missions.
I complete these games to one hundred percent because I like knowing I’ve completed everything they offer so I’m free to do whatever I want and can benefit from the rewards of completing all the content. I like making my own action if you will. And once I completed San Andreas, I would do what I typically did after completing the previous games; run around and shoot people and engage the police. But San Andreas gives you so many more toys than the previous games. It was like the ultimate expression of freedom. An attack jet? Jetpack? Stealth? And the very fact I could recruit gang members to back me up and perform drive-bys was the coolest thing to me. I was kind of disappointed after taking over all the gang territories because that meant no more gang wars and less dynamic action. So I spent a lot of time engaging the police before realizing I could play with a cheat that puts the gangs back on the streets.
Even the new stuff I don’t enjoy all that much like the Triathlons and Freight Train mission impressed me. It impressed me that these were even options. I could steal a fucking train. San Andreas lets you interact with the world in so many ways and you can recruit gang members so you don’t have to do everything alone. All the little things and details just blew me away at the time. And the RPG elements, girlfriends, all the buildings you can enter and things you can do added a whole new layer of immersion. It actually felt like Carl could live a life outside of the story. The size of the world is a whole other beast. This was the biggest open world I ever played around in at the time. It’s not just a single city. It’s three cities with a countryside and desert. That was a truly incredible to me in 2004.
I do think San Andreas still holds up but despite how much I enjoy it, I’m fully aware it’s far from perfect and some of the problems have only gotten worse over time. And I’m not just talking about bugs, oddities, annoyances and immersion-breaking moments. There’s too many collectibles and I honestly think a lot of the side content sucks. As cool as it is to have so many different things to do, I only really enjoy the more action-oriented stuff and burglaries. I don’t want to race against incompetent AI, drive people around in a taxi or ambulance, or drive a train to different stops around the state and it’s not like I yearn to do them again once completed. I want to rob, steal and kill. Call me spoiled by modern conventions and conveniences but the lack of a quick fast travel system for a world of this size has only made getting around more tedious as the game has gotten older. In 2004, the term “fast travel” and the concept wasn’t something I was aware of and the sheer size of the world was impressive for the time so I didn’t really think about it.
I tried creating mods but never made anything significant. There was all kinds of mods floating around just like there was for GTA III and Vice City but when the CLEO Library became available, that’s when the modding scene for this game really changed. The CLEO Library allows players to change and expand the game with custom scripts without starting a new game. It’s designed to be easy to learn so anyone can create their own scripts without having to touch the official files and it opened the door for all kinds of new and exciting custom content ranging from new missions to new features to fixes. It was so successful that one of the authors decided to port the library to GTA III and Vice City.
I would absolutely recommend Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. I do consider it to be one of the greatest video games ever made and it’s one of my favorite games of all time. It’s also my favorite game in the trilogy. It’s a classic. And I have yet to play any other games that immerse me into their stories and worlds like the Grand Theft Auto titles.
Thinking back to 2004, I can vividly remember my excitement for San Andreas. It takes everything that was great about the previous games, refines and overhauls some things, adds new features, and throws you into an entire state. It was mindblowing to me. Plus, the plethora of things to do along with Rockstar’s attention to detail and knack for world building made this feel like more than just another open world sandbox. In the end, San Andreas was the ultimate action game for me and remains a defining piece in the open world genre. Definitely check it out.