One of the most celebrated series of recent times has to be Rockstar North's Grand Theft Auto games. From the original top-down versions through to the huge-selling 3D incarnations of III and Vice City, not many games can match the popularity (or sales figures) of the GTA games. The two years that players have had to endure waiting for their next dose of street crime-related shenanigans has seen a couple of pretenders to the throne - notably True Crime: Streets of L.A. and the horrible, horrible (horrible) DRIV3R - but neither could possibly hold a torch to what Rockstar achieved with their games. Now the wait is over and the Daddies have returned to show the pretenders how it's done. And then some.
'If you haven't already, go and buy San Andreas. It is a stunning, stunning game.'
If you haven't already, go and buy San Andreas. It is a stunning, stunning game. With that out of the way we can get into the nitty-gritty - why is it stunning exactly? Well that is impossible to answer in one review alone, as it would need more space than most novels take up to explain the intricacies and nuances contained within. The player takes control of one Carl 'CJ' Johnson, who is returning to San Andreas, after spending five years in GTA III's Liberty City, in order to attend his mother's funeral. No sooner has our protagonist landed at Los Santos International Airport when he is picked up by a couple of crooked coppers, who welcome CJ home by leaving him in enemy gang territory. To go on would spoil the story, but it picks up from there and doesn't stop for quite a while.
The core GTA experience is more or less the same as it has ever been - visit marked points on the map to trigger more than a hundred different missions, each opening with surprisingly well choreographed cut-scenes. The physical 'acting' of the characters is of a very high standard, with movements fluid and natural, but the experience is really lifted by the vocal talent on offer - Samuel L Jackson, Ice-T, Axl Rose, Chris Penn, Shaun Ryder, Peter Fonda, James Woods and a great deal more adding their voices to the interesting and funny characters CJ meets on his travels. As with previous incarnations, no-one is scared to use every word in the English language available to them, with San Andreas delivering more curse words than the last two offerings - and yes, as the game is set in the early nineties West Coast gangsta scene, you will hear constant use of the dreaded 'N' word. One more reason for the Daily Mail to go ballistic.
Another constant of the GTA series is the radio service, and the soundtrack offered up by Andreas is the expected early nineties fare - NWA, Public Enemy, Pearl Jam, Guns 'N' Roses, Rage Against the Machine are all included (though there is a notable exception of Nirvana). For some reason the songs offered up don't have the instant appeal that the eighties hits of Vice City did, and the radio can get a little tiresome as a result, especially if West Coast rap/hip-hop is not to ones taste. The in-between links, adverts and news reports are all of the expected high quality humour-wise and don't fail to raise a smile, even on repeated listens, with a definite air of Britishness in their comedy. The high-quality sound is once again partnered with the same GTA looks as the last two games, and whilst they aren't amazing, they do a job and clearly push the PS2 to its limit. If one thing needs to be improved upon for the next incarnation, it's the graphical performance - but seeing as the next game will more than likely be for the next generation consoles, that's pretty much a given.