by Sergio Brinkhuis
reviewed on PC
A lot of your time will be spent driving cars. Varying from the above mentioned missions to drive-by's and the occasional race, the vast majority of your game time will be spent on four wheels. Every car handles differently but none of them will make you feel very comfortable driving them. Even as your driving skill improves, cars handle like wet rags that sweep the roads at high speed. I can't imagine Rockstar didn't do this on purpose as they've had ample time to improve car handling over the years, so it must be a feature to increase the difficulty of the game. Personally, with so much time behind the wheel, I'd have preferred it if cars would have stuck to the road a bit more. Oh and don't even get me started on driving bikes...
I actually got suckered into another big past-time and did so disturbingly easily. At some point in the first part of the game, you're being asked to go pester Ballas and reclaim some of your lost territory. By then you'll have earned some respect from your brothers, so you can bring some along when you pick a fight. This sounds more fun than it is. Depending on your level of respect, you can bring between three and seven homies along on any of your undertakings. They'll help you fight enemy gangs, will take care of pesky police officers, and... will get in your way, get easily distracted and have horrible path finding so you have to wait for them all the time. The system works, but barely and in the end I preferred to go Rambo and take care of my problems by myself. Taking enemy territory is very satisfying, though quite difficult in the beginning as wave upon wave of gangsters are coming at you. Fortunately it gets easier as your weapon skills increase and you learn to use the tactical aspects of this part of the game. At that point, taking over enemy gang territory is very satisfying and I think I spent at least 6 hours to try and destroy all enemy gangs.
Warfare is tricky business however, and you'll die quite often, despite wearing armor and carrying AK's and M4's. Some territories are far from home and thus far from a place to save your progress as you still have to return home to do so. Fortunately you can buy safe houses that are located all over the map. They're expensive but every territory owned pays a tribute so money becomes less hard to come by.
No graphical splendor
Even if the sheer size and the brutality of the game are big Wow factors, the graphics are not. Sure, they've improved considerably over the last iteration, but amidst titles like Half-Life 2 and Doom III, they look pretty poor. Then again, most games do and the graphics and especially the attention to detail make the game attractive enough to never be boring. Besides, they're a ton better than the PS2 version of the game and millions of gamers have thoroughly enjoyed that version of the game. The design of the fictional city of San Andreas makes up for a lot too. Each area of the map has a distinct and unique feel to it and there's a definite 'Southern state at the Mexican border' feel to the city. This is enhanced even further by the population of each area. Some area's are almost exclusively black, others are overwhelmingly Mexican. Considering you're playing 'hood wars', this too feels right. One thing I shouldn't fail to mention are the heat waves. Every now and then the city heats up so much that you can see the air become hazy with heat. A neat little feature that brings even more life to the city.
Character animation has been given a big overhaul compared to Vice City. Movements are lifelike and fluid and some movements almost make you forget you're playing a game rather than watching a movie. This becomes especially apparent during the ingame movies. Combined with some top rate voice acting, the movies are fun to watch and I never felt the urge to skip to the mission. One of the most colorful game characters I've ever encountered in a game is CJ's friend OG Loc. This guy is a self pronounced gangsta-rapper who is 'on the verge of making it big in music'. He'll give you several missions and almost all are closely related to his desired profession. OG Loc just got out of jail and his current occupation is 'hygiene technician', thus he give you his missions from the local version of Burger King. Watching this guy sweep floors and get distracted by the broomstick that is so easily mistaken for a microphone, is simply hilarious.
I must say that I'm pleasantly surprised with San Andreas. The PS2 version caused me to worry a little but in the end I think the PC version proves that the PS2 version is be constrained by the technical limitations (mainly graphical) of the console. With no such limitations, San Andreas is proving to be a very entertaining game. The storyline has been tightened up a little and is far more present than before. The NPC's are more active and you'll find them in your car bitching at your driving and explaining the current mission as often as not. In Vice City, I often felt I was alone in a world of anonymous pedestrians and drivers but in San Andreas there's no such feeling. Navigating the city has been made a little easier and despite the increased map size, you don't really get lost anymore.
So the graphics aren't anything to write home about, but especially considering the size of this game, they're nothing to be ashamed about either. My car handling gripes may be a matter of personal taste so don't let that stop you from purchasing this game either. If you can appreciate a good action movie with lots of violence and gore, then I'm sure you'll appreciate San Andreas as well. If you faint at seeing blood or have religiously forsworn violence in any form. pass this one up and have the rest of the world annoy you with the stories of all the cool stuff they've done in the game. :)
No Pros and Cons at this time