Jeremy Jastrzab
03 Jul, 2005

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas Review

Xbox Review | The high-roller of video games struts onto the Xbox.
Here is a game that needs no introduction. Sure, the original top-down titles had their moments but they were never able to burst into the mainstream. Not until Rockstar broke the mould with Grand Theft Auto 3 for PS2, had a game taken the world by storm in so many different ways. Since then, Grand Theft Auto has been the most successful franchise of the modern era.

Personally, I've been a staunch opponent of the series. Because of the controversy caused by the games violence and excessive themes? Not in the slightest! The thing that griped was the fact the game had horribly sloppy controls, a poor camera, weak AI, lack of polish and conventions that made the games extremely frustrating. The whole open-ended phenomena seemed a little lost under this. However, as Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas blusters onto the Xbox after becoming the greatest selling PS2 title, it becomes a lot more apparent why this formula has been so successful.

Firstly, the game is a direct port of the PS2 version. Though it seems as if it could have used a little more time. The game is entirely intact but the port leaves a little to be desired. The graphics aren’t as big an improvement as they were expected to be. Well not on the same level as theGrand Theft Auto: Double Pack that was released early last year. Secondly, A further lack of polish comes from the failure to remove the loading symbol from the bottom right hand corner and the fact that the load times aren’t any better, sometimes evenworse. Finally, the controls are a bit too ambitious for the Xbox controller.

See what I mean?

See what I mean?
Well just because the port isn’t crash hot doesn’t mean the game has suffered in anyway. It’s no secret that Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is easily the best of the series. It has everything that was in the previous titles plus some very necessary and welcome improvements.

For the uninitiated, you play as Carl “CJ” Johnson. You just returned to your hometown of Los Santos after hearing of the death of your mother. Having abandoned your life in Los Santos for a life in Liberty City many years ago, your return sparks the story into action. The story is much deeper than previous games with more twists and turns than before. The structure hasn’t changed much; you’ll have numerous memorable encounters with many people that will offer you “work” but this time your working for more than just cash.

As a proper man of the hood, respect is key. Through out the game, most of your missions will be based of completing them for respect. Respect brings you its fair share of rewards. As do most of the games other numerous stats. While respect and money are prime, there are numerous other secondary stats help evolve the game and the way you play. Virtually everything you do will affect your later performance.

For pretty much every action, there is an accompanying stats bar. The more you drive, the more your driving bar fills up. The higher it’s filled, the better you can handle a car, even the really shoddy ones. The more you use a fire-arm, the higher the weapons bar fills up and the more accurate, long reaching and potent you are at it. The weapons stats are particularly easy to build and there is a significant performance difference once your fully upgraded. However, It doesn’t stop at the weapons and cars. In GTA: SA, you need to take care of yourself as well.

Through out the game, you have the opportunity to build your body like a tank or like a fat-arse. As well as respect, you’ve got to take care of your stamina, muscle, fat and sex appeal stats. Stamina and muscle can be built upon be running around a lot or regular visits to the gym. Increasing these will allow you to run for longer periods, or hit people much harder. By visiting burger and pizza joints instead of the gym, you can get fat and consequently your performance is adversely affected.

Eating plays a surprisingly large role in the game. If you don’t eat often enough, you’ll not only lose fat but eventually muscle as well. Clothing yourself is important too, and it’s much more sophisticated than it was in Vice City. You can clothe yourself with anything you can afford and you can individually clothe different parts of your body. To add to this, you’ve got a bunch of barbershops and tattoo palours for your image and chop shops for your car.

As an Xbox title, GTA: SA does an excellent job of customization and allowing freedom of building your character. In fact, it gives Fable a huge slap in the face, as it was meant to be the front runner in this aspect. So, what else is new?

He's taking it a bit too far

He's taking it a bit too far
The core of the game hasn’t changed that much. You’ve got your normal story missions, side missions and vehicle/miscellaneous missions. By now you should all know the drill, complete a bunch of missions for a person and then move along to the next one. GTA: SA does a reasonably good job of keeping the variety nice and fresh. The driving can get a bit tiresome and you’ll be repeating objectives numerous times but in all, they get the job done.

When there is a great variety of a thing to do, it is very easy for developers to get complacent. However, the majority of the missions are well thought out. You’ll have an exciting range of driving, shooting, stealth and infiltration missions. As in the previous titles, the range of tasks ahead are absolutely mind boggling in their volume. The best thing about them is that none of them seem as if they were placed in the game as an afterthought.

You’ll start off with low time missions, driving here, driving there and because of the games size, you’ll be progressing a lot slower than you did before. Though between the pedestrian missions the game throws in a few difficult missions primarily to mix up the pace. A slightly erratic difficulty curve results from this. Anyone whose played Vice City ought to be familiar with this and seasoned gamers shouldn’t have too many problems. On the whole however, the game remains relatively easy.

The vehicular side missions remain intact and come with some nice additions. However, we’ve all been there and done the Taxi, Police, Ambulance and Fire Engine missions and in GTA: SA they’re no different from any other GTA title. However, GTA: SA gives us a quite few new toys. Though you’ve now got Pimping missions and Burglary missions to name a few, all the new missions lack the substance and purpose of the main story missions. On the flipside, since your main missions mainly give you respect, some of the side missions are useful for money. The Pimping mission pays particularly well and the Burglary can be fun, in a sadistic sort of way.

There are a number even further side missions that aren’t really missions. They’re more a set of mini-games that are good for a bit of fun and for a bit of money. You’ve got games of pool and basketball or you can go dancing or lowriding. These games aren’t just afterthoughts either. They’re all well put together and fit nicely. They can work as an excellent change of pace.

You don't have to do a nudey-run if you lose

You don't have to do a nudey-run if you lose
With all the talk of respect, what do we use it for? With respect, you can form a gang and take them to the streets. When you have earned enough respect, you can walk up to a fellow from your “hood”, target him and click up or down on the d-pad. When your gang has reached capacity, jump in a car and head out to reap some havoc. The general purpose of gang’s is to take them into situations where there are many, many adversaries. One such situation could be when you are trying to expand your territory. To do this, take your gang to a patch of land owned by a rival gang (signified by a specific colour on the map) and mow down all the enemy gang members in a full-blooded turf war. Eliminate all members and survive the impending waves, then the land is yours. There are times you have to come back and defend it; at least your new lands pay well. It’s a shame though that your gang members are about as intelligent as sheep.

These aren’t the only things to do. There is an absolute myriad of things you can get up to and a lot have made the successful transition from previous titles. One thing that has made GTA: SA distinctive is that it’s the biggest game of the series. Rather than the one city, you’ve got three. On top of that, there’s a lot of countryside, highway roads, a mountain and rural townships. Each of the cities is a bit smaller than Vice City, but obviously, this isn't a real problem. Basically, the game is played across one big state. Everywhere you go there are shortcuts, secrets and things to do. However, while for some this may be bliss, some may find it overwhelming and others more may find the commuting to get extremely tedious.

Rockstar have thrown in a Co-op mode but it seems like an afterthought. It can only be triggered in very specific conditions and it ends up being very sloppy. Players can’t wonder too far from each other and the second player is at a constant disadvantage.

Though not everything has been improved. While repeated missions (because of failure) now have a handy “trip skip” feature that allows the player to jump straight to their destination, traveling still becomes tedious. The magnitude of the game makes it a haven for bugs and glitches. Things like AI and clipping issues still run rampant. The AI in particular is extremely stupid, it doesn’t seem likes it’s been improved over time at all. Though you can purchase properties and increase the amount of safehouses, the game still has issues of backtracking and traveling as a result.

The most significant changes to the game are that of the controls. To their credit, Rockstar have finally tightened the loose and sloppy controls from the previous game. CJ moves a lot better and a lot more responsively. The camera can be manually controlled and it’s on a much tighter leash as well. It no longer stupefies from the most superfluous of activities. Though it’s not perfect and it takes a little getting used to, a lot of those frustrating deaths can now be avoided.

Moving the controls to the different Xbox controller is a tough ask. While not entirely comfortable and a bit ambitious, they get the job done better than in the previous titles. Shooting has been considerably improved. Aim with the right trigger and fire with the left. Flip through targets the black and white buttons. For the first time, you are able to manually move the shooting reticule and perform maneuvers such as ducking and rolling. They are a marked improvement and the game is much more playable as a result. However, the lack of shoulder buttons means that to do things like drive-bys, you now use the black and white buttons to look left and right. Pressing white, you’ll then have to reach up with your thumb (still holding white) to the A button in order to perform a drive-by to your left. The same applies to the B button and black button. The controls aren’t perfect but their marked improvement is very noticeable.

That oil-rig would make a great, big BOOM!

That oil-rig would make a great, big BOOM!
Graphic wise, GTA: SA on the Xbox leaves a bit to be desired. While the game’s overall size can account for the lack of polish and quality, it just doesn’t look that good. Simply, there is not that much of an improvement over Vice City as you might expect. Character models are devoid of detail and their otherwise excellent art style is lost. Though main characters are distinguishable, other models are average and repetitive. Buildings look good, are well constructed and are characterised from area to area. However, there are still a lot of bland buildings around town. The countryside and it’s accompanying forests and mountain areas look horribly bland and sometimes very ugly. It’s disappointing that a lot vehicle models aren’t up to scratch. Some actually look more ordinary than in previous titles. I guess San Andreas isn’t as colorful or vibrant as Vice City. Then you’ve got your technical issues like slowdown in hectic situations, pop-ups in the distance and clipping among others. These issues do drag down the game a little bit, though not enough to dampen the experience. It’s just that you have most definitely played better looking games. Presentation wise, it can pass.

Sound however is excellent as usual. It’s a hallmark of the GTA series. Though a few weapon sounds aren’t up to scratch, everything else is just as it should be, particularly the voice and the music. With voice talents like Samuel L. Jackson and Peter Fonda leading the way with exceptionally memorable performances, driven by excellent, humorous, clever and “authentic” dialogue, GTA: SA blows pretty much everything else out of the water. The music has a huge variety of themes all from the 90’s. They range from R’n’B to Country music. Personally, I’m not fond of most of the stuff available, but I’m sure that most players will adore flipping through the radio stations while cruising down the highway. Thankfully, the Xbox version has custom soundtracks, though between songs you encounter some ads sometimes. At least they’re funny enough to be there.

Overall, GTA: SA is the best GTA experience and the best open-ended console gameplay experience you can have offline. The customizing, the choice and the lessons of the previous titles, give the excellent grounding that a game like this needs. While it isn’t perfect and has room for much improvement, what is here is very good. As a port, the Xbox version is average but as a game it’s very good. Anyone who only owns an Xbox, and thoroughly enjoyed last year’s double pack will get exactly what they want out of this title. Anyone who has played GTA will know what they’re getting and we’re sure they won’t mind. Not to mention the game could easily exceed 100 hours of playtime.
The Score
It's the best GTA title so far. It's also one of the better and more worthwhile games available on the Xbox.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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1 Comment
8 years ago
They [controls] are a marked improvement and the game is much more playable as a result. However, the lack of shoulder buttons means that to do things like drive-bys, you now use the black and white buttons to look left and right. Pressing white, you’ll then have to reach up with your thumb (still holding white) to the A button in order to perform a drive-by to your left. The same applies to the B button and black button. The controls aren’t perfect but their marked improvement is very noticeable.
NO, just NO. In no way are the controls an improvement over the double pack. It was considerably easier to look around whilst driving through using the right thumbstick, and clicking to do a drive-by. Trying to press white/black and B at the same time whilst steering with the left stick and accelerating with the right trigger...


You are the ONLY person I've seen talk about this game as having improved controls over the double pack. They're rubbish.
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