Grand Theft Auto San Andreas hit the shelves in 2004 and it immediately began to set new sales records. People queued for hours outside video game stores and supermarkets so that they could be amongst the select few millions across the world to get it first. Doubtless, on the day of release, Playstation 4s all over the globe were working overtime as gamers started on their unforgettable journey through Rockstar’s west coast epic. The hype had been well orchestrated, and long before the anticipated date, the buzz had worked fans into frenzy. Speculation about the game had it in people’s minds early and that worked for Rockstar. They had made their indelible mark on the industry with GTA III and further strengthened their pedigree with GTA Vice City. Huge advances in innovation came with each successive full title, and the announcements about developments in San Andreas promised much more than the gaming community could ever have expected.
The first thing that stood out was the scale of the sand box world. At almost four times the size of Vice City, San Andreas boasted 36 square kilometers of a fully interactive environment. Like previous versions, the main three areas were separated and only the first area, that of Los Santos, was available from the start. As the game developed, other areas were unlocked. Eventually the main protagonist would have three cities to explore; Los Santos (Based upon Los Angeles), San Fierro (Based upon San Francisco), and Las Venturas (based upon Las Vegas). Between those locations could be found a huge network of roads, villages, hills, mountains, hidden Easter Eggs, and lots more innovative and interesting content. It was truly massive, and the magnitude meant that simply getting around would add more enjoyable playing time.
Gamers played out the life of LA gang banger Carl “CJ” Johnson. The environment of Los Santos brought back memories of 90s black culture as depicted by movies such as Boyz N the Hood, Menace II Society, Friday, Mi Vida Loca and many more. Rockstar once again showed their mastery of ambience by assembling a stunning soundtrack that featured, on top of its mainstream catalogue, multi layered radio stations that played old school Rap beats, commercial Hip Hop, Gangsta Rap, and the nauseous R ‘n’ B that was so prevalent at the time. For a long time, while playing San Andreas, the player felt like he really was ‘Rolling down the street, smokin’ endo, sippin’ on gin and juice’. Previous soundtracks had added so much depth to previous Grand Theft Auto titles and San Andreas’ extensive playlist created an acme moment in the series. Along with the soundtrack, San Andreas boasted yet another all star voice acting line up. At the top of the bill was Samuel L Jackson and other famous names included, amongst others, Ice T, Chris Penn, MC Eiht, James Woods, David Cross, Shaun Ryder, George Clinton, and Axl Rose.
The low horizons and wide open LA skies were authentically parodied, and once again, the little things came together to create an immersive experience. Cars, street corners, clothing, and atmosphere all gelled perfectly in Rockstar’s Los Santos. The authentic theme was also present in both of the other cities, but with a more satirical and cynically ironic feel. San Fierro was full of hippies and gay culture, while Las Venturas was wide open and dusty by day and dazzlingly garish by night. Famous landmarks added further authenticity, and during a gaming session, players could find themselves walking around Los Angeles’ city hall, driving along the Golden Gate Bridge, sneaking around Area 51, looking over the edge of the Hoover Dam, looking out over the city from under the Hollywood sign, gambling in the big casinos of Vegas, and in a nice, albeit surreal touch, players could travel along the Forth Rail Bridge. A famous bridge that was modeled on the bridge that is just outside Edinburgh in Scotland (Edinburgh is the home of Rockstar North).
San Andreas developed upon many of the features that were successful in previous incarnations, and they added a few more. The main character now needed to eat, work out, and he could even get tattoos and haircuts. All of these aesthetic changes effected the way non-player controlled characters interacted with you and the variety meant that no two CJs looked the same. Some were well chiseled, well turned out, professional looking guys, while others were obese, tattooed guys in tracksuit bottoms and a vest.
The vast amount of playing possibilities was truly mind boggling. Cars could be taken to modification shops around the three cities, CJ could sky dive from aircraft and base jump from buildings, he could take his gang members on drive by shootings, and fritter away his time playing cards, shooting craps, playing the horses, and so much more. To list everything would be a huge task, and one that would spoil the pleasure of your discovering the world of San Andreas for yourself.
The reception that the game received was astounding. Sales figures immediately made it a best seller, and it continues to have success with over 25 million copies having been sold worldwide. It is reported to be the Playstation 2’s highest selling game of all time and has, along with Grand Theft Auto Vice City and Grand Theft Auto III, dominated the PS2 market. Critics still rate the game highly; IGN giving it the highest score ever for a PS2 game. Even today IGN followers have good things to say about San Andreas. minos.masterchief from the IGN boards said ‘In terms of sheer quality and storyline coherence, I think it is unmatched on the PS2.’, while kunalanand50 added, ‘The best GTA game and possibly the best open world game to date.’ Both fitting tributes to a quality experience. AeonofGodd spoke about the desire to have the game even though he didn’t own the console to play it on: ‘I bought the PS2 specifically to play GTA San Andreas when it came out. It was such a different game and revolutionary when it came out. The customization and detail blew my mind! It came out on PSN a few months ago and I bought it the same day.’
Without a doubt, Grand Theft Auto San Andreas stands the test of time. Even now, people who played it rave about it. There were some issues with the controls and the graphics were a bit cartoon like, but the massive weight of positives buried any such problems. The fact that people are still playing the game now shows that Rockstar created a masterpiece. For gamers that wish to totally immerse themselves, San Andreas is the perfect hideaway. Many of us were able to enjoy the majesty when it first came out in 2004, but for those that didn’t, the game is still available. Take the time, dust off the old PS2, and sit down with the greatest sand box game ever created and arguably the greatest game of all time.