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RockStar North have created not only a fitting final chapter in the GTA3 trilogy, but a true platform defining experience that will be remembered for years to come...
â??Welcome to the Jungle, we got fun and gamesâ? - quite fitting that the Guns â??nâ?? Roses song has become something of a title track for GTA: San Andreas, a game that quite honestly represents the most fun you can have with a videogame â?“ itâ??s as simple as thatâ?¦
As everybody will no doubt know, GTA: San Andreas marks the final chapter in the GTA3 trilogy, before the team at RockStar North take a well deserved break and begin the quite frankly insurmountable task of trying to top it on the next-generation of consoles.
Set in the early 90â??s, players take the role of Carl Johnson (CJ) who returns to San Andreas after a five year absence in Liberty City, to discover that his mom has been murdered and that his gang, the Orange Grove Family, are in a state of disarray in their on-going feud with the Ballas and the Vergos.
Naturally this sets the scope for lots more driving and shooting action in a style that is obviously influenced by the likes of â??Menace II Societyâ? and â??Boyz N The Hoodâ? amongst many others, although dismissing it as purely â??Hip-Hopâ? would be a mistake. This time around however the guys at RockStar North have quite literally set the sky as the limit and as such GTA: San Andreas not only represents the finest game in the series, but quite honestly one of the most exciting, exhilarating and enjoyable experienceâ??s weâ??ve ever had the pleasure of playing.
Now letâ??s not take anything from RockStar North, quite honestly the sheer scale of this game makes pretty much every single other videogame released on this generation look lazy in comparison. Sure they could have whacked out a carbon copy of Vice City in no time at all and it would have still sold in the millions; however recognising that this is the final chapter and also the fact that they pretty much single-handedly invented the genre, RockStar North have taken their time to show the legions of wannabes how to do it. In fact there are constant satirical smirks towards the wannabes throughout San Andreas, with a â??True Grime: StreetCleanersâ? billboard levelled less then subtlety at Activisionâ??s infamous â??Jockstrapâ? slur in the aforementioned title, whilst the frank insult to â??Refractionsâ? DRIV3R could only be made with the safety of knowing youâ??re at the very top of the competition.
San Andreas is a state comprising three cities, namely Los Santos, San Fierro and Las Venturas, influenced respectively by Los Angeles, San Francisco and Las Vegas. The sheer size of San Andreas is quite frankly daunting, you could play this game for years and still not be able to memorise the locations. Itâ??s a decision that could have gone so horribly wrong for RockStar North, after all making something big just for the sake of it is never going to work; however they have somehow managed to ensure that thereâ??s plenty to sustain your interest on pretty much every square inch of the map â?“ weâ??ve never seen anything on this size of scale with the sheer level of detail before, it is an absolute achievement for RockStar North to be happy with and one that will never be beaten on this current generation.
The sense that this is a working, living and breathing state has been taken to all new levels; forget everything youâ??ve seen in the past, forget previous GTA titles, this is an absolute revelation. Itâ??s the reason once again why the hook of GTA is so enticing, RockStar North have created the ultimate sandbox for you to play with your cars, boats and planes â?“ itâ??s like being a kid again, but with guns, drugs and plenty of bad language. Within your first five minutes of the game youâ??ll notice the improvements; cars park up, couples walk hand-in-hand, lights come on at night, police bikes whiz by on high speed pursuitsâ?¦ it all goes on to create a believable game world that will have you sucked in with every waking moment of the day (and night) and leaves your mind perpetually stuck in the virtual world of San Andreas during those unfortunate moments when you have to leave your Playstation2 behind and go to work or get on with other â??importantâ? matters..
There is quite frankly so much to GTA: San Andreas that itâ??s hard to know where to start, so in light of any real structure weâ??ll begin at the beginning. Weâ??re not spoiling any surprises by revealing that CJ finds himself â??escortedâ? from the Los Santos International Airport by two corrupt Los Santos police officers (one voiced by none-other then Samuel â??Mutha Fu*kaâ? Jackson), intent on framing CJ for a crime he didnâ??t commit and dropping him into the Ballas turf upon his arrival â?“ sworn enemies of CJ and his Orange Grove gang.
Despite demonstrating the ludicrously high production values during the cut-scenes all of which have moved on since Vice City, this sequence also introduces one of our most popular addition within San Andreas, as CJ has to hot-foot it out of the hostile turf on a rather handily placed BMX.
The BMX highlights a number of changes that RockStar North have been busy with for the last couple of years, particularly emphasising the new physics models that the team have created. Now every single vehicle within the game handles with a level of distinction and individuality that previous GTA titles lacked, taking a BMX for a spin feels natural whilst itâ??s only after youâ??ve had the joys of taking a Dodo up into a storm that you truly recognise the efforts that RockStar North have gone to.
Tied into riding a bike and pretty much everything else within GTA: San Andreas is the all-new RPG influenced character statistics; everything that CJ does, whether it be riding a BMX or eating a hamburger, now has a direct influence on his character. Thereâ??s a huge amount of attributes to increase or decrease, ranging from Stamina and Sex Appeal to Pistol Skills and Lung Capacity, all of which go on to have a direct influence on the character; so for example, eating hamburgers all day long will turn you into a bloater and make it harder to run fast or hoist yourself across railings, whilst regular visits to the gyms or running and swimming will tone your muscles, improve your stamina and keep the fat down. Players can tap the L1 button to bring up a display of their current statistics, although these are the ones directly related to CJâ??s on-screen persona and doesnâ??t include skills such as driving/flying and the various weapon skills that run throughout the game.
All of the weapons and each classification of vehicle are all ranked as well, so when youâ??ve mastered a particular weapon youâ??ll find CJ has enhanced firing rates, aiming distance and accuracy along with being able to wield two of the weapons at the same time. CJ increases his weapon skills by firing his gun, the fastest way to level-up is either being involved in a particularly nasty gang war or entering a shootin competition in the Ammu-Nation stores â?“ keep an eye out in the Los Santos one!!!
It was certainly a risky decision made by RockStar North to have incorporated this feature; done well it adds depth and heightens the sense of immersion, however as many titles in the past have proved, implemented poorly and the overall result is something of a chore and most definitely not entertaining. Thankfully the system throughout GTA: San Andreas is handled brilliantly, itâ??s been implemented into the game seamlessly and as such youâ??re not left feeling as though you have to do it; things just happen based on your actions and youâ??re not punished or rewarded too greatly because of that. The result is a feature that adds a whole new layer of depth to the GTA experience, weâ??re convinced that the majority of people will enjoy toning CJâ??s muscles to turn him into a beefcake or watching recklessly as CJâ??s appearance and sex appeal diminish to that of a crackpot.
There are a variety of other features designed to further the sense of immersion and make the player feel more attached to the game. Clothing is absolutely crucial, and as such thereâ??s a huge range of items available to purchase throughout the numerous shops dotted in San Andreas. Players can also take vehicles to Mod Garages and have complete customisation over their vehicle, choosing between such options as colour schemes, body parts, nitros and hydraulics. Again the result dramatically impacts the GTA gameplay, as youâ??ll pay closer attention to the vehicle youâ??ve just spent a fortune on, decking it out with the latest in-car stereo and parts â?“ certainly thereâ??s more of a sense of ownership and individuality evoked within the player compared to anything weâ??ve seen in the past.
Itâ??s likely youâ??ll spend days just exploring every dark alleyway of Los Santos before opening up the other two cities and the rest of San Andreas, however this time around thereâ??s just so much on offer, so much for the player to discover and enjoy â?“ quite frankly it could last a lifetime, 150 hours certainly looks like a conservative estimation at this stage! The sheer amount of content within GTA: San Andreas is on a level never before seen, those who like to adventure and explore will be well rewarded with an immense amount of things to find and interact with â?“ the most strangest of which weâ??ve yet to discover is a 12â? double-ended purple dildo, ideal for bludgeoning people to death with for the masochists out there!!!
Thereâ??s plenty of mini-games lurking within San Andreas as well, handy for picking up a few quick bucks through a bet on a wide range of activities such as playing pool, betting on the horses or shooting hoops. Those who like to explore every crevice of the map will also be rewarded with a considerable number of retro games to play in the arcades and on your home console, such as the amusingly titled â??Tempestâ? styled shooter â??It Crawled From Uranusâ?.
CJ is a far more athletic protagonist then Tommy Vercetti before him, in fact heâ??s probably got more agility in his right thumb then Lara Croft did in her most recent adventure. The ability to jump and hoist upon ledges may not sound like a great deal, but believe us it adds to the game immeasurably. The environments are far more accessible then ever before, truly you can pretty much get to anywhere on the map thanks to the excellent implementation of jumping and hoisting. As with all the new features introduced in GTA: San Andreas you shouldnâ??t go fearing this as though RockStar North have created GTA: Tomb Raider, instead recognise it as yet more freedom of choice to the player and thankfully one that has been wonderfully implemented â?“ running across the back-gardens, hoisting yourself across fences and swimming across pools, whilst a pack of rival gangs give chase is just something that only adds to the game.
The melee fighting system has also been improved immeasurably thanks largely to the enhancements made to the camera and targeting systems. This time around CJ can pull off a variety of combos, and learn new fighting styles such as boxing and martial arts at the various gyms and dojos spotted throughout San Andreas. Itâ??s a simplistic system that makes use of two buttons along with the targeting button, however this is a plus factor for the game, as itâ??s not meant to detract from the overall GTA gameplay. Again the result is a feature that improves upon its previous incarnations, and continues to polish and blend the amalgamation of different gameplay types within GTA.
Those fearing a DRIV3R like debacle in the swimming stakes will also be pleasantly surprised; as with everything else implemented or â??tweakedâ? within GTA: San Andreas, it has been executed superbly and again just helps to continue to break the boundaries and restrictions of previous GTA titles. CJ has a wide range of swimming techniques at his disposal, he can swim under the water and possibly discover one or two surprises, and more importantly getting out of the water is nice and easy and nowhere near the difficulties that Tanner faced in DRIV3R. Swimming is tied into the statistics system, and as such players who take their time and take CJ to the water frequently will upgrade their swimming ability, lung capacity and stamina, allowing CJ to swim faster, underwater for longer and also improves his all-round health.
Stealth also features in the game; weâ??ve lost count the number of times weâ??ve heard â??stealthâ? implemented within games, so much so that it usually draws a dubious frown and sets the alarm bells ringing, however San Andreas implements it so subtlety that youâ??ll hardly even notice it if you donâ??t want to â?“ the choice is left to the player, Thankfully it doesnâ??t enforce heavy restrictions and define missions specifically as â??stealthâ? like a certain rival, so those with a hitman like nature are free to take out any San Andreas civilian with a silenced shot to the back of the headâ?¦
But onto the actual game and the missions that provide the structure for the game, suffice to say they do not disappoint. The sheer range and diversity of tasks available to the player is unbelievable, certain missions particularly stand out and will remain on your lips for weeks to come, however itâ??s fair to say that RockStar North have moved onto the next level in this area. The standard drive/shoot missions from previous GTA titles are mixed up with a huge range of objectives, that has CJ dancing and bouncing a low-rider around in a rhythm/action manner; breaking into a military installation and stealing some hardware with a forklift truck â?“ unlike a certain other title, itâ??s fun, fun, fun â?“ and rescuing Chinese immigrants from a Tanker in the San Fierro docks with the gameâ??s Golden Gate rip-off glimmering in the background against the morning sun... We donâ??t want to spoil any of the surprises in store, safe to say that despite their being hundreds on offer, each and every one is highly memorable and more importantly a huge amount of fun to play.
Missions are certainly handled in a different way to previous GTA titles, as the majority to begin with grant you Respect instead of Cash. Respect is crucial if CJ is going to gain control of Los Santos and San Andreas once again, and allows you to enlist the assistance of OG homies to your cause. Based upon your Respect rating, you can wander up to OG homies and press UP on the d-pad to get them to follow you, whilst pressing DOWN makes them hold their position. Itâ??s just so unbelievably damn cool to wander into rivalâ??s territory with a gang of OG members strolling behind you, whilst jumping into a vehicle will see them jump into the passenger seats and provides CJ the scope to perform some deadly drive-byâ??s. The d-pad is also used to respond positively or negatively (right and left on the d-pad) to citizens of San Andreas; now whenever a crazy bum or tight-arsed bitch insults CJ, youâ??re free to dish back an insult before bludgeoning them to death. Itâ??s a small touch for sure, but one that continues to heighten the overall plausibility of the game.
Mission structure tends to be a little more linear then before, with the player only presented with one option on a few occasions. When you complete a region, optional missions disappear which is one of the games few issues â?“ so remember to complete everything you want to before moving on in the game.
The sense of freedom this time around cannot be understated, itâ??s a game where itâ??s all about breaking the rules, I guarantee most people will have worked out how to get the jet plane well before youâ??re meant to and pretty soon after discover the joys of the parachute.
Certainly the action is intense throughout the whole game, where yet another improvement continues to manifest itself. If any flaw could be levelled at previous titles in the GTA series then it would have to be the atrocious targeting and camera systems featured in both titles, quite honestly it was fundamentally flawed and just didnâ??t work. This time around players have complete control over the camera and can use the right thumbstick to control it, whilst the targeting system is an absolute revelation. Working similarly to RockStar Northâ?? Manhunt (ban it, ban it, ban it â?“ joke), the auto-targeting now actually works although players are free to have direct control over the aiming reticule with a combination of the right thumbstick and the R1 button. When pressing the R1 button CJ can now strafe, again a massive improvement, whilst clicking the left thumbstick will make CJ crawl and able to perform evasive rolls which have been brilliantly implemented. Whereas taking control of the main character could be a little problematic to say the least in previous titles, GTA: San Andreas gives you complete control over CJ and heâ??s certainly an agile character that is a pleasure rather then a frustration to control.
Itâ??s not long before perhaps the biggest feature to be introduced in GTA: San Andreas becomes apparent, namely the Los Santos gang system that weâ??ve talked about in previous coverage. In a nod to the brilliant system featured in GTA2, Los Santos is divided into different â??turfâ? with three gangs fighting to take control and gain power. Starting off with just a few locations, the Orange Grove Family must invade both the Vagos and the Ballas territory, kick-start a gang-war and hopefully take control of the turf. Players do this by wandering into a rivals territory (highlighted by different colours on the map) and then take out a few rival gang members which will initiate the war, CJ then has to survive three waves of attacks from the rival gang members before he can take control of the turf; however on the other hand your own turf is constantly open to attack and as such youâ??ll always have to keep an eye out for impending attacks and be prepared to get back to defend your territory.
Gaining control of the turf is crucial because itâ??s the key way to begin with of making some serious money and respect. Depending on what turf CJ and the OG gang own, certain funds will be available for CJ to collect outside of his house in the Orange Grove.
Certainly previous GTA titles have excelled in getting the balance between carrying out missions within the actual game and going off to do your own thing absolutely spot on; itâ??s this balance that drives the addictive nature of the previous GTA games and highlights the one aspect that all the GTA wannabes get wrong. The gang system however continues to blur the lines between the game types on offer, adding yet another layer but more importantly one that is highly dynamic and constantly keeps you on your toes â?“ it just takes GTA to an entirely new level that is a million miles beyond what anybody else is doing.
Itâ??s also fair to say that GTA: San Andreas is the complete antithesis to GTA3. As GTA fans will know, that title deliberately cast players as a relatively anonymous character in a town that didnâ??t care too much about him; with San Andreas the experience is much more personal, itâ??s about CJ, his family and his homies. As a result youâ??ll find yourself sucked into San Andreas far more then Liberty or Vice City, youâ??ll find yourself just walking around Los Santos because itâ??s your home, youâ??ll find yourself angered when one of your homieâ??s gets mowed down by a shower of bullets from a Ballas gun and seek cold-blooded revenge.
Speaking of depth, the bar has truly been raised across the board and quite literally we mean that. Sure in Vice City the game was stretched in the height stakes with the introduction of helicopters, however now players can jump aboard a wide range of planes and take them for a spin. Whilst the trademark Dodo is a little beast that begins to flip all over the place when youâ??ve reached a few hundred feet, find yourself a Jet (yes a Jet) and youâ??ll find yourself climbing thousands of feet and way above the clouds. The views from this level are quite frankly awesome as you watch the tiny buildings that populate San Andreas below; in all honestly weâ??ve spent too many hours just flying around San Andreas and taking in the sights, naturally planes were always going to be the next BIG introduction, still we never conceived that it would be so much funâ?¦ However we certainly werenâ??t prepared for one feature that this brings about â?“ Parachutes â?“ yes CJ can get himself a parachute pack and fall safely from a few thousand feet down to the ground below. Stealing a jet from the airport and jumping out from way above the clouds, rushing down to the ground, hitting the O button and sliding down to safety is a gaming moment youâ??re unlikely to forget!
Perhaps the only criticism that can be levelled at GTA: San Andreas is that of technology; as a game the concept and execution is virtually flawless, however it does try to push the PS2 a little too hard at times and youâ??ll notice fogging and pop-up, although itâ??s a marked improvement upon previous titles. Occasionally youâ??ll notice the traditional problems with the game streaming in the visuals, and perhaps the biggest issue is the fact that weâ??ve had a couple of frustrating occurrences when the game has crashed and forced a reset of the machine â?“ annoying when youâ??ve forgotten to save, but then you realise just how much fun it all is and just get back to playing!
Weâ??ve already mentioned the sheer ludicrous amount of detail featured within the San Andreas environment; however we must go back again. Truly RockStar North have created the most beautifully crafted, amazingly detailed game world weâ??ve ever seen in a videogame and one that is perfectly designed â?“ truly an evolution from the restraints in previous titles. Rolling through the redneck town of Dillimore into the gritty streets of Los Santos reveals a subtle change from wooden cottages and dirt tracks to skyscrapers and freeways â?“ thereâ??s just so much to grab your attention that youâ??ll spend so much time just taking in the sights. However itâ??s not just all their for the sake of it, it provides more angles for the GTA experience to evolve into; now for example, when you find your wanted rating reaching a dangerous level, you can do like the movies do and head out into the country and lay-low for a couple of days whilst the heat wears off. Whereas in previous GTA titles it was almost impossible to wipe off your wanted level without picking up the icons, as long as youâ??re not causing attraction, the heat will die off eventually and youâ??ll be free to move back into town and reconvene your crime spree. This along with everything else helps to create more of a flowing experience then previous GTA titles offered.
We could continue to write pages and pages on San Andreas, thereâ??s just more to everything; more to stats, more to R3 missions, more to respect, more to races, odd jobs, arcade games, casinos and stadium events then you could have hoped for. For the â??completionistâ?, thereâ??s stuff in there that could take a lifetime to discover â?“ tags to spray in Los Santos, snapshots to take in San Fierro, horseshoes to collect in Las Venturas and oysters to collect under the water.
Thereâ??s a variety of 2P tokens scattered throughout the map, which again add an extra layer of diversity and fun to the proceedings. Here a second character joins CJ whilst you go on a killing spree similar to the rampage missions in previous GTA titles.
Certainly the look of the game has been taken to all new levels, not only have RockStar North increased the overall scale of the game but also enhanced the level of detail at a small scale. Thereâ??s just so much variety within San Andreas; gritty streets of Los Santos, rolling hills of the country, the strip in Las Venturas â?“ it truly is a game of sightseeing at times, just hop onboard a â??freewayâ? and drive around the state, it truly is a magnificent feat. In particular itâ??s the lighting that stands out and creates such a vivid look, the sun in the morning saturates the land with orange glows, whilst the sky at night is no less an impressive sight. The animation is of a superb standard, in particular the main characters, although every character within the game looks convincing.
The game utilises a dynamic weather system which not only looks fantastic during a heavy storm, but also has a profound impact on the way you play the game and ensures that missions rarely play identically.
Another neat dynamic system is the all-new radio system; weâ??ve talked in-depth previously about the radio stations and the songs featured within the game, suffice to say itâ??s up to the standard that youâ??d expect and truly enhances the overall experience â?“ those believing the focus is entirely on Hip Hop and Gangsta Rap will also be surprised, as thereâ??s the full supply of dance and rock, not to mention Country and Western to truly capture the feeling of being in the early 90â??s. DJâ??s on the radio will now commentate on events within the game, talking about specific characters and updating listeners on CJâ??s progress with the Orange Grove family, whilst the weather forecast is actually based on the dynamic weather within the game. It all goes on to bring everything together and create one of the most awesome gaming experiences youâ??ll ever likely to have.
Not because it’s perfect, of course the GTA experience can be improved and despite this game offering almost limitless possibilities, there’s still a lot they could include and new concepts to tap; however the only complaint that can be levelled at GTA: San Andreas is that of technology, the only criticisms are stemmed from the fact that it’s trying to push the PS2 a little too far at times.<br />
As a game nothing can touch just how much there is to GTA: San Andreas, the sheer diversity on offer to the player and just how fun the overall experience is. It’s the combination of improvements across the board and the trademark style, design and execution of new ideas, that pushes San Andreas closer to gamer perfection then anything we’ve seen before it.<br />
It shouldn’t need reminding however that it is a Mature rated title and carries an 18 BBFC classification. Despite the content being heavily satirical, it is the type of game that will have neo-conservatives in uproar, not to mention causing a few sensational headlines when newspaper editors have nothing better to write about. There is heavy violence, reference to drugs and perhaps the largest profanity count we’ve ever seen in a videogame – truly RockStar North have excelled themselves in this stake, but if you’re not 18 or if your kid is demanding the game, do the right thing and don’t do it.<br />
It blows apart the competition with a SMG and wipes the floor clean; they've not only created the finest GTA title for the last chapter in the GTA3 trilogy, but a true platform defining experience that is head and shoulders above everything - on any console.