Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas Review

You often hear sequels glorified by marketing departments with phrases like “bigger, bolder, and badder” than ever before. While this is often merely hype that leads to inevitable disappointment, if Rockstar wanted to market Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas this way they would be completely justified to do so – San Andreas is truly the biggest, boldest, and baddest game in the series yet.

The mean streets of Los Santos.

In San Andreas you are Charles “CJ” Johnson, a resident of the city of Los Santos returning home after five years in Liberty City (home to Grand Theft Auto III). You are not returning under good circumstances as your mother has been killed and your local neighborhood gang is a mere shadow of its former self. Along with your brother Sweet and friends Big Smoke and Ryder, you decide is time to avenge your mother’s death and put your gang back on the map.

Just as Vice City served up a mythological version of 1980s Miami, San Andreas gives you Los Angeles in the early 1990s, a time in which gangland culture ruled the streets of South Central. If you’re familiar with LA then you’ll see a lot of very familiar, if not slightly changed landmarks from the Hollywood sign to the Watts Towers. In spite of this focus on the LA-inspired Los Santos the game is subtitled San Andreas for a good reason. San Andreas is not set entirely in Los Santos, but within an entire California-like state. Also appearing in the game are the cities of San Fierro and Las Venturas, which are inspired by San Francisco and Las Vegas respectively, and all of the countryside in between. You’ll even find small towns and farms scattered across the landscape, so it pays to get off of the superhighways linking the cities and explore the countryside.

As in previous Grand Theft Auto games, San Andreas features a combination of a mission-driven storyline and completely freeform gameplay. Starting a mission is as easy as moving into a glowing red light that serves as the mission marker, but when you take on that mission is entirely up to you. You could conceivably play for hours upon hours without even taking on your first mission in the game, although if you want to unlock all that the game has to offer – including the cities of San Fierro and Las Venturas – you’ll need to periodically take on a mission to advance the game’s story. There are a variety of missions available that include killing gang rivals, driving people between locations, car chases, and heists. Most of the mission types will be familiar to you if you played the prior GTA games, but this does not mean that they are not enjoyable or that they haven’t undergone changes to fit into the game’s gangbanger atmosphere. The story itself is quite good and is very well acted, making you care for CJ and his friends and neighbors in spite of the fact that they are all really violent criminals.

Speaking of gangbanging, like its predecessors San Andreas is a violent game. If you had issues with the other games’ carjacking, prostitutes, and killing of cops and innocent bystanders you should know that you get all of that in San Andreas, as well as new crimes such as tagging, home invasions, and drive-by shootings. Suffice it to say that this is a game that well-deserves its M rating.