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Action / Adventure






Rockstar North



M (Mature)



June 7, 2005


- Wide-open environments to explore

- Lots of drivable vehicles

- More pronounced role-playing elements

- Great soundtrack and voice acting

- Ships on a single DVD!



- Wide-open environments to explore

- Lots of drivable vehicles

- More pronounced role-playing elements

- Great soundtrack and voice acting

- Ships on a single DVD!



Review: Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (PS2)

Review: Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (PC)

Review: Grand Theft Auto III (PC)



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Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

Score: 7.8 / 10


The dialogue is slick if somewhat drenched in profanity; the game world is an open-ended playground to explore; the soundtrack so rockiní it can purchased as an 8-disc box set at retail; the packaging so deceptive and expertly designed it can masquerade as a book; the installation is painless thanks to shipping on a single DVD; the story although somewhat predictable and full of discombobulated plot points has enough twists and turns to keep my interest.  So, why does Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas make me want to drive a meaty paw through my monitor?


grand theft auto san andreas review          grand theft auto san andreas review


Like its predecessors, San Andreas affords gamers the freedom to zip around on foot or in a vehicle (or on a bike) but the quirks of the camera force you to remain constantly vigilant.  After about nine hours into the story I found myself finally getting the hang of things.  If the missions werenít so exacting (and long) the shortcomings of the mouse/keyboard control might be less noticeable.  But when youíre chasing a target and the only reason youíre failing is because you let your attention slip for a split second and move the mouse (the camera) instead of pressing a button on the keyboard, aggravation can set in pretty quick.  There is an option to use the mouse to drive but itís not the default setting Ė you actually have to go into the options and change it.  Anyway, the control isnít what Iíd call intuitive unless you have a good gamepad or are willing to stick out the early gameplay and actually learn to use the keyboard and mouse properly.


You play as CJ, a gangbanger from back in the day, who has just returned from Liberty City.  His mom has been killed and his hood has fallen in significance to the other gangs, and now framed for the murder by a couple of crooked cops, CJ has to take his gang to greatness once more, find out who killed his mom and probably kill the crooked cops.  Right off the bat itís hard to have any sympathy for CJ or any of the characters for that matter.  Your gang is taking drugs instead of offing other gangbangers?  Yeah, thatís just plain terrible!  A virtual sympathy card is on the way.  However unsympathetic the characters are, I did get caught up in the overall story and the branching plot paths (no matter how discombobulated they are).




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And writing of branching plot paths, Rockstar North has once again crafted a huge environment Ė itís a whole frickiní state! Ė with three distinct areas that open as the story moves forward.  Unto itself, each area is massive and the opening level feels as big as the entirety of Liberty City (where Grand Theft Auto III took place), complete with landmarks, parks, residential sections, highways and strip clubs.



If you want you can just drive around listening to the radio Ė and you will want to, if not for the tunes then for the completely off-the-wall commercials.  And with the graphical details turned up, San Andreas can often be spectacular to look at (including a day/night cycle and changing weather) even if the character models are muddy at the best of times.


Also found in San Andreas are eateries, where CJ can gain health or become especially fat, and gyms where CJ can buff himself out and reach physical perfection.  This makes the role-playing elements a little more overt than the previous two GTA titles.  Basically any action that gets repeated improves over time.  For example, running around will increase your stamina, a stat that will let you out-pace your enemies.  CJ can also be outfitted with a variety of clothes and accessories Ė in fact, he can even get his hair cut or get a tattoo.  Spending some time on CJís appearance helps score with the ladies, too.  Believe it or not, there is the chance to date certain woman along the way.  Itís not like Singles or The Sims: Hot Date but the fact itís included should be noted.


grand theft auto san andreas review          grand theft auto san andreas review


Besides the refinements to the overall GTA formula, San Andreas allows some skipping of incidental travel portions of missions.  In practice this means that once CJ has partially completed a mission to a specific point and has to restart (for whatever reason) the less-important travel can be skipped by pressing the Y-button.  Although this diminishes somewhat the need to replay long boring sections again and again to get to the action, itís no replacement for the ability to just restart a mission with a button press.  CJ has to get back to where the mission started so it can be attempted again.  The option to simply restart would have alleviated my own sense of frustration because after failing a mission or worse, winding up outside the hospital with no weapons a few times on any given mission I just felt like giving up.


Another bone of contention is the antiquated save system.  Like previous GTA games, there are only a handful of places where you can save your progress.  I can understand not being able to save your game during a mission, but why the hell should I have to run CJ clear across the map to save my game?  Let me save anywhere!  If I have to start back at one particular location every time I boot the game up, I have no problem with that.  But when I have to trudge across the map to saveÖ Thatís just not good design.  Or at the very least, inconsiderate to the player. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (a console title, no less) is a great example of how a more palatable save system works. (And for the record, Ocarina of Time was released in 1998!)


Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas features a relatively dramatic conclusion but not until youíve played for a good many hours Ė I canít see anyone finishing in under 30 hours and feeling like theyíve seen everything or done all there is to do.  Fans of the series will lap up everything San Andreas has to offer and easily forgive its shortcomings.  But PC diehards will be less tolerant of its keyboard/mouse control scheme, poor save system and lack of ďRestart MissionĒ option, even if the game does have a lot of positives.


- D.D. Nunavut

(June 20, 2005)


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