Saturday, May 12, 2018

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (PS2)

Grand Theft Auto:  San Andreas is the sequel to Vice City and is the final mainline GTA game to be released for the PS2.  It carries a grander scope than the previous two games combined.  The map itself is massive and it is incredible that such a big and detailed world was able to be created like this at the time of its release.  As the undisputed king in open world games, San Andreas marks the return of all the features from previous games and then adds a lot more to it.  We see familiar features such as the day/night cycle (along with annoying restrictions on certain missions that can only be taken up within a specific time period), carjacking at any time, a huge amount of freedom to explore the world and the Wanted Level where police will increase their efforts to apprehend you when you perform crime.  The game utilizes save points but there are various properties on the map which you can buy.  Each of these includes a save point, therefore you don't have to traverse half the map just to save.

Weather effects are more varied with sandstorms, fog and rain amongst the other more standard sunshine and cloudy weather patterns.  New additions include limited environmental destruction such as vehicles that can now break fences, the character CJ being able to climb structures and a skill system, introducing RPG-elements into the series.  The skill system is such that the more you do a certain activity, the better CJ will be at it.  For example, riding a motorbike for a long time and leveling up your skills will reduce the chances of being flung off when you hit an object.  Or when you use a specific type of gun enough times, it will improve your accuracy.  CJ can eat food which he can then convert into stamina and muscles by going to the gym, leaning new moves and increasing his health.  Furthermore, he doesn't die instantly when he touches water, he can swim now.  CJ can crouch, allowing you to take cover during gunfights and do stealth kills when sneaking up on enemies.

The standard side missions such as police missions, ambulance missions and taxi missions are a given.  New are burglary missions where you rob houses and gang wars.  Certain areas will be controlled by enemy gangs and as CJ, you can incite a gang war, defeat the opposing gang and then claim the territory for yourself.  Finally, for the first time, you can freely control the camera without going into first person view.  This is extremely welcomed and makes the game a lot more fun.  Gunfights is what most of the missions will involve.  It retains the same lock-on system using the R1 button, and then attack/shooting using the Circle button.  You can change targets on the fly with L2 and R2 buttons.  If you wish, there is also a free-aim option but using the analogue sticks to aim can be difficult.  Unfortunately, aiming in a vehicle is horrible.  It is even worse when you have to contend with your own vehicle's health otherwise you fail the mission.  Heaven help you if it is the last part of a long mission because hooray, you get to repeat everything up to that point just to get another chance at it.  Free-aiming with the analogue sticks with sensitivity that you cannot toggle while the vehicle is swerving at high speed is definitely not fun.

The terrible handling of vehicles from the previous two games is the same here.  It is easy to spin out of control while turning or touching an object.  This crappy handling is frustrating in the racing missions and chase missions.  To advance the story, you complete missions.  The mission structure is exactly the same as the previous games.  Each mission will have multiple cutscenes to tell the story.  There can be multiple missions available at any one time and you have the freedom to pick which ones you want to do first.  Unfortunately, there are no checkpoints within the missions (bar on) so if you fail one, you will have to restart the whole thing again, including driving to the starting point.  There are specific missions where if you fail once, the second time you can skip part of the driving to go straight to the mission.  The missions encourage trial and error.  The attention to detail is impressive in that there are some unorthodox ways to beat the missions such as shooting the train operator to stop a train.  The early missions eases you into the game and in general, most of the missions in San Andreas are easier than III and Vice City.

There is an annoying trend of the game forcing you to trek over half the (enormous) map from one mission to the next.  This occurs within a mission too where you have to drive from one city to another, only for the next mission to be in the first city...  This is really annoying and significantly pads out the game.  With 101 missions in the game, this is the longest Grand Theft Auto game ever.  The horrible controls come to the forefront towards the later part of the game where it forces you to pilot aircrafts and pass through a series of training missions.  This is fine... except that the place is extremely sensitive to control, making it easy to spin and crash.  While it is a technical achievement in fitting this huge world without any loading screens between "islands" like the previous two games, the PS2 simply wasn't powerful enough to make it completely perfect.  There is a short draw distance with plenty of pop up.  If you are on the plane travelling too fast, the environments will not load fast enough and it will show up as low-res models instead.  The story follows Carl Johnson, or CJ, who returns to Los Santos after many years.  He is part of the Grove Street Families gang.  The gang is decline in its power and influence and CJ is not seen in a good light since he had been away for so long.

The first part of the story is more grounded and has CJ bringing the gang back to its former glory.  Along the way, he is constantly being forced to help out corrupted cops.  Eventually, CJ will travel to the country side and other cities to help out other characters, building up his influence and power.  The first part feels more personal than previous GTA games and you root for CJ.  Once he exists Los Santos though, it ends up being like the other games and CJ is helping out one character after another with the story becoming weaker, following a more predictable path.  CJ will end up doing literally everything from learning how to fly to grabbing a jetpack to breaking into secured military areas.  The finale is a long mission and is extremely tough.  This is also the only mission to have a midway checkpoint which may seem like a boon, but you still have to repeat huge chunks of the mission if you fail.  Lastly, there are plenty of minigames that you may never discover if you just focus on the main story.  There are rhythm games, gambling, having a girlfriend, basketball and pool.  There's so much to do it is mindblowing.  Overall, Grand Theft Auto:  San Andreas is amazing.  The world is huge and immersive, with plenty of varied environments such as deserts, urban and rural areas.  The signature freedom and amount of things to do will entertain you for hours on end.  While some of the missions are tough, in the grand scheme of things, San Andreas is one of the best games that is still fun today.


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