Friday, April 19, 2013

Grand Theft Auto - San Andreas

To achieve much acclaim for something, sometimes it has to be controversial.
Review By BigCj34

A Grand Theft Auto game is self-explanatory really, a large (or in this case, massive) free-roaming world, run around killing pedestrians and gangster's whilst slaloming with the police while completing missions, and stirring up massive controversy in the media at the same time. The original GTA game was released in 1997 and appeared most notably on PC and PSone, in which you played in a birds-eye perspective. 2001's GTA3 was the first GTA on PlayStation 2 and gave us some real 3D action which changed the face of the series forever, followed by GTA: Vice City a year later. Despite the facelifts and the sheer increase in depth, humour and gore, GTA has always been about what it does best: progressing through missions, killing people and dodging cops.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is no exception, this time in the GTA universe you're set in 1992 California in which you take the role of Carl Johnson who returns to his home in Los Santos to attend his mothers funeral. Consequently this also involves ironing out the issues with his gang, the Grove Street Families, and defending turf against rival gangs following on to incidents of betrayal and kidnapping through the family. Thus, Carl embarks on a long adventure all over San Andreas, befriending new allies and keeping trust and his cool with bitter agents in order to get the situation in hand and re-establish a gang stuck in the doldrums. Whereas Vice City had a storyline based on Scarface and set in 80's Miami, San Andreas focuses more on the gang culture in Californian cities in the early 90's, inspired by films such as Boyz N Da Hood and Menace II Society and complete with plenty of phrases such as “yo homies” and “da hood” that you can throw into your social life dialect (provided you don't sacrifice it to this game).

The world of San Andreas is probably amongst one of the most impressive and expansive game worlds you'll ever find in a PlayStation 2 game, comprising of nothing less than three full cities loosely based on Californian cities, including Los Santos (Los Angeles), San Fierro (San Francisco) and Las Venturas (Las Vegas), with plenty of rural areas and villages in between. Everything you can expect from a Grand Theft Auto game is there, with every nook and cranny of the world explorable by multiple means of transport, whether you walk, swim (the sea is no longer a death trap), use a car, motorcycle, a plane, helicopter, even to a jetpack. The environment in San Andreas is vastly varied, from the iconic vast urban areas to the countryside for some serious mayhem on the mountains, farms or deserts be it tractor drive-by shooting on the farms or letting it rip on the ranches. Forget about the lasso because we're talking Desert Eagles and M4's. Yeehar!

One of the key reasons behind GTA's success to both casual gamers and the hardcore market alike has been for its level of depth offered, and it's not hard to see why. Anyone can run around with an AK47 decapitating a few heads and whilst dodge the police, and whilst the linear storyline missions exist, you're free to undertake them when you please. There's plenty of side-missions to conquer, cities and rural areas to explore if you want to find all the oysters, horseshoes and graffiti tags in Los Santos to cover with those of the GSF, all which replace the hidden packages.

The usual R3 taxi, vigilante and fire missions are intact, pimping and burglary missions make a debut, while customising CJ plays an important role in the game, whether it's his clothes and hairstyle to increase respect and sex appeal (that plays a role in the game) to his property and customising his car, useful for the various races scattered around. If you need a break from rampages there's lots to do for chilling out, be it arcade machines, pub-pool or poker in the many ventures casinos, you don't need to go to the pub again.

Aside from customising CJ, a huge emphasis on attributes placed upon your character with every aspect about him having a skill level. You begin with a skinny CJ with virtually no stats in transport, weaponry, respect or sex appeal, it's up to you to bolster them. Gyms around the cities are an effective means for maxing out strength and stamina which is an essential for the oh-so-occasional chases and escaping from the cops.

Winning rounds at the shooting range in Ammunation sharply boosts your shooting skills, same with passing manoeuvres in the challenges set by the various transport schools available, getting Hitman status with a weapon guarantees a headshot whilst a perfect bike skill means you barely ever fall off when you crash. Although the stats system does sounds a lot, it seamlessly integrates itself into the game, and you really don't have to go out of your way a great deal to upgrade your stats as it progresses from practical training in missions. A regular foray to the gym and a dip in the sea to increase lung capacity helps a lot, whilst driving school is a real catalyst to increasing driving skill but progression is mostly gradual.

Fortunately, amidst all these additions, Rockstar haven't ruined a successful formula: mass street shooting; dodging the army on six-star waned level; driving jacked cars as if the highway code never existed, mugging innocent pedestrians and saying no to whores with a bullet; it's all there. The bigger part of San Andreas doesn't necessarily mean much better than the other GTA's as certain flaws of the engine remain: the auto-aim does make it far easier to shoot a group but it can be erraticl, particularly as it doesn't automatically switch between enemies, costing ehalth, or doesn't register when using it to hire homies for help (who have questionable AI anyway). Missions themselves still feel somewhat spoon-fed when placing blips on the radar for where you're supposed to be, having a tendency to set me on autopilot, whilst it does feel strange in mission that you have to go into the red circle for a three-star wanted level to appear.

The graphics on San Andreas are no different to that of it's PS2 predecessors, well designed cities but designed for utility rather than shininess, realistic lighting effects (bar the uber-orange glare) but blocky character models and textures at time and frequent frame-rate drops. Loading is non-existent outside after the title sequence as the world is streamed directly from the disk as you play, but if you're PlayStation or game disk have seen better days be prepared for some pop-up and delayed texture loading. Crashing a plane in what's supposedly mid-air, only for a cliff face to suddenly appear can be an inconvenience at best.

The radio station's are accomplished with a handful of DJ's imitating various US radio personalities with a selection of country, rock and hip-hop music stations available. The selection of rock certainly could've been better, but the country music is highly appropriate for drive-bys in the rural areas and hip-hop adds to the ghetto experience extraordinarily (not that hip-hop is for me). The likes of Samuel L. Jackson, James Woods and Ice-T amongst others do a superb job for voice-overs giving a real feel of the gangster culture, although Samuel did feel a little dry. Expect plenty of swearing too, it is GTA.

I could write much more about this game and goodness knows what I've missed, but all you need to know is that Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is as good as it was anticipated. The amount of choice in this game is vast, and whether you're aiming for the perfect 100 per cent or competing on who can last longest in crazy cat and mouse chases by the police on six-stars there's something to offer for everyone out there, in what has made the GTA series successful in itself. Ultimately, San Andreas is good fun to play, and while it can be frustrating at times when missions don't go your way it's nonetheless a good 40 hours of game-play from the missions alone. If there's only one game you ever own on the PS2, make this it, a fantastic game with plenty to do pushing the ancient PS2's hardware near it's limits, to miss this game is to miss out on a keystone of the video-gaming culture. You have to own this.

SYSTEM: PC, XBOX, XBOX 360, Mac OSX, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3


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