Back in the days of October, 2004, the world was taken by storm by the latest and greatest installment of Rockstar North’s Grand Theft Auto series, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Moving from the bustling Vice City to the gang-filled streets of Los Santos, San Andreas was regarded as a damn masterpiece of the time. With a quite large open world for the player to explore and plenty of side activities, it’s no wonder why it was regarded with such praise at the time. But what about now, 15 years later? Does it still hold up as a quality game or have we been blinded by the rose-colored glasses we look through?
First things first, a brief recap of where we begin. We follow the story of and play as Carl Johnson (better known as CJ), a former member of the Grove Street Families, who is coming back to his hometown of Los Santos after the death of his mother. What he comes back to find is Grove Street to be a shell of its former self and their lifelong rivals, the Rolling Heights Ballas, reigning supreme. Determined to stay and build the Families back up as one of the leading gangs in Los Santos, CJ once again finds himself back in the world of crime he had tried to leave behind.
Note: This review is based off of the PC version available on Steam. Experiences may vary on other platforms.
Well as far as the story goes, I say it still holds up in true GTA fashion. It checks the boxes of actual intriguing story as well as giving the over-the-top outrageousness that the series is known so well for. From drive-bys (and drive-thrus) to killing deliverymen with RC planes, there’s a wide array of missions CJ is tasked with to keep the game lively and entertaining. The plot itself is one I find to be actually rather compelling. The twists and turns keep the player intrigued and invested in what’s to come while also providing an element of comedy that’s still brought up to this day. I can say that this aspect holds up to this day rather well.
The characters themselves are memorable in their own way. From the preaching words of Big Smoke to the uncanny skills (for a blind man, at least) of Woozie, each one has their own unique personality, giving the game more dynamic and fun interactions. But on the downside, there’s a good deal of poor voice acting in the game. It seems that the non-crucial story characters (take T-Bone Mendez for example) have just really bad VAs, while the more important ones are pretty good. My guess is that Samuel L. Jackson took up too much of the budget and they had to take what they could get. Other than that, though, the characters are some of the most iconic in the entire franchise.
Now for the technical side, where the disparity really starts to show. First off, the graphics really show that it’s from 2004, with textures that look better off in Minecraft nowadays. Outside of cutscenes, everything is jagged and rough. Hell, I’m not sure if there’s anything resembling a curve in the game. The audio is another issue, prominently the dialogue. When in cutscenes, it sounds just fine, but in-game, anyone other than CJ sounds like they’re speaking through a cheap Xbox mic. It’s not the most pleasant thing in the world to listen to. Gunshots don’t sound great and explosions could be related more to someone blowing into a microphone than an actual explosion. Another somewhat uncommon issue is that the game can crash while loading, leaving you looking at a black screen that’s annoying to Alt+Tab out of. I’ve resorted to restarting my PC whenever it happens.
Controls are a whole different beast entirely. The camera control when running and driving can be a hassle, but it’s manageable. On-foot movement is nothing different for the GTA franchise, so it’s easy to get the hang of. The driving, on the other hand, is quite annoying when starting off. Most notably is that you have no control over your acceleration. As it’s controlled by a button rather than a trigger, the only options are “go” or “don’t go”. However, once you get a grip on it, it can feel quite good to drive around in the game. Shooting is where my main issue lies. It’s primarily controlled by a target-lock system that can be a bit buggy at times, not allowing you to lock on to someone standing directly in front of you. Another issue is more of a personal gripe, but when you try to shoot someone behind you, CJ simply just shoots into the air rather than turn around. You have to turn and face the target for CJ to actually aim at them. I understand why it works like this, but it’s just annoying to deal with.
Overall, I think that Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas would not hold up today in terms of graphics and audio, but the story, characters, and gameplay are still of a high quality that keeps the player entertained for countless hours. From when singleplayer games reigned supreme, this gem has stood the test of time and lives on with a legacy that won’t soon be forgotten.