Grand Theft Auto - San Andreas

Grand Theft Auto - San Andreas

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is one action title that needs no formal introduction. Released last year for the PS2, San Andreas added a whole slew of features to the long-running GTA-style of gameplay. The GTA series has always been about open-ended gameplay, and the freedom to do whatever you want. San Andreas took this concept and ran with it. In fact, it ran so far that the entire game is overwhelmingly huge, will take you days to complete, all of which makes it the best at what it does. San Andreas has finally hit the PC, and we can get back to the huge freeform gameplay that we have been missing since Vice City. Not much has changed between the PS2 and PC version since San Andreas is a direct port. However, the same advantages that we have come to expect from PC games are easily found here. That would include much more detailed graphics and a much smoother and easier control scheme thanks to the good old keyboard and mouse. They may just be two small differences, but in reality they make San Andreas feel completely new and alive again.


The Story

The story of San Andreas is quite different from the previous games, and is certainly more engaging and interesting. You would think we had seen it all before, and it really makes you wonder what time period they will come up with next. After all, we have already seen the 60's in the old Grand Theft Auto: London 1969, the 80's in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and the 90's in Grand Theft Auto III. So what's next? How about another trip back to the 90's? That's right, San Andreas is held once again in the 90's and nice Liberty City from Grand Theft Auto III is mentioned numerous times as well as briefly visited on a short mission. Actually in one part of the game you'll briefly see the main character that you played in Grand Theft Auto III, and of course he doesn't have much to say, if anything at all.

In Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas you take on the role of Carl Johnson or CJ for short. This isn't the upscale crime life that we're used to seeing in previous titles, but instead it's the ghetto thug-life, or at least as it is portrayed through the Rockstar crew's eyes. Whether or not it is accurate isn't the main attraction here. The fact is that it's simply fun and feels more life-like and realistic than ever. As CJ you can take over gang territories, complete missions for some top-paying people with the aim of bringing back the power of the Grove St. gang. In other words, when you finally complete San Andreas it can all be yours to control and gain money from.


Carl Johnson finally comes back to the ghettos of Los Santos after a five year absence. Five years ago he had to get away from it all and moved to the eastside in Liberty City. Once he hears word that his mother has been killed, he comes back to Los Santos as soon as he can. Unfortunately, he's a little late and misses the funeral, and most of his old homies aren't particularly to pleased to see him. This is especially true for his older brother, Sweet, although his sister Kendl couldn't be happier. His two best friends, Big Smoke and Ryder, are ok with him being back, but as you will soon find out later in the story, they are not exactly the type of friends you would want to keep around.

As soon as CJ arrives in Los Santos he is caught off guard by two crooked police officers. Officers Frank Tenpenny and Eddie Polaski obviously have some bad history with CJ. They want to make you their errand boy again, so you can take care of their illegal matters without them getting caught. Right away they rob you of your money, frame you for the death of a cop, and drop you off right in the middle of an enemy gang territory that belongs to the Ballers. The Ballers are the sworn enemy of the Grove St. gang, which is mainly run by CJ and Sweet. Since CJ left, the Ballers have taken over almost all of Los Santos except for Grove St. itself. Without any weapons or cash, CJ has to make it home to his late mother's house on Grove St. This is where you pick up the controls, and the game really comes to life.

Out of all of the Grand Theft Auto titles so far San Andreas contains the best narrative and most interesting story. The story and violence is brutal, and the violence in San Andreas hasn't changed much from previous titles: Those who were opposed to the GTA series will not find this one any more toned down. There are many characters to be met, and each with their own distinct personalities. CJ's brother is the well-respected leader of Grove St., OG Loc is a wannabe thug street rapper who is terrible with ryhmes, and Tong leader Wuzi is a blind successful business man that you take on missions later on in the game, which leads to some hilarious moments.


The Game

You may not notice it right away, but Los Santos is huge. However, that is only part of it. Taking a quick look at the map will reveal two other cities besides Los Santos. These two cities become unlocked later on, and just one of these cities is twice the size of Vice City from the previous GTA title. So San Andreas (the game) is actually an entire state with three very large cities in it. As you can imagine, it is very easy to get lost here. There are so many roads and back alleyways that only hours and hours of playing will help you to memorize where everything is. Thankfully, San Andreas now includes a new waypoint system within the overhead map. By simply right-clicking the mouse you can actually setup a waypoint on the map for where you want to go. The waypoint will then show up on your radar whilst you are playing, and it will easily direct you to where you need to be. The waypoint can then be taken off by right-clicking the mouse again. Without this helpful tool, we would have been lost many times.

The three cities within the state of San Andreas are all modeled on their real-life counterparts. They may have different names from the real life cities, but the atmosphere and visual appearances remain the same. The three cities are Los Santos, San Fierro, and Los Venturas which represent Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Las Vegas respectively. Each city has a completely different feel and climate. This brings a great deal of variety to the game, and you will spend hours doing so many things in each city.


Los Santos is a large urban area with freeways, side streets and rundown residential districts everywhere. It is home to the most notorious gangs around, including CJ's gang. There are many different areas to Los Santos including the rundown ghetto areas and the downtown urban skyscrapers. There are also more rich neighbourhoods reserved for actors and rappers in Vinewood, not to be confused with Hollywood, and there are also plenty of beaches to visit. Los Santos tends to have a somewhat murky climate due to the pollution caused by the large industrial zone at the docks. It is not exactly paradise, but it's where you will probably spend most of your time fighting gang wars.

San Fierro is quite different from any of the other cities. It is a large metropolis that resembles San Francisco pretty well with its many hills and trolley cars. Out of all three cities, it is definitely the most scenic. There are a number of large docks and even a small island dedicated to being an airport. The large Gant Bridge is a sight to behold as it stretches far across the ocean. The climate in this city is normally rain and fog due to its damp atmosphere. San Fierro is the city where you can eventually own many different businesses such as a chop shop, car lot and electronics store. There are also a lot of factories and warehouses in San Fierro adding to the whole business theme.

Finally, Los Venturas is probably one of the most attractive and enjoyable cities to be in. The main attraction here is the gambling. Driving down the strip you can see casinos left and right. Going inside a casino allows you to play a number of different games such as craps and blackjack. What really makes Los Venturas great are the evening lights. Watching all of the casinos light up at night looks amazing and its a sight that is not to be missed. Los Venturas also contains some upscale neighbourhoods and plenty of places to shop. The climate here is usually quite sunny due to the neighbouring desert.

As if these cities weren't large enough, the commute between all them is an adventure on its own. For example, both Los Santos and San Fierro contain large sprawling country sides that have small farms and towns spread throughout. Los Venturas contains a huge desert equipped with an airplane junkyard and an off-limits military base that resembles Area 51. Depending on which route you take, it can be quite a commute between each city. Besides the usual driving you can also now purchase plane and train tickets to arrive at the different airport and train stations in each city. This is probably the quickest way since you can skip the cinematic by doing so.


San Andreas includes a few new ways to get around besides the conventional cars. One new mode of transportation is bicycles. Bicycles serve as a nice, slow relaxing way to enjoy the scenery. Plus they can be taken just about anywhere, so they can make for some good getaways. Besides also buying plane tickets, for the first time in the Grand Theft Auto series you can actually drive a train. There is a large network of train tracks running through San Andreas, passing through all three cities. It is one of the fastest ways to travel, and it can plow through anything that gets in your way. Motorcycles also make a comeback here with more variety than previously seen. There are choppers, dirt bikes, police bikes and speed bikes which all have their own various abilities and speeds. Aircraft are also much easier to fly now, and include a large amount of different helicopters and airplanes that you can use to take over San Andreas. One of our favorites is the harrier jet which you steal from a military aircraft carrier later in the game. This dangerous fighter can easily switch between hover and flight modes at the touch of a button, allowing you to fly it more like a helicopter or airplane.


Each area of the three cities can contain very different vehicles. For example, the wealthier neighborhoods of San Fierro hold more sports cars while the small countryside towns carry more pickup trucks. Each vehicle can be upgraded a number of ways by taking them to different shops. Every vehicle seems to have its own specific upgrades that can be done. You can install just about anything from new rims and paint jobs to nitrous oxide and new exhaust systems as well as upgrading the sound system which makes the bass sound deeper. There are so many different possibilities for upgrade: it really allows you to truly customize your car to your own liking.

The weapons of San Andreas are not too different from previous titles. You have your usual submachine guns and rocket launchers along with plenty of melee weapons and handguns. There are not many new weapons, but it's CJ's new moves that make the fighting more interesting. When holding the knife you can now perform stealth kills by sneaking up behind people. This brings a different style of combat to the series, and doing this creates an instant kill. There are also some missions where your stealth abilities will have to be used in order to complete the task at hand.

CJ can learn other moves thanks to the local gyms. He can actually work out at the gyms in order to enhance his physical appearance (achieve a more buff body) and lose weight. We will go into more detail about his physical look a little later, but the great thing about gyms is that new fighting moves can be learned from each one. Each city has its own gym and a different set of moves can be learned from each. Each time you learn the new set of moves it overwrites the old ones, and the new ones tend to be more powerful. The gym in Los Santos teaches boxing moves, the gym in San Fierro teaches martial arts, and the gym in Las Venturas teaches more street fighting moves. If you don't like the moves that CJ has you can simply go back to any gym at anytime to learn a different set.


One of the major features of this sequel is the ability to change CJ's appearance just about anyway you want. There are many different types of clothing stores located in all three cities allowing you to customize CJ's looks by buying him new shirts, shoes, pants, eyewear, hats, chains and watches. You can also visit barbershops for a new slick haircut or get some new permanent tattoos. Just like with customizing the cars there's a lot of possibilities and combinations here. However, clothes aren't the only thing that can change CJ's style. You can go to fast food places in order to eat to restore energy and health. However, eating too much will cause CJ to throw up and even gain weight if he doesn't visit the gym. His physical appearance will drastically change if he becomes obese, and people will actually make fat jokes when they see you on the street as well as Sweet, Smoke, and Ryder will occasionally call you telling you to get your fat butt to the gym. Actually going to the gym and exercising regularly will gain a lot of muscle so CJ can look very buff. Thankfully you don't have to visit the gym every single day to maintain a physically fit look.

CJ's fat, muscle and stamina levels are all handled by statistic bars which give San Andreas a slight RPG feel. There are a lot of different statistics, and normally having high statistics in each bar will give you more abilities. For example, having a high stamina level will allow CJ to run and swim longer. That's right, you can actually swim now, and going under water will raise your ability to hold your breath for longer. There are other statistics that monitor your skill with every different weapon as well as your driving and flying skills. Driving, flying and boating skills can also be gained by attending schools dedicated to these areas of expertise and taking classes on them which mainly just involve some simple challenges. One last statistic is CJ's respect level. Having high respect will allow you to take more gang members with you, and eventually you will be able to have around eight of them following you.


Besides the main story missions (that will take you hours to complete), there are plenty of different side missions to keep you busy even longer. There are the usual taxi, police, fire truck and ambulance missions, plus a number of new ones. Some of these new missions include truck missions (where you have to deliver goods to a certain area), different events at the stadiums, street races (which are generally easy) and you can even sneak into people's houses at night to rob them blind. To do this you just have to simply find the right truck parked in the ghetto area of Los Santos at night, drive to just about any house and go inside to unload the house of its many goods.

They are not exactly missions, but owning more gang territories does help you make more money. To take over a territory you have to kill about three enemy gang members in that territory in order to start a war at which point you have to outlast three waves of enemies. It's not terribly difficult, and owning all territory in Los Santos will mean you 'own' the city.

Of course, one of the major advantages the PC has over the PS2 version is the visual quality. The Grand Theft Auto series has never really had outstanding graphics. It was always just good enough. San Andreas is no different, but some new visual effects such as the dynamic shadows, and higher-resolution textures make it look very appealing. It especially looks great when you are playing with the graphic settings maxed out. Although to do so, you may need some high-quality PC hardware to handle the job. Our P4 3GHz, 1GB of RAM, and GeForce 6800GT managed to handle the game perfectly well with a resolution of 1280x1024, 4xAA and 4xAF, and all of the settings maxed out. There is also a viewing distance slider to adjust how far you can see. The viewing distance is much longer than the PS2 version and really allows you to see the full landscape. The only problem we noticed here was the fact that there were some occasional flickering textures mainly in the far distance.


San Andreas includes an excellent soundtrack of hip-hop, techno, rock and country. Like previous PC versions you can also add in your own music thanks to the custom radio station. Once again this GTA title also has a top-quality Hollywood cast backing it up with such stars as Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Penn, James Woods, George Clinton, Chuck D, Peter Fonda and Ice-T to lend their vocal-acting talent.


Overall Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is a huge accomplishment and a truly satisfying title. The PC version reigns supreme over the console versions with a much better control scheme and graphics. San Andreas offers a huge amount of replayability within its large environment, and you can spend hours just doing something as fun and simple as parachuting out of airplanes. It's just simply an amazing game that has to be experienced first hand. The Grand Theft Auto series still remains the king of freeform gameplay.
First release
Last update

More resources from PCGS