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Graphics : 8.0

Sadly, the graphics engine has the exact same problems seen in Vice City and GTA 3. Like it happened in the transition from GTA 3 to Vice City, draw distance has been improved (also to make the flying missions more playable), but pop-up issues are still bad, to the point they can make some of your rides or car chases uselessly frustrating. Big objects are rendered from reasonable distance, but smaller objects like streetlamps and even pedestrians pop-up from mid and close distance; it's not fun when you ride over a cop during a delicate mission, just because he appeared from nowhere in front of your car, nor it's nice to hit streetlamps while you are riding a bike. The game should run at 30fps, but the framerate is extremely unstable, dropping continuously, even while you are simply driving through the streets of San Andreas. The only evident technical improvement is the elimination of loading times, as the game constantly streams the data off the disc, like in many other free roaming action games for PlayStation 2; relatively short loading times now occur only when you enter a building, but Rockstar could have hardly done something to eliminate them, considering the uncommon draw distance and the hardware limits.

Visually, the only truly noticeable improvements are in the more varied level and awesome architecture design, in the highest level of detail, and in the attention given to the choice of colors during the various times of the day (the warm orange tones at sunset are beautiful, for example) achieved also with different textures created for each time of the day.

While it is sad that there is still no real interaction with the environments, the improvement in level design and attention to graphic detail in the environments over Vice City is dazzling. Exploring the cities and the vast countryside of the game you have the constant feeling that most of the places you are visiting look like they could look in real life; each city has its landmark architectural elements and style that remind the real-life city on which it's based, but also looking at the smaller details, like the courtyards of the houses in the poorest areas of Los Santos and in the countryside, one can just wonder how long it took the great artists behind San Andreas to model such an enormous world.

Vehicle models look significantly better than in Vice City; they seem built with more polygons, and they finally boast realistic body reflections that make them look more like real vehicles than cardboard boxes. The extraordinary assortment of vehicle types (cars, bikes, airplanes, helicopters) and models is also a great improvement over the already rich vehicle selection of Vice City.

Character models look still quite blocky when compared to other popular PlayStation 2 action games, but they have been slightly improved, featuring more detailed facial animations during cutscenes, and an extraordinary variety in clothing that makes the streets of San Andreas the most believable and colorful in the series. Each gang has its colors, its dressing style, and as CJ you will have a chance to wear dozens and dozens of different clothes, from elegant evening suits to rough looking shirts needed for your daily dose of street rage.

Overall, while the technology powering the graphics engine of San Andreas has been improved minimally over past games of the series, San Andreas is nevertheless well ahead of Vice City when it comes to diversity, realism of the environments, and attention to detail. The artistic work behind San Andreas is gargantuan, and easily the game's best feature.

Sound : 9.0

More than Vice City, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas' soundtrack tries to break all records with roughly 150 licensed songs included in the game and played through the in-game radios. If Vice City soundtrack was a brilliant anthology of the Eighties' music, San Andreas tries to recreate the feeling of the radios in the U.S. West Coast in the early Nineties, with eleven different in-game radios. While Vice City was filled with music from the Eighties, San Andreas offers music from many different eras, from classic country music to early 90s rock-alternative music and beyond.

Since the game is so heavily inspired by the gansta rap culture, it's obvious that the predominant genre is classic and modern hip-hop (with two radios: Radio Los Santos, Playback FM), but you will find also soul and reggae music (CSR 103.2, K-Jah West), Funk (Bounce FM), classic rock (K-DST), alternative rock (Radio: X), country music (K-Rose), a talk radio (WCTR), and more. It's great that audio quality varies greatly according to vehicle you are driving, since each car comes equipped with a different speaker set and car stereo. You can also buy a bass boost system from a modification garage for your car to get more powerful low-end sounds.

While the amount of music included in the game is impressive and provides a stunning and ever changing background to your evil doings, the selection of songs aired by some of the radios is definitely uninspiring and frail, with probably just 15 artists popular enough to be known by the average gamer - after all, it was obvious that Rockstar would have had a difficult time getting the rights to include songs from some of the most important artists of the latest decades.

Since I grew up listening to the alternative music of the early Nineties, Radio: X is a good example of the limits of the soundtrack. The lists of artists for this radio is definitely decent, with moments of brilliance when it comes to bands like L7, Rage Against The Machine, The Stone Roses, Depeche Mode, but it's lacking if you consider this is the only radio airing "grunge" music. Yes, Soundgarden, and Alice In Chains are here, but the fact that a weak and unoriginal band like the Stone Temple Pilots is in the soundtrack, while there is no trace of those bands that were truly representative of the grunge and post grunge era like Nirvana, Pearl-Jam, and the Smashing Pumpkins, will irritate those who grew up with that music and came to understand its meaning.

All this may sound like nitpicking, but while nobody can deny that San Andreas deserves praise for boasting the richest soundtrack ever to grace a single videogame (or a movie, for that matter), the game will hardly satisfy those who love rock music and were expecting to find in San Andreas a tribute to the alternative rock scene of the Nineties (which, on a global scale, was more influential than the gangsta rap, a phenomenon more limited to the United States). However, it's also true that within the game's caricatural gangsta-rap attitude, with its misogyny, violence, machismo, a more relevant presence of alternative rock from the early nineties would have sounded "strange".

Voice acting is stellar, with a cast of Hollywood talents and other artists - many from the hip-hop scene - giving their voices to the characters. Just to name a few, Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Penn, Peter Fonda, James Woods, Ice-T, Axl Rose, and the rapper Young Maylay as CJ. The amount of in-game dialogue spoken by NPCs is also crazy, with thousands and thousands of different comments you can hear in the game from the people roaming the streets of San Andreas. It's surprising to hear them commenting on CJ's actions and clothing style with always changing phrases, even after you have reached 30 and more hours of gameplay. A novelty for the series is the possibility for CJ to answer every time a NPC speaks to him. This is done by simply tapping left or right on the d-pad to give a negative or positive response.

Sound effects are, as usual for the series, extremely well done; each car, bike, engine sounds differently, weapons sound as powerful as they should in an action game, environmental sounds provide a realistic background, and while the game doesn't feature DTS support like Vice City, it does support Dolby Pro Logic II nicely.

For the third time in a row, the audio confirms the series' outstanding production values.

San Andreas is the vastest action game ever made, with 40-50 hours needed to complete just the main storyline missions, and dozens of additional gameplay hours if you want to play all the side missions, collect all the stuff in the game, perform stunts, and do anything else San Andreas has to offer; for GTA veterans, in order to get 100% completion rating you must play the game for about 70-80 hours, but there are plenty of things you can still do once you have reached this goal. Sometimes, I found myself driving randomly across the cities of San Andreas for two, three hours straight without doing anything in particular, just robbing stores, performing stunts, exploring the countryside, and all the other little things that make San Andreas always incredibly fun and addictive. It's this kind of freedom that makes San Andreas unique: like its predecessors, the game lets you go off rails whenever you want, without saying goodbye to a well structured storyline. More than Vice City and GTA 3, San Andreas offers a diverse, rich, endless environment that can be considered the vastest playground ever built for a gamer. If you loved past GTA games, San Andreas will keep you busy for an incredibly long time.

Overall Score ( not an average ) : 9.5

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is the best instalment of a series that truly dominated this generation of consoles. Rockstar Games took all the best elements of the series, all the experience and the tools developed and refined to create GTA 3 and Vice City, and put everything together to create something that may really be considered the biggest and most ambitious action game of all times, at least for its size.

Rockstar introduced many new gameplay elements into the successful formula behind past games, succeeding in adding depth without changing the core of the experience. This is probably Grand Theft Auto: San Andres' biggest strength and weakness. You can finally customize your character, a bit like in a RPG, but these purposely watered down role-playing elements serve more to expand the experience than to change it. Fans of the series will recognize the GTA experience they loved; those who hated past GTA games will hate San Andreas as well.

Leaving aside discussions about "ethics of game development", the complete absence of true moral values in the storyline of San Andreas makes it impossible, once again, to feel something for the heroes of Rockstar's crime saga, simply because they often act more like beasts than human beings. Rockstar's satirical intentions are clear, yet they start from a ground zero of morality, unlike what happens in popular entertainment products that criticize our society like The Simpsons or South Park. If The Simpsons are a brilliant analysis of our society, it's because the characters move in a universe that is terribly close to our everyday reality. In San Andreas, the black guys, like the mafia boy of Vice City, move in an alienated universe where the normal values and mechanisms of our society are non-existent, leaving some doubt about whether Rockstar truly wants to criticize our society or just keeps on using clichés like violence and mature language to attract the gaming crowd. The obtuse characters, the long but entirely meaningless storyline are what makes it impossible for me to put San Andreas in my list of favorite PlayStation 2 games.

However, if you are not looking for a particularly engrossing storyline, San Andreas is one of the funniest games you may have ever played, despite the moments of pure frustration typical of all GTA games. In San Andreas you have more freedom than in any other action game, but this freedom is built around a linearity, the main storyline, that guides you through this apparently endless gaming experience. Many tried to imitate Rockstar, believing that the secrets of the formula behind GTA games were obvious; all, in a way or in another, failed. Rockstar still has the keys to control the "crime simulation" genre, and while other developers may have created games with better artistic values and "true" storylines (see The Getaway), none has reached the purity, naivety, immediacy, but also the depth, intelligence, and strength of the gaming experience behind Rockstar's masterpieces.



« Page 1: Gameplay

- Harry (16 Jan, 2005)


Scores
Gameplay »
9.5
Graphics »
8.0
Sound »
9.0
Replay Value »
10.0
Overall Score »
9.5



Developer
Access Games
Publisher
Rockstar Games
Origin
U.S.
Genre
Adventure
Action
Players
1
Peripherals
Dual Shock 2
8MB Memory Card
Release Date
North America
October 26th, 2004
Europe
October 29th, 2004
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More screenshots of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas



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