The 10-year-old Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas stands the test of time by delivering a complete and highly-enjoyable gaming experience in one of the best console ports to date.
This was the final installment in the Playstation 2 trilogy of Grand Theft Auto games. For those who are too young to remember or never played the original, GTA San Andreas was a milestone in sandbox gaming and the sheer scale of it was groundbreaking. The story is a rag-to-riches tale set in San Andreas (based on Los Angeles) in the early 90s. The protagonist, Carl Johnson (“CJ”), is back from the East Coast to help his gang, The Grove Street Family, rise to the top. The main story, which takes an estimated whopping 20-30 hours to beat, takes Carl on a journey facing off with various gangs in L.A., riding off road through rolling hills and up mountains, and pulling off heists in casinos in an area inspired by Las Vegas.
And that’s just the main story.
Like GTA V, there are plenty of other ways to occupy your time in San Andreas. Carl’s appearance is almost totally customizable: not only is there a massive selection of clothes, haircuts, and tattoos to purchase, but he can bulk up or learn new fighting techniques at the gym. San Andreas also has a wide selection of 240 vehicles to choose from. It’s a diverse array that includes bicycles, speed boats, and fighter jets. Completing training missions, races and generally spending more time in or on each of these vehicles will improve your handling.
Other side missions and mini games include burglaries, going on dates, vintage arcade games, and rounding up a crew to fight rival gangs for turf. The game has so many other ways to spend time, that mentioning each one would simply would not fit in this review. To alleviate issues regarding saving progress, San Andreas has introduced a checkpoint system to prevent you from getting stuck at the beginning of a long mission.
What about the chaos?
One of the draws to the Grand Theft Auto series has been the freedom to go absolutely nuts. Plenty of folks play these games to sit down, blow off some steam, and wreak absolute havoc on a city. With a massive map, lots of characters, and a plethora of weapons, San Andreas has no problem giving you the guilty pleasure of entering the game and going on a classic GTA rampage.
San Andreas does its best to provide comfortable controls. It offers a few default settings and the game incorporates tilt control as well. The controls are also completely customizable: buttons can be dragged to the preferred part of the screen meaning that you could drag the fire button wherever you preferred. Overall, San Andreas is similar to other games that mimic having two joysticks; the game is meant to be played with your thumbs on the left and right side of the screen. It’s a good effort and definitely a step up from other sandbox games. All of that said, the controls still present problems.
Tricky driving missions or situations where manual aim while firing a gun is needed are more difficult than they are intended to be. As well as that, the controls are inherently more limited than their console or PC counterparts: e.g. holding two buttons at once, especially while driving, is incredibly difficult and doesn’t feel intuitive.
However, these problems would surely disappear with the use of a game controller, which San Andreas supports. The controls are the one issue that hold this game back from being perfect. They’re not bad enough to disrupt the gaming experience, but they’ll cause some minor frustration.
The graphics in the game have beeng updated to make better use of colors, shadows, draw distance, and character models. That said, if you’re expecting it to be on par with it’s modern counterpart GTA 5, you’ll be disappointed. However given the size of the game, the graphics are serviceable enough and still look better than plenty of games in the app stores, which is even more impressive considering the game is 10-years-old.
GTA San Andreas probably has the best sound out of any game in the app stores. The game has a reported 861 voice actors in it. Some of these are celebrities including Samuel L Jackson, Axl Rose, and James Woods. The voice acting is superb and makes it feel much more like a movie rather than an app.
Music is a staple of the series. The soundtrack for the game rivals that of any other GTA. There are eleven different radio stations that play both talk radio and lots of different musical genres. Musically there’s something for everybody here with radio stations playing Dr Dre, Rage Against the Machine, and even Willie Nelson. Listening to the radio stations during missions makes driving considerably more enjoyable and less monotonous.
Despite having some finicky controls, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is one of the most fun and engrossing games that new gamers and fans of the original will love.
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