Finally I found time to blog a bit about GTA: San Andreas. Let me begin with a brief summary: San Andreas is a great game in the tradition of the GTA series. The level and mission design is certainly better than that of GTA: Vice City, and there have been lots of other improvements.
What is so great about the GTA series of games? Well, I think it is mainly the freedom you have in the game. You can do whatever you want at any time you want. You can go whereever you want to go in the game. Contrast this with my criticism of Brothers in Arms, where you have very static levels that force you into exactly one possible approach to each situation. Also, the games are very anarchistic. Here you can do whatever you want to do, and you don’t have to live with the consequences, especially when driving around in cars. The radio stations with their subversive moderators and highly satirical commercials and chats also help to make this game a lot of fun.
But let’s start with some of the negative criticism. The graphics sucks, of course. It is rather primitive compared to other current games, although there have been a few visual improvements and added effects compared to Vice City. Also, the viewing distance has increased, which is important in the vast level of San Andreas. The poor graphics are of course a legacy of the console heritage of this game. This also explains the rather crude controller options. You can notice how they just mapped the keypad keys to certain keyboard keys, so that you have rather different functions on the same key. On the other hand, shooting with weapons is very easy on the PC, since mouse aiming is so much easier than aiming with a keypad. But there is one crucial advantage over the steering of Vice City: You can now look around inside vehicles using the mouse. This is so much easier than looking around with keypad keys. In Vice City you easily bumped into other cars when driving backwards or turning corners, since the camera view needed a few seconds to adjust to the new direction. This won’t happen in San Andreas!
One of the most visible changes is of course the size of the level. GTA: San Andreas is supposed to simulate a whole US state. It includes three cities: Los Santos (resembling Los Angeles), San Fierro (resembling San Francisco, complete with steep streets and trolley cars), and Las Venturas (resembling Las Vegas). It also includes a lot of smaller villages and an airplane graveyard in the desert. The level is quite diverse. Also, for the first time, there is a whole system of highways between and inside the cities.
The size of the levels offers many opportunities to discover so-called sub-mission. These are missions that are not necessary to complete the main story arc, but are nevertheless challenging. These sub-missions are very different. For example there are the classic taxi missions, where you have to drop off passengers as quickly as possible, race missions with cars or planes, girlfriend missions where you have to please your girlfriends with restaurant visits etc., pimping missions, quarry missions, various driving schools etc. pp.
But of course there is also a main storyline. This storyline is again quite expansive, similar to the Vice City storyline. Also, we get to meet old friends, like Rosenberg and Kent Paul from Vice City and even you character from GTA III and his treacherous girlfriend Catalina! Oh yes, and you take a short trip back to Liberty City.
As I mentioned before one of the strong points of the game is the satire and humor in the game. Unfortunately I personally think that the satiric part was more advanced in Vice City, with the radio moderators being a caricature of modern society or the film studio where they seemingly filmed the moon landing. San Andreas concentrates more on a “sex theme”, which might be shocking or provoking to a more prude audience, but which I personally find rather childish. (Although I have to admit that I laughed out loud when I first saw the new Cherry Popper ice cream wagon.)
Nevertheless the game is a whole load of fun and perfect stress relieve. It brought me many fun hours and I am sure it will bring me more.