by Sergio Brinkhuis
reviewed on PC
It's a review, really...
[honeyed voice] The first Grand Theft Auto was a cute little game that appealed to the darker urges of young men to do things that, in all honesty, they shouldn't. Being relatively harmless wasn't necessarily what the developers had in mind. In fact, technological restrictions were probably the main reason for its high cute factor. Even so, politicians and parents alike went down on the game as if the day of judgment had come and all that could safe mankind was the banishment of Grand Theft Auto. Each sequel was plagued by the same problems and as technology improved, the violence became more and more graphic. Developer Rockstar has had to defend itself for the blatant aggression and vile acts in the game, that just aren't fitting for a game and most definitely shouldn't be played by youngsters.
Blah! Parents should watch what their kids are playing. Simple as that. We can continue this conversation in the forums should you wish. For now, let us bypass this nonsense and get on with the review shall we?
Enter Carl Johnson
The people at Rockstar are multiculturally minded. This time you play Carl Johnson (CJ). A black homeboy who fled the city of San Andreas (based loosely on Los Angeles) five years earlier to start a new life elsewhere. He returns after his mother has been brutally murdered, only to be framed by the police for a murder he didn't commit, the moment he steps on San Andreas soil. The bad news doesn't stop there. Your old gang, headed up by your brother Sweet, is less than a shade of its former glory. Almost all of the formerly owned territory has been taken over by the Ballas gang and they're rapidly moving in on the last of your gang's turf. On top of it all, the police seem to be involved in more of the affairs of your homies than you're comfortable with. In short, you have your work cut out for you!
Size does matter
San Andreas is a monster of a game. Size wise I mean. As before, several parts of the game will open up as you progress through the missions and each part is big enough to lose yourself in. In fact, without the aid of the map and a handy little tool that lets you select a destination that sticks on your minimap, you'd be lost more often than not. But it doesn't stop there. The game boasts three full fledged cities and two areas outside of the cities. After a week and a half of playing, I've only just started on the second part of the game (you can do it a lot faster though). It's huge! Right from the start you're being introduced to three of your homies and each comes with a set of missions. Over the course of the game, missions are used to introduce yet more characters that, you guessed, bring you more missions. Most missions feel like side quests but many serve to further the storyline. Early on for instance, you'll be very busy beefing up your arsenal and the in-game movies between missions often explain why you need to do all that. They will also explain some of the overall storyline, revealing hints as you progress through the game. Like a good book or movie, the storyline is exposed bit by bit and you'll find yourself guessing and doubting for a long time. That said, it should be noted that the game feels more scripted than say, Vice City. Not that this is in any way confining you as you still have the same freedom to do as you please for as long as you want. Better yet, there's a lot more to do for the entrepreneurial gangster, but more about that later.
The missions themselves are more varied than before. You still get to do all the cool stuff like drive-by's, races and assassinations but in between, Rockstar has decided to take the plunge and incorporate some Dance Dance Revolution, though with a twist. A fun mission came early on in the forum of a lowrider contest. Using car hydraulics, you're asked to make a car dance to the tune of the music. Directional arrows show you how to achieve a good dance. Later on, using the same idea, you get to impress the girls by dancing yourself as well. Perhaps these missions aren't as hardcore as the rest, they are a fun interlude from killing opposing gang members, boarding a train and throwing crates of ammunition off of it and chasing a traitor with a motorbike.
When there are no adversaries, kill time instead
For some missions, you need to wait a couple of hours before they become available (the game will tell you this) as for instance looting a house is better done in the middle of the night. This spare time can be used to for instance increase some of your stats. San Andreas comes with a simple but effective RPG system where for instance working out reduces your fat (eating increases it) and increases your muscle. Many stats are affected outside of the gym though. Stamina, health, your skill in handling particular weapons and many more go up without needing any practice, but can also go down.
Another cool feature to kill time are the vigilante, taxi and pimping missions. These pop up as you grab hold of certain vehicles. Driving around the city as a cabbie can earn you a nice sum of cash. Speed is rewarded with better tips but be careful, damage your care and your tip decreases dramatically. Pimping missions are a bit more work, but far more lucrative. Pick up a girl, take her to her client and return later to pick her up for some serious cash. Occasionally you'll have to rough up some dude who refuses to pay, but that's all part of the job, right?
No Pros and Cons at this time