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November 7, 2004
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas - Review
Release Date Distributor Developer Players Rating Difficulty
29/10/2004Take TwoRockstar North1-2MA15+Medium
Save Size Sound Format Vibration 60Hz Mode 50Hz Border Widescreen
480KBDolby Pro Logic IIYesNoNoneNo

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It's drive-by shooting time!
So here it is... Early sales figures indicate that Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is already the fastest selling game in history with 58,000 sales on the first weekend in Australia, and over 3 million worldwide. Quite a change from previous titles. Nobody expected much of Grand Theft Auto III and it was released with little more then a whimper, but it became a monster hit remaining in the charts for well over a year, and receiving rave reviews from critics in the process. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City was released next and it literally blew everything away. It was revolutionary in size, scale and presentation. This third game in the series on PS2 promised even more again, a game literally six times the size of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. But can you get too much of a good thing?

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CJ's just hangin' around.
The story in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is wonderfully presented and superbly put together. Five years ago Carl Johnson escaped from the pressures of life in Los Santos, San Andreas... a city tearing itself apart with gang trouble, drugs and corruption. Where film stars and millionaires do their best to avoid the dealers and gangbangers. Now, it's the early 90s. Carl's got to go home. His mother has been murdered, his family has fallen apart and his childhood friends are all heading towards disaster. On his return to the neighborhood, a couple of corrupt cops, Frank Tenpenny and Eddie Polaski, frame him for killing another cop. CJ is forced on a journey that takes him across the entire state of San Andreas to save his family and to take control of the streets with the help of older brother Sweet, his sister Kendl, her boyfriend Caesar, and Carl's friends Big Smoke and Ryder.

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Better work out in the gym.
Gameplay in San Andreas remains faithful to previous games in the series. Starting in the city of Los Santos (which is based upon Los Angeles) CJ starts out with nothing, he lost his respect and needs to build up his reputation. As with previous games in the series the game is set out with missions for you to complete, be it to "tag" some graffiti to reclaim your turf, sneak into houses or buildings to steal goods, escape from enemy turf or attack enemy gangs. Once again if you want you can just chill out for a while, drive around the gorgeously designed city and take life easy.

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Outside the convention centre.
Some of the new abilities added to this game includes being able to rob houses (which requires planning - you can't just walk in and take anything), buying properties, gambling in the casinos to earn money (or lose it), swim in water (rather then instantly drown), get a haircut or tattoo to your liking, change clothes and appearance and recruit gang members to control parts of the cities or your properties.

The targeting system in the game has been improved and is now modeled on that in Rockstar North's uber-violent but very cool game, Manhunt. This means you can now lock onto a single enemy, and remain locked while moving around him or her to avoid attacks. The range of weapons is impressive with everything from your fists to shotguns, knives to machine guns. Another area which has been ramped up, and once again inspiration has obviosuly come from Rockstar's Manhunt is the stealth in the game. It is possible to hide from police or enemies in the shadows, or behind buildings and objects.

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Chopper above!
While Los Santos is absolutely massive, and about twice the size of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City in terms of area and missions, the game eventually moves onto two more cities, San Fierro which is based on San Francisco and finally Las Venturra which is based on Las Vegas.

One element I was concerned about prior to playing this game was the need to eat and work out. Fortunately these concerns soon vanish as you realise that the need to eat is more a need to fill your health bar, while working out at the gym helps CJ learn some new moves. Something else which really surprised was the inclusion of a 2-player mode. I haven't played this much yet, playing the single-player game is lengthy enough, but the time spent in 2-player was always a blast. Naturally, the game takes a slight hit on the graphics in 2-player mode, but not dramatically.

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Nice.. ermm.. just look at... ermm..
One of the biggest issues I have with San Andreas is the map and radar in the bottom left of screen while playing. Even on my fairly large TV it can be quite hard to distinguish where the next objective is. In some of the timed missions you will run out of time due to spending too much time looking at the radar to determine where you have to go. Another niggle with the game is the need to go all the way back to the start of a mission to replay it. Itís not too bad in the city, but when you hit the countryside it's pretty painful when you have to run so far to start the mission again.

You know what, graphically I'm a little underwhelmed by this title. The game does suffer from some draw-in which isnít surprising, the frame rate chugs occasionally, and thereís also the occasional graphical glitch. These aren't anything new to the seris. The camera could also have been improved as it can be a bit slow off the mark. If, for instance, you approach a car from the front and get in the camera stays pointing into the front of the car for several seconds before moving around. But that's the bad, fortunately the good easily counter-balances it.

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Big Smoke and Ryder...
The characters in the game world are quite impressive with some fairly good modelling overall. While there is some duplication in generic characters walking around the streets, and far too many hookers/sluts walking around, overall the range of people impresses. The main characters are even more impressive. CJ can be dressed as you see fit, while the clothing distinguishes the gangs very well. Character animation is excellent in some areas, and average in others. Some of the smaller details such as movements during cut scenes are great, some of the animations during gameplay, such as getting into a car, could have done with a little more variety.

It's not all bad, in fact San Andreas is still one of the most visually rich titles on the system with some aspects, while the vastness of the locations is impressive and overall presentation excellent. One of the most impressive aspects is the change in weather and time of day. It's so subtle you hardly notice the change. Impressively the game has different effects between cities. Some areas are more prone to fog, others to rain. The cut scenes, which are generated with the in-game engine, are wonderful. The storyline is conveyed well and the characters each exudes personality.

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Buying food to build health.
Sound is certainly one of the highlights of this title. Although Rockstar North aren't supporting DTS this time around, the Dolby Pro Logic II mix is effective. The voice work in this game really is very cool. The inclusion of Samuel L. Jackson was a surprise, but one which lifts the quality of the voice acting in the game. Heís just so cool. Also fantastic is the way that people in the street react and talk to you according to your appearance. Bear in mind that there's plenty of swearing in San Andreas which could be good or bad depending on your tasteís. For me I thought Rockstar hit the nail on the head. Thereís a lot there, but itís not over the top.

Sound effects in are impressive. Be it the ambient effects such as rain, birds chirping or people having conversations on the street. Everything is handled perfectly. The more impactful effects such as gunfire or explosions are realistic and up there with the best any other game or movie can match.

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Yep, hop on a bike!
The radio stations have returned and everything has been amped up to the next level. With over 100 licensed tracks from artists such as Dr Dre, Snoop Dogg, Guns n' Roses, James Brown, Cypress Hill, Public Enemy, Faith No More, Willie Nelson, Bell Biv Devoe and 2 Pac you will never tire of the music, and it will take some time to hear it all. Even more impressive is the radio commentary. Some of it is absolutely hilarious, and you'll sit in a car doing nothing to just listen to the wisecracks. Excellent stuff.

Let my just say that this is an epic title. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas meets every expectation and then some. Even with some technical issues this is an essential purchase. Game of the year? A bit too early to say that, but it's probably worth putting some money on. If you don't have this already - get it. Plain and simple.

Review By: Dave Warner

GRAPHICSIt's brilliant, albeit with pop-up, but look how much it throws around.
SOUNDSuperb speech, effects and music, its only missing DTS sound!
GAMEPLAYOverall a stunning experience, with the odd poorly designed mission.
VALUEIf you want a game to last a lifetime, this could be it. Sensational!
OVERALLGrand Theft Auto: San Andreas is a monster title. It's no wonder Rockstar are so bullish about the title - it's a stunner. This is the must have game of the year - at least to date. Buy this game - you can't be disappointed!

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