I spent a few late night hours playing Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas over the Thanksgiving break and loved every minute. It’s amazing that RockStar continues to trump insanely high expectations with each successive installment of the GTA series; they’ve improved on every area of the previous games in big ways.
Before I get into the details, I just want to take a moment and state clearly: this game is not for kids. Emphatic enough for you, Christian Conservatives and deadbeat parents? This game is “worse” than any of the earlier GTA games in terms of violence, language, sex, et cetera. Do you think it’s just a coincidence that the game is rated “M(ature) 17+ for blood and gore, intense violence, strong language, strong sexual content, and use of drugs?” It’s not.
The graphics render smoother throughout every aspect of San Andreas than Vice City: the people, vehicles, buildings, roads, scenery, and vegetation have improved slightly, but the atmosphere at dawn or dusk just blows away the previous GTA’s attempts to recreate the environment. It’s almost beautiful at sunset to watch night descend over San Andreas as “C.J.” flies in a stolen corporate jet. Speaking of the region, it really strikes me as almost unbelieable how objects or scenery do not repeat at all throughout the entire game; previous GTA versions—and many, many other games—look repetitious after exploring a little bit. That just isn’t the case here.
Driving and Traffic
My favorite update to the world of driving that shows up in San Andreas is the very smooth blur effect that happens when your speed gets (more) dangerous; it’s like a type of tunnel vision and shakiness that makes you really feel like you’re in the car or on the motorcycle. The driving control feels more accurate to the vehicles’ real-life handling and accident physics seem much more realistic. However, the most important correction to traffic in this installment is that the AI drivers don’t stop the car and run when you shoot at them or hit them; they do what real people would do: they slam the gas pedal down and weave crazily through traffic. By the way, don’t walk in front of any cars on the freeway or stop your car; the other cars will almost always hit you. Hard.
My third and final section—because everyone loves the rule of three—deals with the actual gameplay in GTA: San Andreas. I’ve touched on a few aspects of gameplay, but I want to specifically address the overall game. As per the norm at RockStar, they’ve managed to tap into a specific world—in this case, that of California in the early 1990s—very well. Ripping into the culture of Bad Boys, COPS, grunge, yuppies, and every gangsta rap video ever produced, RockStar managed to make a game that is both an accurate representation of the culture and a product of that culture at the same time. San Andreas is immersion gameplay. When the digital world is so entertaining that it’s fun to just drive around or watch one of the thousands of different street scenes that play out from busy intersections to peaceful suburbs, congratulations are in order. Don’t get me wrong, the missions are great and vary in difficulties, but the realness of the game makes GTA: San Andreas an instant classic.