Demonstrative of the bigger-is-better approach to game design, San Andreas is an enormous playground of numerous possibilities, each one bigger and more frantic than the last.
The pinnacle of gaming decadence, San Andreas is not only huge but also dense with activity. Ranging from dusty wilderness to bustling cities, the expanse of PlayStation 2’s last Grand Theft Auto is a varied sandbox accommodating for a wide-range of preferences. With distractions as unproductive and madcap as could possibly be conceived, this is the game of choice for fans of the chaotic.
A typically Grand Theft Auto-style mission structure centralizes around recently released protagonist CJ, who is back on the streets of Grove Street for the first time in several years. After a precautionary view to avoid trouble inevitably dissolves into the recess of young Carl’s mind, he picks up where he left off and joins in on the ever-escalating criminality of Los Santos.
Structurally, missions follow an incremental structure that sees CJ start out with odd jobs such as picking up fellow criminals and dropping off packages, all of which escalate in a nice crescendo leading to shootouts, high-octane car chases and other notable arm badges for the respected criminal.
The mass of content available to explore in Los Santos is predominantly of a leisurely nature. Exploration and madness are the focus of this title, which results in a final product that is endless fun. Everything within the title is bigger than its predecessors and thus, San Andreas is a true joy to explore. With more vehicles than Vice City on all fronts, travelling across the sunlit horizons on offer is incredibly rewarding. The speed at which the time passes by as CJ pilots a plane across the skies of Los Santos, is credit to what a rich and thoroughly engrossing world Rockstar Games has crafted.
There is a compromise to be noted for all of this content. Building such an enormity of leisure content to be indulged in does accumulate to a lack of overall focus. For amongst all of the gym work, the flying stunt planes and the eating at Burger Shot, there is a dash of concentration taken from this behemoth. Conversely, although there is plenty to do amongst Vice City’s neon streets, there is also a key theme in Vercetti’s exploits. Whereas here in Los Santos, the distractions know no bounds and thus, interesting as the central narrative may be, it feels secondary in nature to the environment in which it is housed.
This being said, San Andreas is a title that plays to a taste. For those of the exploratory inclination, this is a title that offers up a memory of the ultimate escapist adventure. Playing in any manner, crafting CJ in any form, (make him 20 stone with an excess of burgers and watch as he admirably struggles with the slightest of cardiovascular requests) this is the Grand Theft Auto of variation, to date.
Casting an eye back over this PS2 classic is a moment worth savoring and for those who haven’t experienced the title it’s a must-play. The game is an origin point for an entire sub-genre of larger-than-life, wacky sandboxes. The abstract madness that games such as Saints Row derive from is present here in plentiful supply.
Riding a BMX-bike off the top of a mountain, before hurtling towards the oncoming ground, is something that has to be enacted before its juvenile glory can be appreciated. An experience only amplified by the eruption of a parachute to save the day. It’s ridiculous. It’s nonsensical. It’s incredibly fun.
Revisiting this gigantic playground is a great reference point in the evolution of Grand Theft Auto. San Andreas is an expanse of fun that is heralded by many as the most fun that can be had with a console, and though not without fault, it’s easy to see where such a claim would come from. This is an astounding title even by today’s high standards.
When picking apart the greatest gaming series of all time, it can be difficult to find a clear plan for improvement. However, for Grand Theft Auto V to truly take the mantle of the generation’s greatest, it must take the kind of emergent, varied gameplay of this game and fuse it with the story-driven focus of GTA IV. A recipe that the studio is more than capable of serving up, as was demonstrated in Red Dead Redemption.
This title is a slice of memory pie that may look a little rough around the edges, but holds every thrill it did some 9-years ago. It may not be for everyone, for in trying to be serious and silly simultaneously, it can often be a little tough to swallow the serious. Nevertheless, it’s a milestone in the history of console gaming, and one that gives great insight to the upcoming future of Rockstar Games. Which is more than enough reason to give this excellent title another run around good old Grove Street.
Playstation obsessive and Red Bull fiend. Will play anything and everything. Max Payne champion, adequate FIFA player and hopeless driver. Currently studying Journalism at The University of Salford in the hopes of achieving game-reporting glory. A man can dream.