Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas PS2 Review

What can you do to better a franchise such as the Grand Theft Auto series? After the previous successes of GTA3 and Vice City, it was a question that only Rockstar could answer. Grand Theft Auto 3 was the game that broke new ground with it’s living and breathing 3D city, Vice City followed a year later, sharing the same concept but executing it better. We arrive at the point of this review with San Andreas; can it really live up to the skyscraper hype?

Well the game itself is as big as a skyscraper, after the months of speculation of where the game was going to be based, it turned out that it’s not a sole city, but an entire state. Homing three cities that have been inspired by the likes of Los Angeles, San Francisco and Las Vegas. During your travels you also find the bits in-between that range from tall mountains and high-speed highways to lush countryside foliage, desert land and even pleasant small towns. Seriously we’re not exaggerating when we say that this game has everything but the kitchen sink and you’re not going to get more of a living world until you step out of your front door and back into the real world. Navigating the state of San Andreas could have been a task in itself, but thankfully you are able to place helpful markers on your map, which helps a great deal if you are miles away from your target area.

Rockstar weren’t content on just delivering a living world this time around though, as new character CJ is just as alive as his surroundings. You can purchase loads of new clothes and accessories and then mix and match them to your liking, you can also buy tattoos and alter your hairstyle. but this is only the tip of the iceberg. The much discussed food system thankfully doesn’t get too much in the way of the game at hand, but when you’re lost in the countryside and the game indicates that CJ is hungry, it can be pretty frustrating. More RPG elements are present: Running and swimming will tone CJ’s muscles (making him more powerful) as will pushing yourself at the local gym in various mini games, whilst eating fatty foods and doing little else will result in a portly CJ who can’t run for very lengthy periods and can no longer jump. A well-conditioned CJ is easily kept in shape and plumpness is best avoided. Furthermore driving, weapon wielding and swimming under water will develop stats the more you undertake each said task. These things are thankfully only a distraction opposed to the main game.

The on-foot sections are largely improved, now allowing you to target enemies when you are unarmed coupled with the ability to block attacks as well as unleash combos on hapless foes. Manual and precise targeting is also an option, which tidies things up. Sadly the auto targeting isn’t perfect though, and you’ll find CJ targeting enemies further in the distance, despite a man standing almost in your face. At least it’s colour coordinated to indicate the state of their health, which is a nice copied and pasted touch from Manhunt.

All of these interesting additions aside and San Andreas basically follows the same route as its predecessors, which is a good or bad thing depending on whom you may be. For us, it’s becoming a fairly tired formula that is becoming too samey for its own good. No doubt Rockstar will continue pumping them out until sales start declining, although we can’t help worrying that it will kill a classic series that has offered us too much of a good thing for too long.

We were disappointed with the plot, sure it’s entertaining enough but we soon became baffled of what was going on. The amount of stereotyping doesn’t help things initially either, to be fair it’s a thing we did soon get used to, as was the frequent cursing. The script is still impressive and cameo roles from past GTA characters are a nice reminder of the games that preceded Rockstar’s most ambitious yet. CJ is no Vercetti though.

Still there’s nothing like cruising the countryside in a four-wheel drive, getting our wheels off the ground in San Fierro alongside the mission improvisation and freedom that has made the series such a class act. We still love the massive San Andreas dearly and Rockstar’s achievements with the PS2 are admirable, but the idea is now becoming rather stale. The missions were always going to become unavoidably recycled with each and every new iteration. Only time will tell, but we think GTA’s full glory days are sadly numbered.