Windows 2000 or XP
1GHz Pentium III or equivalent processor
64MB video card with DirectX 9 compatible drivers
4.7 GB of hard disc space
Developer: Rockstar North
Rated AO (Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Use of Drugs)
Rockstar Games\' flagship franchise, Grand Theft Auto, returns once again to outdo itself several times over in the massive Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. San Andreas is at least four times bigger than any of its predecessors in size, scope, and, unsurprisingly, offensive content. Typical to the franchise, it delivers exciting action, a razor-sharp satiric wit, good writing, and a heaping helping of adult content.
San Andreas brings a variety of new and welcome additions to the Grand Theft Auto table. There will be that same mix of 3D thrid-person open-world driving and on-foot action that has made the series fun, but there is a better blend of those components and many of the missions are quite a lot of fun, even to the point where I would intentionally reload my game at the end of the mission just so I would be able to replay it. One of my personal favorites started with a big on-foot gunfight with some Russians in a building, and transitioned into a thrilling car chase/gunfight through the streets and an aqueduct. Another mission will have you torching a rival gang’s house with Molotov cocktails, only to discover that an innocent woman is trapped inside. CJ must then enter the burning house and rescue her. In another, CJ chases a hijacked fire truck through the streets of San Andreas, trying to save a comrade swinging precariously from the ladder. The missions are simply more fun than they ever have been, and there is so much variety in each one that the missions never get old due the fact that you will rarely see the same structure used twice in a row. As is the case with all sandbox games, however, some missions can be more than a little frustrating.
The weapon and vehicle selection is excellent. There are silenced weapons, bazookas, automatic rifles, shotguns, explosives, and plenty of melee weapons. The vehicle selection is overwhelmingly huge, encompassing over 100 different rides of varying stats. The map itself spans five different areas of unique styles and is at least four or five times the size of any other Grand Theft Auto game.
One of the biggest new features to the series is a pseudo-RPG leveling-up system that most closely resembles The Elder Scrolls games. For those unfamiliar with the system, it basically involves simply using a skill to level it up. There are no “experience points”, but things you do will change you. For example, using an Uzi weapon frequently will increase aiming range and accuracy, and eventually allow you to dual wield that weapon. Dual wielding does not work with every weapon. Eating a lot will help keep up stamina, but CJ will put on the pounds and it will show, too. To combat this, CJ can head over to the gym, where working out and lifting weights can increase stamina, decrease fat, increase the maximum health capacity, and increase muscle, which in turn allows CJ to run longer and faster, jump higher, and punch with more damage. It’s not incredibly deep, but it’s implemented in such a way that there is hardly a need for micromanaging.
Perhaps the best new feature, however, is the ability to swim. CJ can now enter the water without dying. It was always irritating to accidently fly into the water and lose everything, especially if the game had not been saved. CJ can swim around and dive as well. It’s not a huge addition, but one that is six years overdue and wholly welcome. Thank you, Rockstar!
Another addition is the girlfriend feature. CJ can have up to six or so different girlfriends all at the same time, and each of them wants a little something different in her man. This is where “sex appeal” comes into play. Depending on CJ’s hair style, clothes, and tattoos (which can all be changed and modified at various locations all over the map), along with his car, CJ will have a better chance at earning the girl\'s affection. You need to keep her happy on dates, and if CJ can get the Progress bar all the way up he’ll earn a new outfit that will drastically increase a stat. I didn\'t care for this feature too much, as it would require me to go to her house and do some boring "go here, do minigame or watch cutscene, then go back" between every few missions.
Respect is a huge part of SA. As CJ takes on missions, kills rival gang members, wears his colors, and takes over rival turfs (more on that in a minute), his respect will increase, which means that he can start to recruit homies to accompany him wherever he goes. While the AI for your gang (and the rest of the game, for that matter) is as dumb as a brick, it is still very cool to bring along some friends.
Arguably the most fun new feature is turf wars. When CJ enters a turf occupied by a rival gang (outlined in their color on the map), he must shoot four rival gangsters to initiate a gang war. Enemies come in waves, and once CJ eliminates all of them, he has successfully captured the turf. It will be populated by his crew, and becomes green on the map. Rivals will frequently attack CJ’s turf and he will be forced to defend it. It all plays out like a big game of Risk, and is a great game mechanic.
Returning to GTA is one of the features that has defined the series: extracurriculars. The list of side missions is even bigger this time around, and includes triathlons, gambling, billiards, arcade cabinets, street racing, shooting ranges, driving/flying/boating schools, taxicab missions, and plenty more, in addition to 100 tags to spray over, 50 horseshoes to find, 50 snapshots to take, and 50 oysters to locate. Unique Stunt jumps are also back and as fun as ever.
The graphics in SA are very good overall, but also have a few rough spots. On the one hand, cars look terrific with impressive reflective effects, great damage modeling, and an overall very realistic look. Given the ridiculous size of the game, things such as the landscape, buildings, and other details are very good-looking. There are some very nice particle effects, such as sparks when a car is struck by gunfire or dirt leaping up from the car’s tires. Weather and sky effects are very pretty. On the other hand, water looks indescribably horrible and character models, even with their fancy motion captured movements, look like freaks of nature. This is, unless, they are caught in some of the game’s nice lighting effects. They somehow look pretty good in those cases. Cutscenes are well done, have a nice stylistic flair, and just feel very professional.
Sound has always been an integral component of the Grand Theft Auto experience, and the games are well known for their sky-high production values in that department. The voice cast is wonderful, with the high point being Samuel L. Jackson as the crooked cop Officer Tenpenny. Rapper Young Maylay also delivers a fine performance as CJ. The rest of the cast is strong as well and includes Clifton Collins Jr., Peter Fonda, James Woods, Frank Vincent, and Charlie Murphy. The radio is also very well endowed with about eleven stations, nearly all of them with varying styles. There’s rap, modern rock, classic rock, soul, country, disco, reggae, house, the always-hilarious talk radio, and even a very special station which contains several rare and seldom-heard, including War’s “Lowrider”. Artists that contribute to the other stations include Ice Cube, Dillinger, Ozzy, Guns ‘N Roses, Dr. Dre, Slick Rick, and plenty more. This is arguably the most diverse and enjoyable licensed soundtrack I have ever heard in a video game to date. As if that wasn’t enough, the game allows players dissatisfied with the soundtrack to put MP3 files into the game to listen to as a separate station.
The controls are a double-edged sword on the PC. Aiming is certainly much better with the free-aiming mouse. Holding the right mouse button brings up the cursor to line up precise shots, while a controller reverts back to GTA\'s infamous lock-on system. Driving must rely on the A and D keys for steering, with an alternative and useless “steer with the mouse” option, which feels horribly unnatural. Don’t even get me started on flying. It took me almost three hours to complete a 30-minute flying school. With practice I was able to get a lot better, but I never got one hundred percent comfortable with the flying controls. The game does, however, have gamepad support. As always, the best choice here for a gamepad is a DualShock controller, which is basically a PlayStation 2 controller with a USB cord. I’ve seen these for around $20 at gaming stores.
I’m not sure what was wrong at some points. Over the course of a couple of weeks, the game crashed numerous times, twice forcing me to simply turn off the computer. It could have been a virus on the computer, or it could have been a corrupted game file, but a new file yielded no problems. No critics have complained of such things, so I’m really not sure. To avoid things like this, always have one or more backup files, and don’t expect any file in which you have used cheats to be bug-free. The game ran pretty smoothly and doesn’t require a monster of a rig to run, either.
Ah, Grand Theft Auto. Thy name is controversy.
-People killing other people in cold-blooded murder (-5)
-Blood sprays on the walls and everywhere else (-2.5)
-Body parts visually unattached (-1.5)
CJ is free, and at times encouraged, to kill others. It’s completely within the bounds of the game to go out and annihilate an entire block. And as if the game is begging the player to do so, headshots and kills are constantly tallied. The blood isn’t as graphic, cartoony, or in as large quantities as its predecessors, but it’s still there. Headshots result in the head simply disappearing and a few small spurts of blood. Blood splatters and pools on the ground, and sometimes gets the walls as a result of a graphical glitch. Running over someone in a combine harvester or hitting them with a helicopter’s blades results in a red mist. It should be noted, however, that no other body parts can be removed and heads cannot be seen on the ground.
-R-rated language (-5)
-Sexual jokes made once or twice (-2)
It’s not as bad as the laughably over-the-top True Crime games, but there is still a bucketload of f-bombs and a very colorful collection of other swear words, along with racial slurs. Many of the songs also have a lot of profanity.
Sexual Content (1.5/10)
-Characters wear very revealing clothing (-3.5)
-Characters "seen" having sex (-5)
There are some sexual jokes, but overall they are few and far between. Prostitutes are numerous and CJ has the option to go into clubs to watch the scantily clad dancers and even throw money to them (on an amusing note, CJ can stand in front of the dancers and catch money thrown to them). CJ can have all of the girlfriends at once, and when he makes a certain amount of progress he has the option (he can choose not to do so) to have sex with the girl. The camera is outside the house and noises are heard from within. These noises are not explicit, but there is still no doubt in the player\'s mind as to what is going on.
There is nothing occult or supernatural in the game.
-Requires active rebellion (-2.5)
-Characters are portrayed with stereotypical biases (-1.5)
Black people talk like gangsters, and all drug dealers are black. The game encourages causing mayhem and evading law enforcement. There is initially strong prejudice from CJ toward the Hispanic Caesar, mainly because of his race. However, the two soon become the best of friends. I think the stereotyping is in keeping with GTA’s signature satirical edge.
Bonus Points (+3)
-Promotes importance of family values (+3)
Surprise! For all of its faults, one thing the game does right is the emphasis on loyalty. CJ has an unbreakable bond with his brother, Sweet, and is always looking out for his sister, Kendl. The main characters are of wildly varying races, and there are strong bonds between all of them, so they really form their own little family. I really want to award some points for the matter of the antagonists and the betrayers all getting what they deserve, but since the protagonists also dabble in their fair share of illegal activities, I cannot rightfully do so.
NOTE: I must mention that there is also a great deal of drug references in the game. Cocaine and marijuana plays a big part in the story and side missions. While this does not detract from the overall score, players still need to be made aware of this component of the game.
Sexual Content: 1.5/10
Bonus Points: +3
TOTAL SCORE: 71% C-
I would be lying if I said I didn\'t enjoy my time in San Andreas. It\'s a finely crafted game. However, the very questionable content makes it difficult to recommend this game to Christians. Violent action, strong language, drug references, and a healthy dosage of sexual content permeate what could have been a masterpiece. Discerning gamers should think long and hard about whether wading through a sea of sin is worth it.