Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

By Shamus Posted Friday Jul 27, 2018

Filed under: Retrospectives 63 comments

I think this one is easily the highlight of the Grand Theft Auto franchise. While writing this series, I played just enough of the other games to get the screenshots I needed, but San Andreas pulled me in and got me to hang around long after I had captured the required images.

The world is immense, the gameplay is packed with interesting things to do, the story is slightly less dissonant than is typical for Rockstar, and the humor is better than it’s ever been. (Before or since.) Same goes for the soundtrack. There’s even a light dusting of sim / RPG gameplay where it allows you to build up the protagonist’s skills and physique. You can be skinny, pig out and get fat, or hit the gym and bulk up. All of this is driven organically by your in-game behavior, which means all that time fooling around in the open-world stuff is actually making some long-term progress.

It’s not a perfect game, but there’s a lot to love.

Go Big or Go Homie

According to the watermark, this map was made by a fan? I found it on a forum without attribution link. I don't know who Tia is / was, but they made a really good map.
According to the watermark, this map was made by a fan? I found it on a forum without attribution link. I don't know who Tia is / was, but they made a really good map.

I don’t think anyone would have complained if the gameworld was roughly the size of Liberty City or Vice City. So it’s admirable that Rockstar – already the undisputed king of open-world urban settings – was still pushing the technology forward. The technology had matured to the point where the game could support a map that was vastly larger than the one in Grand Theft Auto III, even though both games targeted the same hardware. Not only was the map bigger, but they got rid of the flow-breaking loading screens, making a huge seamless expanse of gamespace. On top of that, it wasn’t just bigger for the sake of being huge, but actually offered a great deal of visual diversity.

To the southeast is Los Santos. (Los Angeles.) To the west of that is a forested region with Mt. Chiliad, which I’m pretty sure is supposed to represent the Big Sur region of California. To the north of that is San Fierro. (San Francisco.) East of that is the mercifully undersized desert, and beyond that is Las Venturas. (Las Vegas.) This gargantuan map dwarfed anything the previous games had attempted, and in some ways it feels like the largest game they’ve ever made. Sure, GTA V is easily bigger in terms of square miles, but it only has the one major city. The three cities of San Andreas make the world feel immense, even if they’re undersized and comically close together.

To give a sense of how much the gameworld had grown, here’s the GTA III map on top of the San Andreas map:

There's no precise way to match the scale, but going by street and block size we can make this rough approximation.
There's no precise way to match the scale, but going by street and block size we can make this rough approximation.

Note also how much of the GTA III map is water, while the San Andreas map has a larger portion dedicated to playable gamespace. Again, both of these games ran on the same hardware, and San Andreas didn’t have inter-island loading screens. GTA III was already a technological marvel, and yet here Rockstar found a way to outdo themselves yet again.

This is not to denigrate the other entries in the series. I’m just saying this was a big game with a lot of content, and its clear it was created because the team wanted to go big, not because there was a strong business case for doing so. They could have chopped this map in half and it still would have been larger and more impressive than anything they’d done before.

In Case You Missed It

CJ has been in town for five minutes and already Officer Tenpenny has stolen his cash and framed him for the murder of a police officer.
CJ has been in town for five minutes and already Officer Tenpenny has stolen his cash and framed him for the murder of a police officer.

While released in 2004, San Andreas takes place in the world of 1992, in a setting made to resemble the inner city dramas and struggles of South-Central Los Angeles in that time period. The story contains all of the familiar markers: Gang violence, civilians terrorized by brazenly corrupt police, riots, non-glamourous drug dealing, and lots of rap music. Like the other games, it draws heavily from the movies set in the same period: Menace II Society, Colors, Boyz n the Hood, New Jack City.

CJ returns home to Los Santos from Liberty City after his mother is killed in a drive-by shooting. As soon as he arrives in town, he’s stopped by the ruthless Officer Tenpenny (Samuel L Jackson) and is coerced into doing dirty work for Tenpenny’s corrupt police unit.

CJ attends his mother’s funeral and then reconnects with his friends: His brother Sweet, his sister Kendl, and his friends Big Smoke and Ryder. At home, there’s a lot of tension between their street gang Grove Street and their larger and more dangerous rivals, the Ballas. Grove Street is a benignThey’re benign in the sense that they don’t actively use drugs and violence to extract wealth from otherwise peaceful people. They still shoot up the neighborhood in turf wars. gang focused on family, while the Ballas are more explicitly a criminal enterprise fueled by drug money.

Over the course of the game, Sweet gets put in prison. CJ ends up doing dirty jobs for Tenpenny, investigating his mother’s murder, and having a series of crazy adventures in the desert. Eventually CJ avenges his mother’s death, gets his brother out of prison, and brings down Tenpenny.

Heart

Left to right: The obnoxious Ryder, our brother Sweet, and sister Kendl.
Left to right: The obnoxious Ryder, our brother Sweet, and sister Kendl.

This provides a pretty stark contrast with the previous game. In Vice City, your entire goal was to build an empire on drug money. In San Andreas, your nominal goal is to stop the flood of drugs into your neighborhood. Rockstar could have taken the easy and obvious way and made this yet another game about building an empire, but that would have come off as crass and tone-deaf in this context. Instead they tried to harmonize the story with the setting,

This is also the only Grand Theft Auto game to show genuine heart. When CJ mourns for his mother, makes peace with his brother, or reaches across racial lines to connect with CesarKendl’s hispanic boyfriend, much to the disapproval of her family. the game is happy to play these scenes straight. The silent protagonist of GTA III kept us from forming any connections with the characters, so it all felt sort of distant. Vice City was too brutal and hard-hearted (which is in keeping with its Goodfellas / Scarface origins) to show much in the way of affection between characters. In GTA V, every possible moment of pathos is undercut with dumb jokes or reminders that the characters are all disgusting selfish creeps not worth caring about.

In contrast, the characters in San Andreas genuinely love each other and form relationships we care about. No, it’s not a sentimental story. But it allows itself occasional moments of sentiment, and I think those moments make the game so much more interesting. I cared more about Cesar than I ever cared about stupid bowling with Roman in Grand Theft Auto IV, even though Roman was central to the story and Cesar was just a supporting character.

Boss of the Week

We end up doing jobs for Sweet, Ryder, and Big Smoke. But unlike other "bosses", these guys are our homies and connecting with them and the neighborhood is a big part of the game. These guys are relevant in a way that (say) the corrupt police guy in GTA III was not.
We end up doing jobs for Sweet, Ryder, and Big Smoke. But unlike other "bosses", these guys are our homies and connecting with them and the neighborhood is a big part of the game. These guys are relevant in a way that (say) the corrupt police guy in GTA III was not.

The other thing that San Andreas has going for it is that it still has a sense of fun. You end up working for a lot of crazy people in the story. During your time in the desert you help hippie conspiracy-theorist weed dealer The Truth (in a brilliant turn by Peter Fonda) do some jobs. You work for the hilarious blind Triad gang leader Wu Zi when you get to Las Venturas. You do jobs for the dry-witted Agent Mike Toreno (solid performance by James Woods) who conscripts CJ into doing some off-the-books wetwork for whatever unsupervised government agency Toreno is running.

Sure, like the other GTA titles you don’t always have a great in-world reason to be working for these jokersI still can’t remember why CJ was working for Wu Zi.”. Or at least, it’s not always clear how their tasks advance your ultimate goal. But they’re still amusing characters with wild jobs for you to do. That all changes when we get to GTA IV and the writer veers away from humor and makes most of the bosses dull creeps.

Another thing San Andreas gets right is the “collectibles” minigame. In the previous games you just explored to find these generic “hidden packages” sprinkled around the corners of the world. It was an early precursor to the kind of thing Ubisoft would later overdo in their open-world games. But here in San Andreas instead of having you look for packages they have you hunting for gang tags. This brilliantly integrates the collectible hunt with the setting, while making the collectibles more visually interesting.

Gang Violence

Later in the story I'll be killing these guys by the carload. (Literally.)
Later in the story I'll be killing these guys by the carload. (Literally.)

If I have to complain about somethingAnd let’s face it: I do., I guess I found the gang warfare stuff to be in poor taste. Once the story gets rolling, you can fight the Ballas for control of the city. There’s this mild strategy element to it, where the city is divided into neighborhoods, and you must conquer them one at a time. Just roll into a Ballas neighborhood and start shooting everyone wearing purple. The civilians will run for it and you’ll have to face several waves of guys. If you survive, then the ‘hood is yours and this section of the map will turn green.

The more territory you have, the more money you make. I’m not sure where this money is supposedly coming from. The story makes it clear that Grove Street isn’t a drug operation, so how are you turning a profit? Is CJ running a protection racket? Are the people donating to your cause? Am I just overthinking this?

Previously I’ve said that I didn’t like that the game has you engaging in so much gang warfare. Around the time I’ve blown up my fifth carload of young black men with hand grenades, I start feeling like maybe this is all pretty gross.

But that doesn’t make sense, does it? I’ll willingly run over random civilians while cruising around townAnd laugh while I’m doing it., but now I’m suddenly uncomfortable because my foes are shooting back? That doesn’t make any sense. What’s going on here?

I think the problem doesn’t have anything to do with the portrayal of gang violence. I think the real problem is that this violence is portrayed as an unambiguous “good” by the mechanics. As the game frames it, I’m killing “bad guys”, claiming territory, and (somehow) getting rich. The rhetorical position of the game is that this activity is productive. I suspect this is the bit that makes it feel weird. Yes, young men shooting each other in the street over gang colors was a real problem at this time and place and history, and since this is a game nominally about South-Central LA it makes sense to incorporate those elements into gameplay. But the game goes one step too far and portrays this terrible pointless waste of human life as a useful and quasi-heroic endeavor.

Yes, the game has a few other rough spots. I only bring these up to avoid people saying, “Shamus, I can’t believe you didn’t mention X!” in the comments. So here:

Rough Spots

My current mission is to spray over these purple gang tags. Here the janky police AI has accidentally crashed in this yard and trapped his car in front of my goal.
My current mission is to spray over these purple gang tags. Here the janky police AI has accidentally crashed in this yard and trapped his car in front of my goal.

The mission “Wrong Side of the Tracks” is infamously unfair, and the ending taunt of “All you had to do was follow the damn train, CJ!” was just salt in the wound. This mission has you chasing a train on a motorcycle, and it’s filled with stupid “gotcha” moments. The challenge is poorly explainedOne of the major reasons for mission failure is if you get too CLOSE to the train, Big Smoke doesn’t properly adjust his aim and he ends up hitting the side of the train. You see him shooting and think you’re making progress, but you’re not., there are surprise obstacles that jump out in front of you, the barks are repetitive and unhelpful, and the whole thing seems to be designed to frustrate the player. Big Smoke only has three guys to kill and the player knows from experience that it should only take a few shots to kill each of them. But between their beefed-up hitpoints, Smoke’s terrible aim, and his inexplicable slow rate of fire, it takes him forever to bring these guys down. Blaming the player for the apparent failings of this annoying NPC companion was not a good design decision.

While we’re at it, the mission OG Loc is pretty obnoxious as well. It bears a striking resemblance to a similar motorcycle chase in GTA IV, where the designer pops up tutorial messages like you’re supposed to be shooting at your target, but he’s actually invincible and you’re just supposed to keep up with him. It’s another mission that changes the rules without telling you, lies to you about what your goals are, harrangues you with taunts to go faster when that’s the opposite of what you should be doing, and encourages you to waste all your bullets on an invincible target before dropping you into an ambush against a group of foesIt’s also got some ugly homophobia that’s probably accurate for this time and place in history, but is likely to make a lot of people sad / uncomfortable. I’m not really equipped to analyze this sort of thing, so I’m just noting it here so you don’t think I didn’t notice..

Disclosure: I didn't get far enough in my current play-through to hit this mission yet, so this is swiped from YouTube.
Disclosure: I didn't get far enough in my current play-through to hit this mission yet, so this is swiped from YouTube.

Nobody else has complained about this, but I always thought the mission Deconstruction was pretty messed up. A bunch of construction worker guys are giving Kendl wolf whistles and shouting crass stuff at her, so CJ attacks the site, traps the foreman in a port-a-john, and buries him alive in a grave of shit. That’s a more brutal ending than any of our main villains get, and the story never even makes it clear that this guy personally did anything wrong. I get that catcalls are annoying, but this seemed like such an absurd over-reaction that I resented CJ for it. I think it would help if we in the audience actually got to hear some of the catcalls for ourselves so we could feel some anger towards these guys. As it stands, Kendl just says the construction guys are bothering her and CJ decides to make someone suffocate to death in a box of public shit for an offense we never personally witness.

And it should go without saying, but this game also suffers from the same mid-game slump that all of the modern Grand Theft Auto titles do – the plot gets completely lost and we end up doing a bunch of missions for random people with no real connection to any of our main goals.

Having said all that, San Andreas is a stellar game. The setting is vivid, the characters are interesting and occasionally likable, the world is immense and full of detail, and the story is the best this developer has ever made.

 

Footnotes:

[1] They’re benign in the sense that they don’t actively use drugs and violence to extract wealth from otherwise peaceful people. They still shoot up the neighborhood in turf wars.

[2] Kendl’s hispanic boyfriend, much to the disapproval of her family.

[3] I still can’t remember why CJ was working for Wu Zi.”

[4] And let’s face it: I do.

[5] And laugh while I’m doing it.

[6] One of the major reasons for mission failure is if you get too CLOSE to the train, Big Smoke doesn’t properly adjust his aim and he ends up hitting the side of the train. You see him shooting and think you’re making progress, but you’re not.

[7] It’s also got some ugly homophobia that’s probably accurate for this time and place in history, but is likely to make a lot of people sad / uncomfortable. I’m not really equipped to analyze this sort of thing, so I’m just noting it here so you don’t think I didn’t notice.



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63 thoughts on “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

  1. Tizzy says:

    I think this one is easily the highlight of the Grand Theft Auto franchise.

    That’s unfortunate, because enjoying GTA3 and Vice City, I had such GTA fatigue that I never tried this one. The main driver of that fatigue being the inability to progress the stories because of the DIAS gameplay.

    1. Jamey says:

      This, unfortunately for me as well.

      1. Benjamin Hilton says:

        I got it on a sale, got stuck doing the same early mission to burger town or whatever like 6 times in,a row due to DIAS gameplay, put it down and never went back.

    2. Dreadjaws says:

      Same here. The highlight of the franchise for me is V precisely because it feels less DIAS-heavy than all the other ones, but I actually skipped San Andreas, IV being the first game in the franchise I actually bothered finishing (mostly out of a desire of finally getting to the end in one of these games, because it was a frustrating experience).

      Then, when V came out I actually enjoyed myself more. Yeah, the story was dumb, and the characters preposterous, but it was a step up from all the previous entries in many ways.

      I noticed that everyone praises San Andreas better than any other game in the franchise, but, silly as it sounds, I never actually stopped to think that it was actually because it was the better one.

  2. DanMan says:

    GTA bothers me in the same way the really “Soapy” TV shows my wife watches do. In order to create drama, characters are made to be miserable. So the people you care about are in pain, and the people you don’t like are causing it. Eventually, the people you care about might “win”, but the series must go on, so that’s always temporary. Then, either those people you care about turn bad, or something bad happens to them. I just feel run down by the end.

    I feel like that was part of the reason GTA V went the way it did. You don’t mind if bad things happen to these awful people. Go ahead, laugh at them for being so bad and bad things happening to them. The problem is that you are actively working to make these awful people succeed

  3. Karma The Alligator says:

    San Andreas was my first proper look at a GTA game (GTA 1 and 2 bored me within minutes, and I never tried 3 or Vice City), and I greatly enjoyed driving around and exploring the map (what wasn’t locked by story progress, anyway), but the story itself never really grabbed me, and in fact I ended up resenting it because a lot of the missions were mini-games that had their own rules and set of skills that weren’t used anywhere else (I mostly remember those rhythm games with cars). That train mission (that all I had to do was follow, apparently) was as far as I got before giving up.

  4. DeadlyDark says:

    Considering that catcalling mission. I find that overreaction realistic (at least, from what I’ve heard about similar stories). Men (especially relatives) have that urge to protect women (and their honor) against other men.

    1. Chris says:

      There is a difference between showing up with a gun at the guy’s doorstep and burying him in shit to kill him.
      Heck, even tony montana in scarface didn’t go this far, and his brain was wrecked by cocaine

      1. DeadlyDark says:

        True.

        I don’t think, when I played this mission both times, that I gave any thoughts to the premise, to be honest. Wonder, how I’ll see it now

      2. Daemian Lucifer says:

        These are the stereotypical gangstas though.This kind of gangstas.

    2. BlueHorus says:

      It’s the extremity of the reaction.
      If the mission were ‘go to the construction site and confront the builders, ending in a brawl’, then that would have made sense.
      (also, potential for a fun fight on the construction site with improvised weapons?)

      Killing the the foreman – and just him – (What about the other guys? Where’s their toilet-based revenge?) seems psychotic. Especially since we’re nominally supposed to like CJ as an audience.

      All that said: at the time I assumed that the ‘death by portajohn was’ – as GTA often does – a reference to a film. And since I knew/know almost nothing about 1990s gang culture, I assumed I just missed it.
      I remember something like that happening in a Lethal Weapon film?

      1. Syal says:

        Hell, it’s a GTA game; “kill everyone and burn down the construction site” would be appropriate. But when I hear foreman, I think “the guy that’s telling the other guys to knock it off and get back to work”, AKA the absolute last person to hold responsible for catcalls.

        Unless this is, you know, a gang of construction workers, in which case okay kill the gang leader I guess.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Its a gta game,so it most definitely is a gang of construction workers.

        2. deiseach says:

          I found Deconstruction disconcerting for this reason as well. Shamus is right when he says CJ has heart, so his psychopathic behaviour here seems to come out of nowhere. The villain in Lethal Weapon 3 repulsed everyone around him with a stunt like this, yet we’re meant to be rooting for CJ. Strange story choice.

      2. Asdasd says:

        By way of contrast, this is the baseline for Saints Row, where the reaction to a mission like this would be along the lines of ‘oh that wacky Boss! That’s why I love this series over GTA, it has a sense of fun about it!’

        I think Tvtropes calls it ‘refuge in audacity’ or something.

        1. BlueHorus says:

          Well, that and who actually *likes* the Boss? I’m not sure even the other characters in the games do.
          There’s at least two times in the games where one of the smarter characters* points out the sheer number of dead friends etc that the Boss’s actions have earned him –
          and the Boss has no answer beyond saying ‘Fuck you!’
          Saints Row never tried to portray the player character as anything other than a not-very-bright bullet-sponge.

          *well, smart for a Saints Row game

        2. JBC31187 says:

          Saints Row 2 tries to keep the crazy stuff between bad guys- Evil vs. Evil, to quote TvTropes. Even side missions like FUZZ or Bodyguard have you fighting chainsaw maniacs or crazed porn fans. So it’s not so bad when you murder your psychopathic counterpart in creative new ways.

      3. Doc Bones says:

        I recall that, during that mission, construction workers DO spawn in to try and keep you from drowning their boss in their own juices. They get off easy, because you just have to shoot them, instead of murdering them in the most unnecessarily horrible way you could manage.

  5. DeadlyDark says:

    I remember a review, of San-Andreas. Review compared SA to big fat tasty burger. And yeah, it was just a little too big for its own good. But I still 100% it (five years later).

    I think, Vice City has right size of the map

  6. Misamoto says:

    I still believe it to be the best game in the series. While GTA4 is somewhat terrible, GTA5 in my opinion doesn’t give you the same sense of empowerment. Sure, San Andreas empowerment levels are ridiculous, jetpack, and personal airfield with a gunship, but those things make the game fun and give you a feeling of accomplishment. GTA5 just never gave me anything cool. I also miss owning businesses a lot, for the same reasons.

    I also liked how different parts of map feel differently. When you first get kicked out of first city and thrown into rural area, and suddenly everything changes – how vehicles behave, how environment looks, the kind of people who send you on missions. GTA5 didn’t get that too.

    1. Cubic says:

      Agree, GTAV was a bit of a let-down if you remember San Andreas.

      Though TBH the GTAV missions were quite good, I enjoyed the ending(s), and I thought the heists were an excellent evolution. The game just lacked a bit of spirit. And most or all of the people you met were hateful idiots or worse.

    2. RichardW says:

      Depending on how you look at it, GTA V did get pretty much all of those things over time… in the multiplayer. Running a criminal empire, managing businesses, properties, etc. is a huge part of GTA Online, but it’s bogged down by all the monetization requirements and a lot of people probably won’t see this stuff because of that or because of online-only being a barrier to entry.

      At this point I really think they should ditch the authored story part of GTA, at least with regards to there being specific characters. Rockstar should go all-in on it being an MMO, with your own character that can get up to whatever antics they like offline or online with progress / stats / quests shared between the two. Being forced to inhabit GTA V’s protagonists and deal with their personal crap is way less appealing than just being able to jump in as whoever and go to town.

  7. Redrock says:

    I really dislike this one. Like I said before, I’m not a fan of wilderness areas in GTA, so the huge map annoys me rather than impresses. But most of all, and this is very much a personal preference, the setting and characters just don’t work for me. The whole gang culture thing annoys me to no end. So does the hip-hop and the gang slang. And while I don’t think that I have to stress it on this site, better safe than sorry: this isn’t about race, it’s about a particular subset of culture. If it was Robert de Niro doing all those things it would annoy me just as much, although that would make an interesting spititual sequel to Once Upon a Time in America.

    1. Bloodsquirrel says:

      I’ve never been compelled by the core fantasy of playing a mundane criminal either. It’s one of the reasons I never bothered with GTA. Playing a proper villian is something I can do, but I at least want to be taking over the world, not playing the kind of person that I look down on in real life.

      There’s just nothing I find cool about gang crime. Even movies like Goodfellas or Casino, while good, leave me with nothing but contempt for the characters, and it’s their eventual fall that makes the movie worth watching.

      I did finally give Rockstar a try with Red Dead Redemption, but then I just found out that I didn’t like anything else about Rockstar’s game design either.

      1. Benjamin Hilton says:

        On the subject of a “proper villain” I was pleasantly surprised by the scarface game. Its a pretty obvious gta clone, but playing Tony Montana as he rebuilds his empire is pretty cool.

  8. Ivan says:

    I also like this one. But the likeable characters thing comes with a big, big caveat for me. Sweet, your brother, is an absolute asshole to you throughout the game. Especially towards the end, when you have done some utterly absurd stuff to, among other things, keep him from being raped in prison. Stuff that your largely sympathetic character expresses active distress and fear over doing. But he still never cuts you any slack, always pushes his own agenda onto you, always treats you like a busta’. I almost wish he was one of the ones who betray you.

    1. Cubic says:

      Sweet basically has the role of the (very ungrateful) princess of the game. He sends you on odd missions and nags you nearly the whole game. You have to rescue him several times, in missions as well as part of the story arc, and in the last mission (EOL) his antics increase the difficulty more than a bit. But where would we be if there wasn’t a princess?

  9. Cubic says:

    My clear favorite of the GTA games.

    Note that it starts out as an empire building game for a good long while, more or less like the other GTA games. Perhaps I’m naive but when the story flipped, I was astounded and energized.

    I spent a lot of time on that train mission, but not enough to make a spreadsheet about it, lol. I’ll have to try that jumping on top approach.

    Regarding the collectibles, the drawback was that it was too hard to get any rewards. Basically impossible if you didn’t follow a guide, and still a big effort if you do. For instance, you have to get all 100 tags before anything happens. In GTAIII or VC you just need 10 packages to get something out of it.

  10. Daemian Lucifer says:

    To be fair to big smoke,its really hard to fire when you are hungry.And big smoke is always hungry .

  11. Asdasd says:

    The story makes it clear that Grove Street isn’t a drug operation, so how are you turning a profit? Is CJ running a protection racket? Are the people donating to your cause? Am I just overthinking this?

    No, I think in this case the game is underthinking it. If they want to portray the Grove Street gang as being above exploiting the territories they own, the game shouldn’t make that ownership lucrative. Conversely if they want to prioritise there being an incentive for participating in the gang-war mechanic then the reward ought to make narrative sense. This sounds like a cake-having and cake-eating scenario.

    This ties into the dissonant sense of heroism you mention. If you were clearing out territories for selfless reasons, then it really would count as heroism, of a sort (or at least vigilantism). I can even see scope for a sort of moral choice system, where CJ chooses whether or not to exploit the people and businesses that come under his control, but I guess if you want that to then feed into gameplay and narrative consequences you’d be looking at a sizeable multiplication of work.

    1. Matt Downie says:

      I just assumed the Grove Street gang had a protection racket going. It’s no more dissonant than the rest of the game. CJ is anti-drugs but has no problem with indiscriminate murder. He’s been framed for murdering a cop, and apparently that matters to the plot, even though he’s also been repeatedly been arrested after gunning down dozens of police in random killing sprees.

      1. Asdasd says:

        That does seem to make most sense.

  12. deiseach says:

    “I LUV YE MAGGAY!”

    This is available on the Xbox One backwards compatibility. Think I might install it now…

  13. Jason says:

    I loved San Andreas, although there are a lot of things that bug me about it as well. The Big Smoke mission being one of them.
    However, the worst mission was the RC plane mission (Supply Lines). I played it on the original PS2 release which apparently was the hardest. They patched it on XBox, PC and later PS2 re-release to make the fuel drain more slowly. In the original version, fuel would drain even if the plane was still or gliding, but in the patched version it only drains when you are accelerating. I retried it so many times before passing it. I remember playing it later on the PC and it was much easier.

    I appreciate your attempt to scale the map comparison. I’ve seen some GTA map comparisons where the scale is way off in an attempt to prove the newer versions are even bigger.

  14. camycamera says:

    I can’t believe you didn’t mention….

    Nah I’m kidding. I never got around to playing SA, although I do have it on PC, and I have played that “hidden” co-op mode a couple of times a long, long time ago at a cousin’s house. I kinda got put off playing it because of the dumb-ass DIAS mission design that I encountered later in GTAIV, V and from what I recalled in playing Vice City. Not to mention, boy, I feel like they just didn’t age well at all; I mean sure they’re open world console games, but 2004 was the same year that games like Halo 2 and Half-Life 2 came out, and they looked and played so much better and smoothly. So that’s another thing that put me off playing.

    But maybe one day I’ll give it a go, we’ll see.

  15. Drathnoxis says:

    Not in any way related to the article, but did you hear that the Escapist has just been bought by ex-editor in chief Russel Pitts?

    Things are finally looking up for the old site!

    1. Hmm. Shamus any chance you’ll write for The Escapist again?

      By the looks of it Russ Pitts wants to focus on games and game reviews and not stay on the SJW band wagon.

      He seems to indicate that while he won’t ignore political issues related to gaming, the focus of The Escapist will be the games. (are they fun, is the writing good, etc and not complain about LGBT representation I assume?)

      If this is true I may just regularly read The Escapist again, being able to read a review of Witcher, GTA or Cyberpunk 2077 without the current politics creeping into it is what I want.
      I don’t expect a reviewer from being “neutral” or “unbiased”, Jim Sterling covered that in a video once and you can’t do reviews that way.

      What I’m trying to say is that I prefer game reviewers to be like Shamus Young. :)

      Stuff like “But that doesn’t make sense, does it? I’ll willingly run over random civilians while cruising around town, but now I’m suddenly uncomfortable because my foes are shooting back? That doesn’t make any sense. What’s going on here?”

      These are questions that points out design issues or conflicts between story telling and game mechanics.

      1. Bloodsquirrel says:

        I’m skeptical. Does Pitts have any sort of concrete plan to make the site profitable this time? It’s not like the site was rolling in dough when he was EiC… or ever, really.

        Also, political wonks aren’t very reliable when it comes to being honest about “not political”. There’s a lot of “it only becomes political when someone disagrees with me”, so only time will tell whether he’s serious or whether we’ll see him jump on board the next outrage bandwagon. Rehiring MovieBob is not a great sign.

        1. John says:

          I really like the phrase “it only becomes political when someone disagrees with me”. I’m not entirely sure who you’re applying it to, but in the interest of Shamus’ blood pressure perhaps you shouldn’t specify. Anyhow, I’ve always found it interesting (and also alarming) how people on the internet throw the word “political” around in order to disparage and cast aspersions about people who say things they don’t like. It’s like “other people’s opinions and desires are political, but not mine”. I mean, if the desire for Some Thing is political, how is the desire for whatever the opposite of Some Thing is not also political?

      2. BlueHorus says:

        I don’t expect a reviewer from being “neutral” or “unbiased”

        Yep. It amuses me when people talk about ‘unbiased reviews’ – as if that’s not a contradiction in itself. Of course it’s usually a cover for something they don’t want to say, like ‘WAAAH YOU INSULTED A GAME I LIKE’ but it makes me wonder what they’d make of a truly ‘unbiased’ review.

        Review:
        Shoot Guy XII: A Gun Day Out

        This game is an FPS. When you click the mouse, bullets come out of the gun onscreen. You can move your character with the W A S & D keys. Sometimes you go to other places, and get different guns which you also shoot. It has a mission based structure, which is [REDACTED FOR BIAS].
        The plot is [REDACTED FOR BIAS]-written, with characters that are [REDACTED FOR BIAS]. The decision to abandon an open-world setting was [REDACTED FOR BIAS].

        The game did not run well on my computer, unfortunately. The graphics were [REDACTED FOR BIAS]. However, the aesthetics and sound design were [REDACTED FOR BIAS].

        Should you buy Shoot Guy XII? [REDACTED FOR BIAS]. I give it [REDACTED FOR BIAS]/10.

        Comments (1)

        JENITAL_FLAPS_6969 says:

        Ths review is shit. I ran shot guy 12 on my PC (ATI GTX 7000) with no problems!
        Solution: stop tryin to run games n a potato u noob. U don’t no how to do revuws rite.

      3. Viktor says:

        Good luck avoiding politics in 2018. Shamus can’t do it and he’s just one guy. This will be an entire site. Good luck avoiding politics when basic, fundamental moral points are controversial, games are working harder at telling stories, and there’s also people whose very existence is political. Saying “no politics” is just a salve to your conscience, it’s not an accurate statement.

        1. Shamus says:

          A general reply to this entire thread:

          I’ll have a post on this whole Escapist thing in a couple of days. I’ve been in contact with my old friends from the Escapist of 2009, and I’ve been waiting for all of this to go public so I could comment on it.

        2. Agammamon says:

          Its not that hard to stay away from ‘politics’ in a game review.

          Stop bitching about ‘proportional representation’ in videogame avatars, ‘over-sexualized’ characters, lack of transgender love interests. Or stereotypes.

          bitch about cliched stories, using the same male VA doing the same gravely-mean voice for the three-hundreth game in a row oh, and janky programming and grindy mechanics that have no payoff.

          Its not that there isn’t a place for the above – its place just isn’t in the first paragraph and a half of a three paragraph review.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            Stop bitching about ‘proportional representation’ in videogame avatars, ‘over-sexualized’ characters, lack of transgender love interests. Or stereotypes.

            Those dont have to be political at all.I have bitched about the problem of “‘proportional representation’ in videogame avatars” because 1)I prefer playing as a female from third person and 2)Its boring to have just one body type.Even in witcher 3,a game Ive sunk hundreds of hours in and absolutely love,I wouldve preferred playing ciri instead of geralt simply because I liked her more.And on the subject of witcher 3,Ive also bitched about cutscenes oversexualizing women while not even daring to show geralts butt,which falls down into the “bitching about equality of genders”.Yet I was not talking about it because of politics,but because it would be nice to see some of that toned butt without pants.Or at least give the poor guy a dick(yes,geralt is literally dickless).

            As for transgender,theres a bunch of backlash on both sides here.Both baldurs gate enhanced edition and pillars of eternity have been under fire but for opposite things.So “its only political when people disagree with me” is applicable here.

            Stereotypes are often just lazy,and bitchinb about them is actually bitching about lazy writing more than any politics.

          2. Shamus says:

            “Stop bitching about ‘proportional representation’ in videogame avatars, ‘over-sexualized’ characters, lack of transgender love interests. Or stereotypes.”

            As someone who has a really big-tent attitude towards games and wants everyone to feel welcome and have fun, I’d rather state this as:

            “Stop being so terrible about advocating for diversity.”

            Don’t use rhetoric that frames the developers as bad people, and NEVER EVER use rhetoric that implies people are bad for liking things that lack diversity. As DL says above, this is often more a case of bad / lazy writing than anything else. Likewise, “politics” in a game review is often just a case of a writer asking for something reasonable in an unreasonable voice and doing so in a way that scolds innocent parties simply for liking what they like.

          3. Viktor says:

            If a game makes a political statement, your review of the game can either talk about that political statement or you can ignore it. Both of those options are themselves political statements. And ignoring the game entirely is also a political statement. Politics is inherent in any discussion of society or people, which means it’s inherent in any story. A game review site can’t be apolitical, no matter how much their marketing might claim they are.

    2. BlueHorus says:

      Huh, and there I was assuming it was dead and gone. Could be good news, I liked it back in its heyday.

      One thing I really want to know, though – who’s paying Yahtzee Croshaw? He’s been putting up one Zero Punctuation review a week, same as usual, while the rest of the site’s fallen down around him. Is he on a super-ironclad contract or something?

      1. Agammamon says:

        Somebody got to his mother and he keeps making videos so they leave her alone.

  16. “In GTA V, every possible moment of pathos is undercut with dumb jokes or reminders that the characters are all disgusting selfish creeps not worth caring about.”

    I find the GTA V characters more memorable than the GTA:SA characters. And I’ve probably played through each game equally much.

    “he’s actually invincible and you’re just supposed to keep up with him”
    I agree this shit needs to stop. All GTA games suffer from this, the only way to fix it is to make the chased vehicle drive so fast it’s always “at the edge of your view”, because allowing the player to get close enough to shoot is just stupid. And it’s not just GTA, there is a lot of games with a “chase” that are similarly obnoxious.

    There are other chases that are better in the games though “Follow them, but not too close” usually works fine. I’m guessing that part of the problem is that these missions are created by different people, and that Rockstar allows a sort of ownership (so that all get to put “their” creation into the shipped game), but ultimately it’s the responsibility of the Game Director to sign off on stuff. So blame the individual dev is not really justified, the GD gave it the OK after all.

    Interesting trivia. Franklin in GTA V is voiced by the cousin of the guy that voiced CJ in GTA:SA.

    Rockstar has this weird balancing act for each game where they have to do things that feels safe or is expected (so they’ll earn money), but they also wants to experiment and try new things out.
    In GTA V you still have the RPG elements (similar to Skyrim and GTA:SA in that you improve the skills you use), and they’ll probably remain like this in future GTAs now (aka it’s a formula that works).

    “I think this one is easily the highlight of the Grand Theft Auto franchise” a friend of mine would argue with that, he thinks Vice City is the best.

    If I where to rank the games (going on my memory of my experience of them) from worst to best:
    GTA III, GTA Vice City, GTA IV, GTA IV: Lost MC, GTA:SA, GTA IV: Ballad of Gay Tony, GTA V.

    I have not played any of the other ones; and GTA I and II is so long ago I can’t recall much of them.
    GTA III is hurt by the newness of the tech, in GTA Vice City you can’t swim and there is a huge lack of polygons.

    GTA IV missed an opportunity, I hoped it would let you become the head of a criminal empire at the towards the end (Mafia I style or Godfather I/II style), it also had the stupid alternate endings and I newer managed to control the helicopter well enough to finish that path.

    Lost MC was fun but felt a tad short. Gay Tony was awesome and should have been longer, building a club/entertainment empire could have been a full GTA game on it’s own.

    In a future GTA VI game I hope Rockstar either doubles down on the RPG stuff and if they go with multiple protagonists again that they make the actions of one character impact the story/path of the other in some way, this was a missed opportunity in GTA V.

    Rockstar now has a metric ton of metrics from all their games and especially GTA Online, the next GTA game will probably have the bulk of missions and such based on these metrics, but they’ll still have artistic stuff in addition, I don’t think Rockstar is stupid enough to go only by the numbers and play it safe.

    GTA games have always suffered from having the protagonist being a sot of boss or leader yet you’ll have to do these small mundane tasks. The latest GTA Online After Hours club missions suffer from this (putting up posters etc).
    I think Godfather II sorta got this right and gave you henchmen, you could send’em off or you could decide to go with them (to help).
    And running a crime empire seems to be the key thing with GTA Online (aside from all the racing and combat).
    So I’m guessing GTA VI will focus around that.

    I’d be okay with GTA VI adding another county via airport travel (for GTA Online an d single player), making GTA VI a sort of standalone game but with a shared GTA Online with GTA V. I’d even be fine with assets and mechanics being recycled. Why? Because GTA Online is not going away, they are not going to shut down GTA Online for a GTA Online 2, they make too much money as it is and if players lost all their stuff or was unable to migrate it over they’d be pissed and Rockstar would loose millions.
    So GTA VI will include GTA Online in it’s current form, you’ll have to “start over” in a different city though, you may be able to carry some stuff over, and another county/city will have slightly different rules/mechanics.

  17. Jabberwok says:

    I don’t remember loading screens between areas in Vice City, but it has been ages since I played it.

    1. Droid says:

      There’s a (one second max) splash screen when driving over one of the many bridges that connect the Beach / Mall area (the starting area) with the Downtown / Docks / Airport area. I guess the same is true if you travel by boat or plane, but I can’t remember.

  18. IJustWantToCorrectATrivialError says:

    When you described the locations of the cities I think you might have reversed the location of Las Venturas and San Fierro. The passage:

    “To the southeast is Los Santos. (Los Angeles.) To the west of that is a forested region with Mt. Chiliad, which I’m pretty sure is supposed to represent the Big Sur region of California. To the north of that is San Fierro. (San Francisco.) East of that is the mercifully undersized desert, and beyond that is Las Venturas. (Las Vegas.)”

    (the map says “Las Venturas Airport” where you said San Fierro is)

    1. Mr. Wolf says:

      He was going clockwise around the map.

      “To the southeast is Los Santos. (Los Angeles.) To the west of [Los Santos] is a forested region with Mt. Chiliad, which I’m pretty sure is supposed to represent the Big Sur region of California. To the north of [the forest] is San Fierro. (San Francisco.) East of [San Fierro] is the mercifully undersized desert, and beyond [the desert] is Las Venturas. (Las Vegas.)”

  19. Jabberwok says:

    That is a good point about the gang violence being in bad taste. It’s sort of inevitable that games which glorify violence (of which I love many) are inherently disrespectful when depicting real versions of it. GTA games about the mafia can maybe get away with it because 99 percent of that only brings to mind Hollywood depictions of opulent crime lords. On the other hand, gang violence in minority communities in LA hits a more “real” chord. I’m not sure there’s any way for a game like GTA to touch this stuff properly. Just like I’m turned off by the idea of a Rainbow Six game about Latin American drug cartels. Or a CoD about mowing down waves of Middle Eastern terrorists.

    One of the few games I can think of to get away with this when I’m not sure if it should have was Far Cry 2. I’m not entirely sure why, though. It could just be another case of a game that recalls just enough movies to keep from drawing my attention to the systemic, real-world problems beneath its premise.

    1. Viktor says:

      There was an actual Tom Clancy novel about US soldiers mowing down Latin American drug cartels. It was from later in his career, when his books were just thinly-veiled political rants. So yeah, I haven’t played the game you’re referencing, but given the source material, there’s probably a reason you feel uncomfortable.

      1. Jabberwok says:

        The one I was thinking of was Ghost Recon: Wildlands. I haven’t actually played it, but I have heard a journalist or two talk about how the setting made them uncomfortable. And, yeah, knowing Clancy’s general worldview by reputation, I was ready to feel the same way about setting the game in a Latin American “narco-state” where US military and intelligence operatives are apparently the good guys.

        Even when there is no obvious political bent behind the work, studios sometimes want to choose settings that evoke controversial issues without taking any sort of political stance on them, which is itself saying something. Especially if your game comes with the assumption that violence is an effective or necessary problem-solving tool. That right there may be the problem in San Andreas, too.

  20. Spacewreck says:

    One of the things that really annoyed me during my first playthrough of San Andreas was the driving school. Admittedly it was only necessary to unlock optional side content, but it still sucked to be doing a tutorial half way through the game for something I already thought I’d learned to do well by that point.

    However, a lot of the things I learned turned out to be really useful. So much so that when I later replayed Vice City and did the Driver mission discussed in that article I went from narrowly beating it on the tenth try or saying to hell with it and flat out cheating to easily beating it on the first or second try thanks to the driving tricks I’d picked up from the GTASA driving school. And I mean winning so far ahead that Hillary was blocks behind me when I crossed the finish line.

    It made me wish the driving school had been available at the start of the game. It definitely syncs up with Shamus’s argument that the GTA tutorial missions are generally lacking, because I got a lot more out of that driving school when I was just focused on doing the bits of the tutorial without having to worry about mission objectives or restarts.

    On the downside, it did make another bullshit thing about chase missions like OG Loc painfully apparent. I was now easily able to catch up during chases like this only to watch my target suddenly go to Ludicrous Speed to stay ahead every time I pulled up even with them. It felt like yet another “Up yours!” for bothering to learn how to play the game well.

  21. Algeh says:

    It appears that the fan-made map originates from here: https://gamefaqs.gamespot.com/pc/924362-grand-theft-auto-san-andreas/faqs/34165 from my limited searching around. (I used the “search Google for this image” option in Chrome.)

    I suspect this is the original location just because that upload was attributed to an account called “GamerLady” as also attributed in the watermark.

  22. Bob Case says:

    San Andreas is personal favorite of the series too, two things stand out:

    First: This one hit my nostalgia sweet spot. I was 11 in 1992 and remember the kid on the bus that sold uncensored versions of NWA and g-funk era albums. (I still have Doggystyle – on tape, not CD, tape – somewhere) Whenever I was driving around in San Andreas and “Today Was A Good Day” came on, I’d stop whatever I was doing and just drive around listening to it.

    Second: I don’t know how many people remember this. But one of the things that happened with this game is that a persistent rumor spread on the internet that it had Bigfoot in it. They were just detailed enough to be semi-plausible at the time, that this was an actual easter egg and not just a hoax. I was one of the people that spent hours tooling around the “Back O’ Beyond” region looking for him. In the process, I saw some of the other spooky things there, like the ghost cars (rusted-out junkers that spawned on a slope with their parking brakes off, leading some people to think they were driven by ghosts) and the “glowing” trees (which were a graphical glitch).

    There were also weird things like rumors that the ghost of CJ’s grandma showed up in a certain room of the family home at midnight. I actually had some heart-in-my-throat moments when I thought I was actually going to see bigfoot or an in-game ghost. I haven’t personally had an experience like that with a game since. I feel like back then the internet was not quite developed to the point where stories like these were immediately debunked. I think they were the last hurrah of pre-internet mythology about things like the uncle who worked for Nintendo and knew the secret code that gave Mario a gun, or the friend who lived in Florida and claimed to have seen Ghostbusters 3, which was only released in Florida for some reason that seemed plausible to my kid-brain at the time.

    1. “I was driving around in San Andreas and “Today Was A Good Day” came on, I’d stop whatever I was doing and just drive around listening to it”

      I love game moments like that. I’ve had them in GTA V, in Mass Effect trilogy (and even Andromeda), and KoTOR.
      Where I just stopped playing for a moment and just “looked” around me where I stood in the game world.

      GTA is odd in that it has radio stations so I’ve often driven around like you did (to play out the song), or I’ve stopped (on the way to a mission) just to hear the rest of a fake ad or segment on the radio.

    2. Shamus says:

      “Whenever I was driving around in San Andreas and “Today Was A Good Day” came on, I’d stop whatever I was doing and just drive around listening to it.”

      Same here. Every time. Perfect to slow-cruise around the city and just take it all in.

  23. Nick Powell says:

    Did you know you can now get San Andreas on your phone?

    It’s always amazing when that happens. A game that was once the absolute pinnacle of graphical achievement that required hardware costing hundreds of pounds is now able to run on a tiny rectangle that fits in your pocket.

    And the controls on mobile aren’t awful, which is perhaps even more of an achievement.

  24. Armstrong says:

    I only ever played three GTA games, but of the three, San Andreas is the one I loved and hated the most.
    Loved, because it had honestly the most interesting and diverse game world of any GTA game or GTA clone. It’s just so fun just driving around, soaking in the scenery as you move from urban areas to rural towns and forests and then the desert and an airport…
    But as much as I loved the game world, I hated the actual game, or at least the story and missions. To describe the middle portion a “sag” doesn’t do it justice – it’s a midgame deathmarch. Mission after mission of what feels like unending busywork and irritating gimmicks. I don’t know why, but not even the utterly bland story of IV got on my nerves like this did.

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