Blast From The Past
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was a perfect 3D finale before the HD era
Rockstar Games have been making the Grand Theft Auto series for a while now and they know what makes a great, fun, billion dollar sandbox of crime. Grand Theft Auto III introduced the ‘3D universe’ to the series and that reached its end with Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
While the latest Grand Theft Auto V has managed to bring the fictional Los Santos to life like never before, it was San Andreas that nailed it first. It was also the most ambitious GTA to-date by including not one, not two, but three cities spread across an entire state with plenty of towns and countryside in between.
”Ah no, here we go again. Worst place in the world, Rolling Heights Ballas country.”
As the young Carl ‘CJ’ Johnson we return to Los Santos for a family funeral and reunion with the Grove Street families, only to fall directly into the hands of the corrupt Officer Tenpenny of the C.R.A.S.H. gang taskforce. It’s from the very start that everything gets that Rockstar flavour of spinning out of control. Before you know it you’re chasing freight trains on a dirt bike, breaking into a National Guard depot, ambushing a funeral, stealing a rapper’s rhyme book, getting chased by Russian mobsters through the Los Santos river, rescuing a girl from a burning building, starting gang wars for territory, and hitting 340lbs at the gym to look swole.
It was the sheer scale of San Andreas that drew you in and kept you busy, and yet despite the enormous virtual geography, Rockstar managed to keep it from feeling so stale and artificial. Around every corner there always seemed to be something to explore, and thanks to the crazy nature of the NPC AI, you were rarely left bored.
”All we had to do, was follow the damn train, CJ!”
San Andreas was also the last time that Rockstar kept so many of the side tasks and the rewards that came with completing them in a Grand Theft Auto title. Reached level 12 of the Firefighter missions? Now CJ is fireproof. Had the patience to rob $10k worth of stuff? Now you can sprint forever. These would technically be cheats but GTA always rewarded those willing to try and overcome its side attractions.
Anyone who has ever completed level 12 of the Paramedic missions in the series knows the bitter taste of failure. San Andreas included many of these kinds of rewarding tasks that have sadly been stripped away. 100 tags, 100 horseshoes, 50 snapshots and 50 oysters; were they just empty busywork or actually rewarding trials of endurance? These were little ways Rockstar embraced the sandbox mayhem at the core of the franchise.
”I’ll have two number 9s, a number 9 large, a number 6 with extra dip, a number 7, two number 45s…”
We also got treated to Rockstar’s most outlandish story telling yet with a whole host of characters voiced by some big and very talented names. Samuel Jackson voiced Officer Tenpenny, Ice-T was the rapper Madd Dogg, and we had James Woods as the government spook Mike Toreno. In San Andreas it seemed like the party was never going to end as you travelled the state and established yourself in each city. You start out as a ‘buster’ with nothing and eventually run your own criminal empire living the high life.
San Andreas also gave us the greatest selection of vehicles to play with from cars, trucks, airplanes, helicopters, trains, boats and even a Jetpack. We also had girlfriends to manage, muscle and fat to build, lose or gain and even a peckish CJ that could literally starve to death if you didn’t eat every so often. San Andreas had it all, and was a near-perfect send off for Grand Theft Auto’s 3D era as it bridged over to the HD universe of Niko, Michael, Franklin and Trevor.
Where to get Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas today?
There is a slight issue though for any purists out there as technically this is no longer the original PC version but the re-release that launched for mobile. This mean you get the benefit of a cleaner UI but you do lose some stuff, like radio tracks being removed over licensing. Of course you could look to the GTA community, who have cheekily prepared a way to ‘downgrade’ San Andreas to its original, and then modded in the useful upgrades from the re-release. This also solves a number of issues getting the game to run on Windows 10.