Who’d have thought Grand Theft Auto V would be such a big disappointment? The characters are clichéd, it has a very western free flowing environment with the inevitable sacrifice of a decent storyline… plus, who was it that said bigger was really better any way? Sure, the Final Fantasy games are big but the main difference is I can actually play them to completion. Put a GTA game in front of me on the other hand and I struggle for ages on the early missions not because they’re particularly difficult, but because I found it so damn hard to co-ordinate the controls. Maybe I’m naturally just not very good at gaming, but considering I’m trying to pass as a reviewer of them I’d hoped to be able to continue the facade a few more years.
The last time I showed real devotion to any GTA game was back in 2005 when I played through San Andreas. This was at great pains to my patience but I stuck with it due to the fairly entertaining RPG elements Rockstar North had incorporated into the game. These, along with the best bits of one of PS2’s greatest hits – such as jet packs, chainsaws, and being able to parachute out of helicopters – were phased out for Grand Theft Auto IV. Of course when I say IV I really mean GTA VI if you include Vice City and San Andreas, or even VII including the London version on PSOne back when no-one really cared about the series because it was 2D and the crimes weren’t as sadistically satisfying, but I think most people gave up trying to work out Rockstar’s clever numbering system when the most intelligent answer anyone could give was encompassed in one simple word: marketing. Certainly it worked in GTA V’s case; the game has already sold more on its name alone than anything else in history.
San Andreas, despite its laughable character design and equally clichéd script about a black family ‘in the hood’, was and continues to be one of the landmark achievements in all of gaming history. It was a big, free-flowing sandbox game back when sandbox games weren’t as common in the industry as fried chicken is to the average American.
Not only did it have a vibrant city in which you could commit cheap crimes, go shopping, get fat by eating too much pizza (yes, really), work out in the gym and ride bicycles at your leisure, but it also had an area of woodland for you to run around in when you felt like getting away from it all for a while. Seriously, of all my memories of the game, the time spent running around doing nothing in the woods is the fondest… which probably doesn’t portray the rest of the game design in the most positive light. But it was a similar sense of freedom that made Red Dead Redemption such a hit in 2010, proving that all modern gamers need to keep them happy is a blank canvas in which they can run around, instead of having to run around in real life because that… that would be boring.
Whereas GTA IV tried to get all mature and filtered out most of what people liked about the series (i.e. everything that made it fun), San Andreas felt like it was unashamedly after your boyish attention by presenting as many gameplay options as possible. While missions weren’t much different than others in the series, clearly giving you a set path to follow, new elements such as stealthy house robberies during twilight hours added a freshness that helped the game stand out alongside the record-breaking GTA III and Vice City before it.
In a rare example for video games at that time, an actual Hollywood actor lent his voice talents to one of the characters, that being Samuel L. Jackson as the crooked police officer Tenpenny. Granted this alone didn’t do much to improve the voice acting overall, but it did perhaps make people realise that gaming in general no longer interested only adolescent boys – it now interested older boys too. This was further encapsulated in the classic 90s soundtrack coming through the game’s impressive collection of realistic radio stations; a good enough reason for in-game carjacking if ever there was one.
And of course, it had jet packs.
It is only now that I wonder about the demographic of people who could possibly be reading this in the near future. Are you one of a gaming generation that came after the glorious PS2 era (if they even exist yet), of which this game was a crowning achievement among many? Maybe you weren’t able to convince your parents to let you play San Andreas at the time, and/ or you’ve been swept up in the GTA V furore without really knowing its roots. In that case, I’d recommend going back and trying this one first. Graphically it won’t spoil you quite as much and you’ll find it hilarious that your character can jump almost as high as a house, but at least it’ll show you there was such a thing as life before Call of Duty 4.
10 / 10.