Carl Johnson, CJ, comes back to his old home in Los Santos in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (SA), the most recent installment in what might go down as the most influential game series ever. After escaping his troubles fives years earlier CJ returns to bury his mother. When he gets there he finds his family and friends on the brink of disaster. Corrupt cops, drug dealers, and enemy gangs are everywhere. CJ and his Groove Street gang set out to take over the street. Simple as the story sounds the game doesn’t rely on plot twists or over-the-top stunts that would make James Bond quiver in disbelief. What moves the game along so brilliantly is the wide array of characters, developed and voiced to perfection, each with a distinctive personality that will make you love some and loathe others. These characters make for some hilarious dialogue and when the time comes you really want to save them, or kill them, or rob a mafia family with them.However, Grand Theft Auto’s trademark is it’s open-ended gameplay, not enticing stories, and San Andreas is no different. Rockstar extends freedom beyond being able to go where you want to, by making the protagonist customizable. Things like clothing, haircuts, and tattoos can be purchased to give CJ a unique look. CJ is also customized by how he is used in the game. If he heavily favors a certain gun over time he becomes more accurate with it, and with certain weapons can eventually wield two of them. This goes for more than just weaponry though, there are tons of different stats that will increase or decrease over time. Strength, driving skill, max health, and gambling skill are just a few. This new RPG aspect is done very well. If you want to take some time to get CJ beefed up in the gym it will help, but not to the point where it’s a necessity.
Gameplay is more or less the same as the previous game. The great driving mechanics have not been tampered with and what little fixing the shooting gameplay needed it got. Despite indifferences in gameplay I found myself as addicted to San Andreas as the previous two titles. This is because the game manages to stay fresh for so long. In the beginning I found all these new features that made me say “What a great idea”, and 30 hours later I’m still finding more.
One such innovation is the ability to recruit gang members by aiming, with no weapon equipped, at one and pressing up on the D-pad. When a gang member is recruited he will follow CJ around and shoot anyone CJ shoots. While this is a great idea and very useful in the beginning missions the ally AI is flawed. When in a gang war they won’t shoot at enemies until they are near point blank. When getting into a car recruits will often stand in a daze and won’t get into the car unless you honk the horn or run them over or get out and try again. If you decide to walk to a destination the chances that more than half of the recruited members will arrive with you is very small. They will often get stuck in traffic, jump an unnecessary wall, or take another, much longer route to where you are. The more respect you have, which you gain from completing missions and killing opposing gangs, the more people you can recruit at one time. But since not even the stretch limo can carry more then three additional people and walking with a gang is such a pain, having more then three people in your gang is more trouble than it’s worth.
San Andreas’ huge sound track is not at all unexpected. While driving you can change the radio between almost a dozen stations. Variety is a big plus. Whether you’re into Guns n’ Roses, Dr. Dre, or Willie Nelson there is a radio station that’s got what you’re looking for. And of course if somehow none of the music appeals to you the radio can be turned off or you could tune in to the humorous WCTR talk radio.
Accompanying the great music are SA’s visuals. Though not technically superb, the character models, lively cities, and quiet rural areas will impress you in a way Metal Gear Solid and Killzone graphics can’t.
I thought the series would get old about now, I was very mistaken. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is a great game no matter how many hours you’ve logged into Vice City and Grand Theft Auto 3. Great gameplay, gripping plot, top-notch voice acting and music, San Andreas sets standards across the board. Flaws are minor and the many new features more than out do them. Best game on the PS2? Very possible.
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