perjantai 20. elokuuta 2010

REVIEW - Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (2004)

Genre(s): Action
Released: 2004
Available on: PC, PS2, XBL, Xbox
Developer(s): Rockstar North
Publisher(s): Rockstar Games
Players: 1-2 (cond. multiplayer)

One of the most anticipated and hyped video games of the decade. The final part of the Grand Theft Auto III trilogy. The final, ultimate breakthrough for Rockstar Games. Everyone knew the Grand Theft Auto franchise and wanted a piece of it in one way or another... by buying some sort of license to it, or making a GTA wannabe of their own. Influenced by movies like Colors, Boyz n the Hood and Do the Right Thing, San Andreas deals with the thug life of African-American youngsters in the early 90’s. At the same time, it gives each and every fan of the earlier games new chunky bits of the GTA timeline to chew on, and moreover, it provides a gaming experience that is arguably the biggest and best in the whole series.

This ain’t no Mr. Rogers neighborhood

Young Maylay : Carl “CJ” Johnson
Faizon Love : Sean “Sweet” Johnson
Samuel L. Jackson : Frank Tenpenny
Clifton Powell : Melvin “Big Smoke” Harris
MC Eiht : Lance “Ryder” Wilson
Clifton Collins Jr. : Cesar Vialpando
James Woods : Mike Toreno
Ice-T : Madd Dogg
Chris Penn : Eddie Pulaski
Peter Fonda : The Truth

Los Santos, 1992. Carl Johnson, a small-time gangbanger and car thief returns to the city after five years on the run in Liberty City on the East Coast, to bury his mother, presumably killed by a rivaling gang. CJ is not welcomed with open arms. First he gets framed for the murder of a police officer by a group of corrupted cops, then shunned by his own brother Sweet. Seeing what his own hood has turned into during the five years he’s been away, CJ rejoins his old gang, hoping to find the means to put an end to the city’s drug trade. However, even CJ’s lifelong friends can’t be trusted in a city taken over by drugs and corruption, and he soon finds himself in a mess far beyond gang war, fighting anyone, for anyone, to survive and reach his ultimate goal.

The game looks even better than the previous game in the series. Of course, it still isn’t the prettiest game out there, but it plays out nice and smooth with minimal graphical glitches. The effects are better than ever, and the sceneries are breathtaking, especially those in the northern islands, once you get that far. The characters have relatively distinct features and facial expressions, and they’re not quite as blockheaded as usual. Overall, the graphics are quite detailed and well designed, and the game is a treat to watch. The polluted air resulting in the yellow-greyish sky creates nice contrast to the previous game’s colourful surroundings.

The previous game had quite a voice cast and San Andreas has a lot to live up to. It certainly doesn’t disappoint! Seeing that most of the game’s first half takes place in gang territories with most gang members being African-Americans, it’s only natural that most of the actors have actually seen the streets. Most of them are indeed rappers. Among others, Young Maylay (CJ), The Game (B-Dup) and the veteran Ice-T (Madd Dogg) do good jobs in their first voiceover roles, and are joined by a supergroup of professional actors: get a load of Samuel L. Jackson, James Woods and Peter Fonda! The voice acting in the game is incredible, and this time, there are no subtleties whatsoever – “motherfucker” is probably the most used word in the whole game, and yes, of course we hear Jackson say it a few times, what else would he be here for? Open drug use, tons of profanity, endless gang-related violence... now this is what the game should’ve been right from the start! Still, no explicit sex, even with the 18+ rating. The PC version originally had the infamous Hot Coffee mod, but it’s absent from all current retails... who cares about a bunch of rough polygons fucking their digital brains out? Schwing?

Drive-by shooting is a very important part of
the first half of the game.
San Andreas’ soundtrack, however, isn’t quite on par with Vice City’s. There’s still something for everyone, but too much hip-hop in comparison to all the rest, not a huge surprise there – and a strange variety of tunes, especially on the stations that are to my personal liking. There are several boring tracks you get tired of after just a couple of listens, you’ll also know the lyrics by then, even if you’ve never heard the song before. Of course it all depends on your personal taste and there’s a lot of good stuff here, too. Once again, Lazlow’s in the house, although this time he’s the host of one particular show on talk radio, and K-DST presents us some classic rock with W. Axl Rose himself as DJ Tommy “The Nightmare” Smith. There’s also Radio X, a grunge/rock/metal station, which I cannot live without even if the playlist’s quality is a bit random. Then, funk, reggae, country and all that. Once again, it’s a matter of opinion, but in comparison to Vice City’s radio... the selection simply ain’t that good. PC and Xbox owners can consider themselves lucky since they still have the custom radio option at their disposal.

I must say right off the bat that San Andreas is one of my favourite video games of all time, perhaps second only to Final Fantasy VII. However, I admit it does have some features which might annoy a lot of people and I understand those people to some extent, having endured some of the worst myself. First of all, Rockstar Games did a lot of work to eliminate some major problems present in the two previous games of the trilogy. No more loading screens between islands, you can come and go as you please and admire the sceneries without that annoying five second stop to the gameplay’s flow. A lot of those sceneries, however, especially on the later half of the game, are pure wasteland. There’s nothing to do there. It’s realistic, but practically a waste of space just there to make your trip from, say, Whetstone to Las Venturas, quite a chore. It’s fun at first, since neither III or Vice City had any off-road areas. Seeing that San Andreas is not a city but a whole state, it’s natural that there are some, but after your umpteenth mission in the San Andreas badlands, you’ll start to feel those digital miles in your bones. The most important addition in my mind, when it comes to driving, is the GPS targeting system. You mark a specific spot on your map, then just follow it on the GPS to get exactly where you want to go. Doesn’t sound like much, but it really is convenient, considering the endless circle III and Vice City sometimes put you through. And here we get to the lead character himself. The two most important additions to his physical abilities are the abilities to swim and climb over walls. You simply can’t beat the game without learning everything there is to CJ’s movement on foot. The game brings in a lot of new features, including RPG-like stats, often criticized by fans. The stats comprise of skills and physics. First up, the skills. Remember in Vice City, every time you crashed your bike, you were sent flying half a mile off it even from the slightest bump and didn’t find the bike afterwards since its headlight was smashed and it was night? Well, that’s an example of what the skills are for. Weapon skill practically means that when you reach a maximum stat on a, say, AK, you can strafe and walk while shooting without losing aim. In the case of both a handgun and a machine pistol, you’ll be able to pack two guns at the same time, which makes your holy mission of killing everyone a whole lot easier. This is a very cool addition in my books. Vehicle skills enable you to do some vehicle-specific missions/oddjobs/races, and in the case of motorcycles and the newly added bicycles, the higher stats you have, the less chance you have of falling off. A very, very cool addition indeed! Be warned, though: any stat development in the game is SLOW. To speed up your progress, there are driving schools for each vehicle type; which reminds me, those eager to take advantage of the other huge vehicular addition of the game and fly jetplanes, your time will come as the game progresses. You need to pass the flying school in order to beat the game.

The storyline missions are fun and diverse.
They get surprisingly lot out of the gang war
The most criticized stat is the Fat stat, and everything surrounding it. In this game, you need to eat to survive. CJ very often gets hungry at the worst possible moment. It never happens during storyline missions, but if you’re doing Paramedic missions, for example – which you have to do in one run and it might take as long as an hour, depending on your spot – you’ll likely get an extremely annoying message that goes along the lines of: “You are feeling hungry and losing stamina FAST!”. It starts with the degradation of Fat, then it eats away at the Muscle and finally, Stamina, and before you know it, you look like crap and your physical abilities weaken notably. You might think to yourself that you’re a smart kid, and you’ll just feed CJ whatever and in large amounts. Sadly, that doesn’t work either; it only makes CJ fatter. The fatter he is, the more his physical performance regresses. He can’t jump as high or run as fast. The Fat and Muscle are kept in check at the gym, which you luckily need to hit only a few times during the course of the game – if you’re systematic enough – to look like a professional wrestler and develop fists of iron. What I personally find even more annoying than the Fat stat is picking up girls. No, not prostitutes, that’s still possible too, of course, but steady girlfriends. It seems really cool at first, but to date each one of them, you’ll have to meet certain criterias, which are usually in conflict with each other. One likes fat guys, one likes skinny guys and so on. Even if you successfully pick up all the potential girls in the game, the game suddenly turns a bit too realistic and you’ll constantly have to KEEP them happy by taking them to specific places for dates – and you have to reach those places within time limits – to take advantage of their feats aside sex. Luckily only two of these girlfriends are mandatory, and two optionals are worth the trouble. You’ll have to find the optional girlfriends yourself, you have no chance of bumping into them during the storyline. For the record, I’ve never found the other optional girlfriend I mentioned, and have done fine. The physical stats and the girlfriends are cool features on paper. What they actually do is make the game a little too technical for its own good.

Vice City’s opportunity to modify Tommy’s look has undergone major, awesome changes in San Andreas. There are several clothes shops in San Andreas which you can use to your advantage. All of them are unlocked after certain missions and all of them sell different kind of clothes, from rags to sports attires, to elegant suits. Tattoo parlors and hairdressers aid you in your endeavor to gain respect all around the city. Duking it out with gangs and tuning up your crappy, rusty lowrider, which you stole from some poor schmuck, into a flaming beauty might also help you in gaining respect, and they’re both quite fun methods of pastime. If you get bored and are with a friend, keep a look out for multiplayer icons, which allow you to do short and simple multiplayer missions. Believe me, you’ll have your hands full all the time, and at least all the way to the game’s credits.

There are a lot of ways to spend spare time,
including a quick game of pool.
First off, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is the easiest game in the Grand Theft Auto III trilogy, but that doesn’t mean it’s a breeze. After all, it’s huge. It will take you days under all circumstances. There are some storyline missions that will have you twisting your spine in agony and anger, and they can actually take you days by themselves. I know a guy who was stuck on a mission called Air Raid for THREE MONTHS; you’ll know why, and the next mission in that category ain’t a cakewalk either. I’ll give you a general tip of survival many have dismissed thus far: don’t go thinking the vehicle-specific missions and other oddjobs are just for fun. Some of them are, yes, and a part of 100% completion. Some of you don’t care about it, I’ve noticed that, but to spoil it all just a little, at the very least do the Paramedic missions, as enfuriating as they are, to gain 50% more maximum health, and the Fire Fighter missions, because beating them renders CJ completely fireproof. Yes, for the rest of the game, completely. It’ll help you, a LOT – note that it doesn’t save you in the case your car explodes, though. I can honestly say that the Fire Fighter missions and some other profitable oddjobs, which you’ll have to find out about yourself, are keys to beating this game. I can also honestly admit that some of the optional missions are so difficult and frustrating that I myself will NEVER champ my way through them, I just can’t; I’ve finished 97% of the game. Use your brains, check out the Internet if there’s something you specifically want to do, and go for the real challenge.

Despite an admittedly overtly technical nature which has roots in Rockstar’s attempt to come up with the most realistic Grand Theft Auto experience possible, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is one of the decade’s most intriguing and enjoyable games. It’s always a pleasure to return to the streets of Los Santos and beyond. Very authentic virtual crime with more verbal and visual humour, more cinematics, more action, more violence and more size than ever before. I love the game, in spite of its flaws. I find it extremely easy to get used to them. The final rating’s more than just a sum of the qualities mentioned, it’s the whole atmosphere, and the game’s size and diversity that count.

Graphics : 9.2
Sound : 9.1
Playability : 9.4
Challenge : 9.2
Overall : 9.7


GameRankings: 91.94% (PC), 95.03% (PS2), 92.14% (Xbox)

861 actors are credited for voiceover work.

The voiceover cast features several MC’s, DJ’s and musicians, as follows: Young Maylay (CJ), MC Eiht (Ryder), Yo Yo (Kendl), The Game (B-Dup), Big Boy (Big Bear), Kid Frost (T-Bone Mendez), Ice-T (Madd Dogg), Chuck D. (DJ Forth Right MC), Orfeh (Millie Perkins), Shaun Ryder (Maccer), George Clinton (DJ Funktipus) and W. Axl Rose (DJ Tommy “The Nightmare” Smith).

The San Andreas state consists of three mainlands – Los Santos, San Fierro and Las Venturas – and stretches of desert. The infrastructure of the state is a combination of the states of California and Nevada.

The first Grand Theft Auto game with unique license plates on the characters’ cars and special vehicles used in certain missions.

Counting the cutscenes only, the word “fuck” and its derivatives are said 365 times.

Samuel L. Jackson has the honour of being the first man to utter the word “cocksucker” aloud in a video game. He plays the game’s main antagonist, C.R.A.S.H. officer Frank Tenpenny.

The character of OG Loc was modelled to mock rapper Ja Rule.

Chris Penn (R.I.P.) does the voice of C.R.A.S.H. officer Eddie Pulaski. His brother Sean Penn played a C.R.A.S.H. officer in the movie Colors, which the game draws influence from. The character of Ken Rosenberg was originally based on a movie character also played by Sean Penn, David Kleinfeld from Carlito’s Way.

The Cluckin’ Bell restaurant chain is a parody of Taco Bell.

Like Grand Theft Auto III, San Andreas features a well placed parody of the game Driver. There’s also a spoof on the expense of True Crime: Streets of L.A.; payback to Activision for their joke on Rockstar Games.

CJ’s pilot ranks are as follows: Goose, Maverick, Iceman, Jester and Viper. All of them are nicknames of characters in the movie Top Gun.

Several characters from both of the previous games return, including Kent Paul, Ken Rosenberg, Dwaine, Jethro, and Grand Theft Auto III antagonists Catalina and Salvatore Leone. Lazlow Jones appears as the host of Entertainment America. The silent protagonist of Grand Theft Auto III makes a cameo and is given the name Claude. Rosenberg mentions Tommy Vercetti.

Zero’s RC Shop sells action figures based on many Rockstar Games productions, including Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.

The cards in the video poker game in the Las Venturas casinos depict characters from the two previous games.

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