This game - it changed me forever. Somehow, I found out about it on the internet; all the things you could do - steal and drive cars, walk around and shoot things, you gotta bear in mind here I was 11 or 12 years old and the freedom and realness this game offered - wow, just wow. I mean, I would sneak down the stairs and go into my father's game cabinet (when he was out) and pick out Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas - I bought it for him a few years earlier thinking it was a car game... not realizing what beauty I was holding in my hands - I would take it up to my room and put it on. Wow. I thought, just wow. I'm playing an 18 rated game, that allows you essential to live and breath in a virtual world and do genuinely just about anything that I can think of (well, within the constraints of the game). The games I had played prior to this were just either flimsy boring racing games or strategy games that would leave me in fury at not being able to complete it or whatever. I did, however, have The Simpsons Hit & Run - now that was a game I loved. Little did I know, it's core game play was literally based off Vice City. Anyways back to what I was saying; As I put the game on I promised myself I wouldn't do the missions... but of course you kind of have to do the first one, to get going. So I thought, `OK, I'll do this one, but that is it!'. Of course, that wasn't it.
But after the first mission, I explored this game. And dear God, what I had read and seen on numerous YouTube videos - it was true. You could do virtually anything you wanted. And it had been sitting downstairs, for 4 or 5 years right under my nose and I had no idea about it - can you imagine how annoyed I felt? In my first session of the game I felt alive; driving around Los Santos listening to the classic 90's heavy metal - and gradually I began to love all the other stations (Through this game alone I have now collected over 20 hip-hop albums, 10 alt. metal albums and 16 other classic albums on CD because the music chosen here is incredible) - and seeing all the amazing sights. It was amazing, I mean honest to God - when I accidently somehow drove into the countryside, I thought I was dreaming, literally. But I wasn't, and I bet many of you had the same experience as to thinking it was a dream. It was real, alright and it was and still is to this day the best video game I ever played.
This is because of it's simple complexity. By that I mean - I found it incredible how there was all this stuff to do, driving, walking, flying, sailing, cycling, getting fit, eating, in-game arcade games, gambling, buying houses, modding cars, dancing, killing people (no, I'm not a sadist), weaponry - all this, could be done with touch of a few buttons. Incredible, don't you think? And it wouldn't rub it in your face or make you over-use everything. It would let you decide what, when and how you would like to do something.
The plot of this game you ask? Is simple. A long-time, well known crook-gangsta comes back from Liberty City (Rockstar's New York) to bury and avenge his recently deceased Mum, but in the process discovers the corrupted police and the Ballas gang have taken over Grove Street. And you can kind of guess what happens from there - I mean if you've played this game or any other GTA game for that matter, than you will definitely know what I am talking about.
The free-roam factor was what appealed to me the most and since then I've come across numerous GTA-'clones' (more like rip-offs) and they just don't do what this games does. This game does anything and everything you could potentially imagine within a criminally active, living and breathing world. Now of course, if this game was just free-roaming and all the above mentioned - the world would have to be pretty big, vast, believable and detailed in order for it to succeed, right? Well that's what it is - what I just said. San Andreas - isn't a city, it's a state. This game is HUGE and by huge, I don't mean the size of a games' interpretation of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway - I mean the size that can't even be put into context - it really is that big. And you'd think with such a big world - that there'd be very little detail. Wrong. Very wrong. Infact, I love the complex detail and little features you see around the state - every time I play it, I always see something new - whether that be a horse-betting station or just a hot-dog stand on the side of the road in the middle of the country side somewhere. The game is never the same twice - if you were to re-load it and take the same actions you did before, everything would be different! Several occasions I've had police cars ram me in the back of my car due to them being terrible drivers and letting their culprits go. I've also been in a mission when an actual plane came crashing down right next to me... infact I kind of drove into it and blew up myself... not a good move, I guess. But hey - that's San Andreas. And that's what makes this so good - take all of what I just said, add THE BEST game soundtrack ever made (ranging from hip-hop, alternative rock/metal, classic rock, soul, funk, dance, chat stations) and the funniest dialogue you will ever hear within a video game - you've got yourself one hell of a game.
Not everything is amazing though, I mean there are definitely pop-in issues when driving at tremendous speeds, and there are LOTS of glitches, and other strange things that happen (I shot a man in the head 19 times before he decided to stop getting up off the floor and getting shot at again). Sometimes, yes - this can be a nasty little pain that happens say sometimes in a mission but it is so rare and so miniscule - that you'll hardly notice it. I will tell you also there are some missions within this game - that are SO hard that you actually convince yourself that you will never complete it, but eventually with time, strenuous patience and a stress ball - you will.
Speaking of the missions, they are good. But you never really buy a GTA game for the missions, let's face it - you buy it for the free-roam. Now that's not to say that the missions are completely dull and boring because they are FAR from it. They are vast, energetic, sometimes furiously aggravating, but all the time exciting - so much can go on at one point, you actually wonder if you will get out alive. You never know with this game. You're usually given an objective, sometimes within a time limit (my worst enemy) but most of the time you just get the objective and take as long as you want. In fact, you could explore the entire game and then complete the task at hand. This adds to the sense of freedom I spoke of earlier. Without some time limit constantly and slowly driving you mad or a strict route or routine you have to take in order to get there and do the task at hand - it really is so much more enjoyable. The game does have it's own clock and weather system - and some missions do rely on the time of day (or night, for the brilliant burglary missions) as to whether or not you can actually start the mission or complete it within the hour or something. Always different, like I said before. The weather system by the way - is incredible... always changing and never the same routine.
The voice cast is superb, infact you have tons of people who you would NEVER expect in a game like this - including; Samuel L. Jackson, james Woods, Peter Fonda, Frank Vincent, Chris Penn, MC Eiht, Chuck D, Axl Rose, Phil Collins, Ice-T, Shaun Ryder - to name a few - and the weird thing is, you wouldn't even know this unless you watched the end credits (I did as it was THE first PS2 game I ever completed, believe it or not) and it's not as obvious unless you know their voices well. Each of the names I just mentioned, gets their fair appearance, Jackson the most.
The graphics are superb, well for 2004. I mean I'm not saying, `they are the best graphics you will ever see!' - because believe me, their not. But they are great. They look and feel very different from it's predecessors (III, Vice City). They are quite bold and everything is quite clear until you get up really close when it can become pixelated and a little blurry... but you're not really going to be walking head-first into a building the entire time you're in the game, are you? Pop-in is there, yes - but generally only at fast speeds and sometimes when you move the camera too quickly (this happens 1/10 times roughly per game session) - it's not really a distraction from what you're doing within the game.
The presentation is nice, your weapon `wheel' is nicely located at the top right of the screen in a little round-edged square with your life underneath in a red bar. Also is the wanted system, 1 being the lowest and easy to escape and 6 being the hardest and about as easy to escape as it is from Alcatraz... if you don't count the film.
As for the box and packaging it comes in; well of course - this is Rockstar so it's going to be top notch. You get a basic guide - however this isn't done like your average (press x to run, etc, etc) - it's done like 'a guide to the state of San Andreas'. It is geniusly crafted and looks lovely. Behind this, in the box - you get a map. An entire map of the whole game. This is really handy when it comes to wanting to find something in particular within SA. The disc has a picture of a artist-drawn-sexy-woman on it and it really gives you the sense that this game is going to be something very unique indeed.
Overall, this game is sensational, spite of what I said earlier, it actually is revolutionary as it did inspire Saints Row (that tot) and other game designers to go out and make a gangsta-style game with as much freedom as this - but let's face it, no one will beat Rockstar at their game. They invented, it and they will dominate it for as long as they are around. The game is my favourite of any console, any franchise and overall just an amazing game. If you haven't got it or played it before, then I suggest you do now - otherwise you will miss out on the greatest gaming experience you may ever have.