Game Review: Grand Theft Auto, San Andreas (PS2)

Authored December 2005, Originally appeared at GameSpot

Well – I finished the story missions.  I could still do a lot, but I probably won’t – I’ve already spent over 90 hours on the game.  I finished the story, got most of the export cars, got mostly gold in most of the schools, did all but two of the “asset property” missions, dated all but one of the girls (but never got 100% with any of them), reached “hitman” skill in all weapons, bought all of the safe houses, did the pimping missions, maxed my driving and motorcycle skills, got all 100 gang tags, got all 50 horseshoes, did all of Zero’s RC missions, and got 100% of the available neighborhoods in the turf wars.

With all of that my “percent complete on the game” isn’t even 80%.

An Embarassement of Riches

I could still do all of the races, get gold in all of the schools, do the dry-dock motorcycle challenge, finish the rest of the export board, get all my dating scores up to 100%, finish the delivery missions to get the other asset properties, get the rest of the stunt jumps, get the rest of the oysters, get the rest of the photo ops, do the freight train missions, complete the ambulance/firetruck/police/taxi car missions and do all of the stadium events.

Forgetting all of that I could still (just for fun and profit) do the low-rider challenge, perform burglaries, do the shooting range challenges, play one of four video games, play pool, play basketball, gamble on any of six or so games, go dancing, primp with barbers, tattoos or new clothes, trick out cars at the mod garages or grab a friend and play any of around 10 two player missions.

Lacking all of that I could still just mug pedestrians, jack cars, and have harrowing police chases.

Not Perfect

What continuously strikes me about the game is how truly and honestly crappy it is in every detail but how stunning it is when considered as a whole. Any particular aspect of the game really sucks.  It looks bad, it has awful physics and there are cheap deaths galore.  The camera is unhelpful to say the least and the game’s interface really sucks.

This last bit was most annoying throughout.  The map in the game was next to useless.  Many important places weren’t represented (police stations, hospitals, Off-track-betting parlors, etc) and the map was so lo-res it just didn’t help you find things.  Also this game was very three-dimensional but the map didn’t help there at all – you’d be driving across what looks like a plain only find a 100′ cliff.

The interface for changing clothes is murder… it takes far, far too long and too many selections to change a suit of clothes.  The time it took to eat and navigate the menu was also annoying.

The play area was so damn big but there were few concessions for this.  In GTA3 for example “gift” weapons (weapons earned for collecting) spawned at all your safe houses.  In San Andreas they spawn only at one (I would have been happy with them just appearing at the three primary locations).

There’s only one place to get or do a lot of things.  When you find a car suitable for export you’ve really no choice but to drive it from wherever you are to the Easter Basin Docks – which could easily be a drive of 25 minutes.  There’s only once place to get the jet pack and it disappears when you’re done with it (you can’t store it in a garage like other vehicles).

The asset properties were a good idea: but you have to visit each property EVERY (game) DAY to reap the most rewards.  Asset properties also don’t show up on the map – which means you have to remember where they are – it can easily take an hour to visit all of your properties.

Really, Not Perfect

The game has tons of cheap, cheap, cheap deaths (or mission failures).  Nothing is too terribly hard, but I had several moments where poor design almost made me leave the game.

For example the “Turf Wars” were okay, but the waves of enemies would often get lost and end up many blocks from the “war zone”.  If you went to get them you risked losing the battle for leaving the zone for too long.  (And let’s not mention the annoyance of not being able to start a turf war because some of the “neighborhoods” were so damn small or hard to see on the map).

I lost several driving missions because it started to rain in the mission (a normal, but random event) and rain causes most cars to slide around like drunken figure skaters.

I was very often shot to death because the auto-aim would select the completely harmless pedestrian behind the cop shooting me in the face.

The weapon classes were utterly annoying.  You could only carry one weapon of any class: so you might spend some time collecting ammunition for a certain pistol.  However then a mission would come along which forced a different kind of pistol on you and all that work was lost.  You couldn’t swap a weapon to see what it was and pick back up the previous weapon – it’s an all or nothing choice.

These classes were also rather restrictive: you could carry either grenades, Molotov cocktails or satchel charges but not all of them – even tho’ they have completely different functions and uses.

I Guess Perfection Might be Overrated

All told I really loved the game… but it’s hard to say why since every time I think about any particular thing I realize I hated it.

But I would still spend hours just driving around.  Just randomly starting something, running away and starting something again.  This may be first real case where sheer quantity won out completely over quality.

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