By the time October 2004 was upon us, the Grand Theft Auto series and Rockstar had already made themselves household names with gamers and the public worldwide. GTA 3 saw the first 3D effort by Rockstar and this became the breakthrough that the series and everyone wanted. GTA Vice City built on the great gameplay which had made the third title such a success with great results. When San Andreas hit the shelves on October 29th, 2004, people were queuing from before midnight, leaving work early and calling in sick to work just so they could get their hands on this masterpiece which Rockstar had created. As soon as I played this game, I immediately fell in love.
At this point in my life, I was 15 years old (which meant I was below the age rating on the game!) and my favourite genre of music at the time was Hip-Hop. The setting, characters, atmosphere and story all appealed to me at what I thought was the typical “gangsta” way of life. The protagonist, Carl Johnson was your typical Grand Theft Auto main character. He was someone who has come from nothing with the aim of making a name for himself and had recently returned to San Andreas after his mother’s death. From the beginning, you could feel yourself getting to know the characters inside out. Fellow members of the Grove Street gang were Sweet, Big Smoke and Ryder. These characters provided a feeling of close family, once you had won them over in the beginning of course. The cast of characters was huge and included people such as The Game, James Woods and Ice T to name but a few who voiced characters in the game.
The improvements which San Andreas had featured from Vice City weren’t hugely noticeable but, there weren’t many changes needed to the gameplay. Players could create stereotypical drive-by shootings, dramatic leaping out of a moving car and stunt driving moves. When you compare the gameplay at that time and games now, it may not seem revolutionary or definitive but, at the time, everything came together brilliantly like a gun-toting American visiting Ammu-Nation. As I have already mentioned, the setting was an excellent part of the game. From the poverty stricken ghettos to the bright lights of Las Venturas, the setting was terrific. Even the Vinewood sign depicted how highly Los Santos (based on Los Angeles) was aiming, in terms of glamour, but the gang culture had ruined surrounding areas.
The story was in typical GTA style and made you feel emotionally attached to CJ and characters close to him. From heart-breaking moments where friends and family have passed away to CJ being betrayed by people he thought he knew, you feel what CJ must have been feeling emotionally. I know I was! GTA: SA is such a diverse game that it falls under so many categories. It could be considered as a shoot-em-up, action, driving, and RPG game and I believe this is why the series has been so popular. The series can appeal to so many types of gamers and allow them to play the game how they want to (known as a sandbox title of course).
Many believe that GTA’s missions are mostly all the same. Drive here, kill these guys, get chased and lose the chasers. I don’t believe this is the case with San Andreas at least. There are several missions which come to mind when you think of San Andreas. ‘Are you going to San Fierro?’ is one that springs to mind in which CJ has to burn all of the Truth’s drug supply before the police come. As far as missions in games go, this one is extremely strange. ‘End of the line’ is another which many gamers will remember as the final mission in which a traitor is finally brought to justice in tremendous fashion. Not only are the missions excellent, but also the smallest things keep you entertained. The first vehicle you get is a BMX bike and, although there is no music keeping you entertained on the journey, it is the most fun I had in a vehicle until I discovered the next thing. One thing I used to do is that I would obtain an ambulance, camper van or large vehicle and drive it to the top of Mount Chiliad, if it would get up the huge gradient. Then I would drive as fast as I can off the edge of the cliff and as well as falling a massive height, the large vehicle would tumble down the hill and get even faster. It was such a simple thing to do but was hilarious to watch.
Customisation was a large chunk of the game as well with tattoos, haircuts, clothing and body size all being able to be customised by the player. Even though the graphics at the time were not what they are today and the tattoos looked poor, it was still great fun to do. Choosing how your CJ should look was an excellent feature by Rockstar, especially the gym mini games and when you opted to ride a bike it helped you become fitter. All great features in a great game!
As much as everyone is looking forward to Grand Theft Auto V, I think it’s important that no-one forgets where San Andreas made its name with a lowly ‘gangsta’ CJ who became a huge success through hard work, determination and some hilarious missions. Looking back on the game I still believe that the charm it had in 2004 still exists and is why some gamers still play the game from time to time. I still have my original copy for the Playstation 2 and will never lose it. I can only hope that GTA V is at least 10% of the game San Andreas was and if it is, it will be a huge, huge success (although it will be anyway). I implore you to play it if you can on either a current generation console or previous version. I know from time to time I play the game and I am still as much in love with it now as I was 8 years ago.
Thank you Rockstar. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!