Review: Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

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Nearly a decade ago, a company called DMA design along with Rockstar Games brought out a game that would become a monumental title in modern computer games. Their title was Grand Theft Auto, and it involved stealing cars, guns and making money in a criminal underworld. The orginal was a top down, fun shooter with a few missions and was a joy to play. Now, eight years, five incarnations (not counting handheld), a new 3D engine and a name change later, Rockstar North bring us the latest installment of the Grand Theft Auto series, so can San Andreas live up to the hype on PC?

After a fantastic run on the PS2, the console smash comes to the PC in fantastic packaging, quite poossibly the best packaging in a long while as the game, along with the manual, is in a hardback book entitled the San Andreas State Guide. If first impressions are everything, the GTA:SA gets off to a great start. Things only get better as the game starts. New to this incarnation of the series are new modes of transport such as bikes – and after a short cutscene you’re thrown out of a car, straight onto a bicycle, and the controls have migrated to PC well, the handling of bikes takes a bit of getting used to, but once you have upgraded your bike stats things start getting a little easier.

Ah yes, stats… another new adittion to the series is that of statistics that are tied to CJ (that’s you by the way) throughout the game. CJ has several stats ties to nearly every aspect of himself, from weight to fitness, driving and even sex appeal, these stats are more than just cosmetic – they are an intergal part of the game. For example, there is one mission which you cannot even accept unless your swimming skill is up to scratch, so you find yourself swimming (Yes,finally the main character can swim!) a lot in order to build the stat up enough to accept the mission. This can be a little annoying at times, however – the content of the game has increased a mind boggling amount since the first incarnation, so you’ll hardly ever find yourself with nothing to do. The stats system, overall, adds a lot more depth into the game, and its always fun to try and get higher stats than your mates!

The missions are nice and varied, and, for the most part, are quite different from GTA III’s “Go here, kill that” missions, although some of these remain. However, the missions are a little more serious in this game compared to those in Vice City, and the game overall is a lot more grittier. The storyline accompanying these missions though is top notch storytelling, and you’ll want to keep playing to find out the next part of the story, which takes Carl along the whole STATE of San Andreas, which be warned, iks incredibly big – to give you an idea, the State is made up of three cities, and each city is as big as Vice City was – and that’s not including the Countryside area you can explore!

As mentioned before, the vehicles are varied and many in number, and once again you can get certain types of sub missions from certain veihcles such as the taxi ones etc, but a few new ones have been added such as the pimpmobile missions. The handling of the cars is more akin to GTA III -ie, rough – compared to the “glidey” feel of Vice City’s cars, but once you have adjusted its straight back into the GTA feel as you cruise around avoiding the police.

Another fantastic inclusion to the game is indoor areas, if you see an arrow you can enter the building and do, well, whatever that buliding will let you do. Some you can rob (as usual) but some offer something which is yet ANOTHER fantastiuc addition to the GTA series, and that is customising CJ. With the range of shops, barbers and Tattooists in San Andreas you can pretty much customise CJ to however you like! Want to make him have a mohawk with Red shades and a tracksuit? No problem! You can even make him walk round in nothing but his boxers (but if you do, you may need help… 😀 ) – the range of customisation is enourmous, and the thought of how this could be improved for the next incarnation is astounding!

Quite simply, this game is a joy to play, and although the graphics are not fantastic, they ARE a marked improvement on the PS2 visuals, with signs being now legible and the resolution sublime. San Andreas may not be the pastel shades of Vice City, but the look gives the game a very different, more serious feel to the place. Overall, this is a game that everyone should try once, theres so much to do and something for everyone – the only quibbles would be that the story seems to be a little shorter than Vice City, and that there are some missions that are infuratingly hard. But from BASE jumping to Driving School, mod garages to plain old hi-jacking, Grand Theft Auto:San Andreas is the game that keeps on giving, and we at The Mad Gamer are proud to give this game our first GOLD AWARD for games that score 90% or more, and we give both Rockstar and Rockstar North a hearty pat on the back.

If you haven’t got it already, get GTA:SA – quite possibly the most fun you can have without being arrested!

Final Score: 93%

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