Forget every thing you had hoped for in this game, we have absolutely no doubt that it will exceed your expectations. No matter how much Rockstar trickled information out during the year, you will still find things they did not mention. Things that will completely blow your mind, especially if you have played through GTA3 in Liberty City. So why is this game on track for 2004 PS2 game of the year, and possibly game of the year? Do you really need to ask?
San Andreas is set in the 90's where gang warfare is rife. You play as Carl Johnson, affectionately known as CJ amongst his hood. The game begins with CJ returning from Liberty City upon hearing his mother has been murdered and the city of Los Santos is in chaos. From there you build yourself up from regular gangster through to one of the states most wanted and revered criminals
The game is played from a third person perspective but most of the time you won't be on foot. The entire collection of vehicles is available to you, by either stealing parked cars or trucks, or jacking people out of moving vehicles. The open ended nature of the game allows you to do exactly what you want to do and when you want to do it. You can continue on with the main storyline (which is recommended at least until you unlock the entire map. The story will take you at least 20 hours to complete) or just drive around checking out the many sights Rockstar have included with this game. The entire map is not unlocked however until you reach a certain point, about two solid days play into the game.
You as Carl Johnson have the opportunity to mould a character in many different ways. Rockstar have included some RPG elements in the game, and as you progress through the story or just move around the cities, your statistics will improve. You will increase your driving ability, gain more health, gain respect amongst your crew and many other improvements. However you can also mould your character physically. As you play the game, you will have to eat food and if you want to be buff, go to the gym. This all affects how people such as the girlfriend characters react to you. If you're not buff, they may not want a second date. To top it all off, you can get tattoos and different styles of haircut to really personalise your character or even learn martial arts and boxing.
The main premise of the game is choices CJ has to make and a lot of it revolves around gaining enough respect to run a gang with a decent number of criminals. Many of these choices may come back to bite him. In Los Santos, each hood is run by a different gang and you can attack it to take it over. The great thing about this particular feature is you don't need to babysit the AI characters you bring along. If they see a rival gang, they will attack automatically, even pulling them out of cars to take them down. However further into the game you will move away from that to a degree and perform missions such as taking down a journalist who is causing corrupt cops some trouble. There is some truly memorable missions in San Andreas, especially towards the end of the game that just blow the mind and make you want to play more. Sooner or later you will have the long arm of the law after you, and in tune with the rest of the game, the different cities and areas have different style of police in terms of look and the vehicles they use.
Aside from the storyline you will find other things to do as well such as learning how to fly a plane properly in the game, or different motorcycle skills. Completing these schools all enhance CJ's ability to complete missions and really show the depth of the driving and flying model featured in San Andreas. You can also jack a taxi or firetruck and perform missions. There are other missions like this but we'll let you find those once you get the game. The cinematic style of the game oozes throughout. Many missions feel like they have been ripped out of a movie, and one particular scene is no doubt a homage to The Fugitive. If you leave CJ alone for a little while, the camera will switch to a view without the HUD and focus on action. People watching is completely viable in San Andreas, because there is always something going on. The AI can not drive to save their life, and you will encounter many car accidents and high speed chases during your travels. This can be frustrating occasionally when a critical character is killed by a out of control vehicle and thus mission failed.
The most impressive aspect of San Andreas however is the state itself. The game contains three major cities, desert, bushland style area and all the interstate highways in between. It is absolutely gigantic. You will definitely be overwhelmed when you first play the game. Sometimes you will be so involved in one area of the state, that you will completely forget that elsewhere another city exists. It's not only that however it's the small details that Rockstar have included in the game, such as the Little Probe Inn searching for alien life. You will find much more of this as you move around the map. Other than this, places such as bars offer so much to do. You can play pool, or play video games which Rockstar have put into the game. Almost everything in the game is interactive and considering the scope of the game this is quite an achievement.
Also the fact that where you are determines what type of pedestrian you will run into and the cars. To give examples, in San Fierro you will find normal, family style cars, while in the desert mainly long haul trucks. The game is really a living breathing fictional US state, with CJ just one small part of it. The pedestrians are also quite talkative and will just walk up to each other and start talking with some often humorous results. The cities have inspiration no doubt from many real world cities. Los Santos (Los Angeles), San Fierro (San Francisco) and Las Venturas (Las Vegas) and as you drive around the countryside, driving on the outskirts of these cities may feel like the real thing such as the desert on the way to Las Venturas. There is so much detail to the game. The days of the week are tracked via a day/night cycle and certain events only occur on certain days, even the moon changes between its four phases. This level of detail adds so much to the atmosphere of the game.
To go along with the scope of the game, the visuals are stunning. Each city has its own unique style of architecture and setting and offers different challenges to the player. The most impressive aspect of this however is the fact that there is no loading time once the game has begun, except when moving in and out of buildings. You can drive from one city to another without being interrupted by a load screen and this really enhances the atmosphere of the game and can really suck you in. The characters all animate well too. CJ has numerous different animations for the vehicles he can hijack and during gang warfare, your crew will hang outside car windows firing at enemies to give a few examples.
The voice acting of the game is extremely well done and again adds to the atmosphere. As you progress through the game, CJ adjusts his style to suit the current situation so you're not going to hear him swearing like a trooper in Venturas like you do in Los Santos. Rockstar have featured one particular high profile movie star in the game, but we'll let you find out who that is yourself. The music ranges from Hip Hop, to House dance tracks and even a bit of country music has been thrown in.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is a stunning achievement for both Rockstar and Sony. It shows just how powerful the PS2 system is when used right. This game has the potential to last months and months on end, especially for the 100% target. There is simply no other 2004 game for the PS2 that is as must own as this title.