These days nostalgia for the early '90s is almost as strong as it was for the '80s. There is certainly a lot to remember about that era. The grunge and gangster rap movement was strong, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ruled Saturday mornings and wearing your pants backwards was the cool thing to do. It's only natural that Rockstar's follow up to Vice City, a game set in the '80s, would be a game set in the '90s.
Grand Theft Auto San Andreas takes place in 1992. The player assumes the role of Carl “CJ” Johnson as he returns to Los Santos from Liberty City after a five year absence. It doesn't take long until he's threatened by the police and gets roped into fulfilling their evil deeds. Meanwhile he returns to Grove Street, his hometown, to get his old gang back together. It's a long and elaborate story that places a lot of value on loyalty and family. If you've ever played a modern GTA game you know what to expect. Semi serious satire with that special Rockstar touch. The signature radio stations are back with the appropriate music for the era along with the most star studded voice acting cast the series has seen.
GTASA is massive. The game tries and succeeds in replicating California. There are three major cities in the game, Los Santos, San Fierro and Las Venturas. Los Santos corresponds to Los Angeles, complete with the Hollywood Sign (Vinewood in this game) and the beach. San Fierro is San Francisco with the Bay Bridge and a building based on the Transamerica Pyramid. Las Venturas is Las Vegas where you can visit the strip with a variety of casinos and plenty of desert areas. It takes quite a while to get around this massive map but that is part of the appeal for me. I took great joy in just cruising up the coastline or traversing over the mountains and through the forest.
The gameplay is similar to the other games in the series. You can expect driving, shooting and murdering hookers. GTASA marks the first time in the series that players can climb walls and swim. Also new for the game are girlfriends. Go out on dates and keep her happy and the player can expect some perks in return. The player can change how CJ looks by feeding him, exercising and buying clothes for him. There are some RPG elements as well. The more you use your skills (shooting, driving, swimming, etc.) the more skilled you become at using them. This game also brings back the gang aspect of GTA2 – my favorite GTA game – You recruit gang members, take over territories, gain respect.
The game isn't without it's flaws, however. The game is huge in scope but it isn't the most beautiful looking game out there. There is a lot of slowdown if you encounter clouds of smoke or clouds in the air. The controls have changed from the double pack and not for the better. They are serviceable enough but the double pack controls were my favorite. Lastly the sound effects, such as the gunshots, sound like a pea shooter. It would have been nice to have some oomph coming out of that shotgun. Even with it's flaws there is a lot to love in this game, perhaps too much. I have spent hundreds of hours playing the game and only have completed 70% of everything. But maybe it's better to have too much of a good thing than have too little.