After changing up things with Manhunt, Rockstar returned to the Grand Theft Auto series. Just like with GTA:Vice City, GTA: San Andreas continued to improve upon nearly every bit of what made their previous games successes. At the risk of sounding blasphemous to the current-gen games, I consider Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas to be the best game of the series so far.
With San Andreas a state, rather than a single city, each of the 3 major cities (and surrounding small towns) each have their own distinct feeling. Like Vice City as a period piece video game, San Andreas takes place in California in 1992 around the time of the Rodney King riots. And yes, a fictional version of this in weaved into the game giving it a more realistic feeling.
Right off the bat, all the characters are more intriguing and more complex than previous versions. While the main character, Carl “CJ” Johnson is not voiced by a recognizable actor, he does a great job. The real star power from from the supporting cast. The primary antagonist throughout the entire game is Officer Frank Tenpenny (that’s right, a cop is the bad guy) voiced by none other than Samuel L. Jackson.
In keeping with the early 90’s gangsta rap era, the majority of other voice actors are known for their portrayal of characters in that era. The more well-known voice actors of the game include Chris Penn, Ice-T, Peter Fonda, David Cross, Charlie Murphy and James Woods and various characters from GTA III and Vice City reprise their roles, which further adds depth to this trilogy of games.
While there are numerous improvements to the game physics as well as abilities and vehicles, what makes this the best GTA game to date is the story. Most of the major characters have decent story arcs and each one has a different personality as well as motivations for their actions.
With San Andreas coming out in 2004 a lot of the improvements don’t sound like much when compared to modern games, but back then, they were considered literal game changers. Because of all the updates from previous games, this was the first GTA game where I paid attention to EVERY news update from Rockstar regarding a game. While the number of additions are too numerous to list in this article, this will focus on the major improvements.
Vice City introduced motorcycles and helicopters while San Andreas upped the ante by introducing bicycles, a variety of airplanes, ATVs, go-karts…with approximately 200 different vehicles you get where this is going.
San Andreas also became somewhat of an action RPG because of a reasonably in-depth progress system. The more you drove cars, bikes, planes etc you’re skill improved meaning it was easier to make sharp turns at high speeds, bunnyhop your bike over taller obstacles and reduce the chance of falling of your motorcycle when hit at high speeds.
This was also the first (and only to date) time you could modify your character’s appearance with more than just clothes. CJ is required to put in work at a gym to improve his stamina, strength and hand-to-hand fighting abilities. Another first for the game allowed CJ to swim, meaning you no longer instantly died if you touched a body of water. Swimming also improved your lung capacity allowing you to dive underwater to sneak onto ships and allowed CJ to compete in 2 different triathlons as well as various other sporting events including bike races and a simplistic basketball game.
As mentioned at the beginning of the article, this is still my favorite GTA game made to-date. I owned the original PS2 version and when I bought a PS3 I purchased a digital copy. The graphics are definitely dated now but nearly 10 years after its initial release I still get the same enjoyment out of this game now like when I first played it in 2004.