San Andreas PC: Hands-On Report
And it's as un-PC as ever! Groan. Kikizo steps into the big floating yellow triangle outside the door of Rockstar Games, to have a look at the PC conversion of GTA:SA.
As we head for the train station, the sky is filled with grey, and a slight shower progresses to a full on downpour; not a great start to the day.
Talking about the weather is usually considered to be the preserve of those without the 'small-talk gene', a particularly dull subject when all other conversation has been exhausted, yet it proves to be an interesting topic today, as Kikizo visits Rockstar Games to have a look at how the PC conversion of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is shaping up. We'll not go into detail about the game itself, much has already been written on the original PS2 release and needless to say the main game remains intact in this port. Instead we'll focus on what has been added.
Firstly though, some slightly bad news - there will be no added content in terms of story or missions. This is exactly that same game as the PS2 version, just better in every department. Considering just how deep and detailed a game San Andreas is though, converting the game to other systems is plenty of work in itself, and the Rockstar North team are deservedly proud of the conversion so far. Besides, this is hardly cause for complaint, and anyone who does will just have to prepare for their gobs being well and truly smacked when they get their hands on the game proper.
The most obvious area of improvement is with the visuals, the game was running at a 'mere' 1200x800 resolution for the purpose of our demo (but will go higher in the final build of course), but even then things were looking even sweeter than that mobile ring tone bird. All of the 3D models were initially created hi-res and scaled down for the PS2 version, so now have been reinstated to their full glory for PC. The extra detail in textures helps to reinforce atmosphere; worn out roads a fair indication of run-down 'hoods, and you can now read the covers of magazines scattered around your safe house, instead of just the titles.
Simple things for sure, but it just adds even more detail to what was already there. Rockstar's Dean Evans chips in, saying that "pretty much every object casts a shadow [and] these shift depending on the time of day", something you hardly even notice, meaning of course that they're doing the job perfectly. Draw distance has been increased too, and there is less in the way of texture pop-up (down to improved 'procedural rendering').
Getting back to that weather, the types are still as they were but now there are some additional effects for them; how about a really thick pea-souper fog in San Fierro, or maybe a beautiful rainbow perfectly framing the hilly countryside. Much is written about the violence and law-breaking in the GTA games, but hardly any focus is brought on just how breathtaking the scenery can be at times. It helps then that any photos you take in game will be saved into a directory on your PC, so you can send some 'wish you were here' style images to your friends.
Moving on to the audio, all of the original 11 radio stations are present and correct, but now an additional one is there to playback your own MP3 collection (there will possibly be support for other formats in the final build). Unlike with Vice City, you aren't limited to sequential playback. There are now three modes for this new station, sequential and random are self-explanatory, but there is also a Radio mode, which splices in some of the adverts from the other stations between your tracks to give it that authentic GTA vibe. There was an 'interestingly' eclectic selection of tracks playing on the test version.
Other additions are small, but should prove to be appealing for the community that will spring up around this game. First off is the Replay function, with which you can pause the game at any time and watch the last 30 seconds of gameplay (with full camera control), to check out a cool jump or particularly skilful piece of driving, which is pretty cool in its own right. If these replays will be possible to save out and send to your friends is still not confirmed, but how sweet would it be for showing off your mad skillz; even for simpler things such as showing other people where to find hidden items and Easter eggs, way better than just describing what they look like.
Fingers crossed the guys at Rockstar can manage it, as it would be just that something extra to help create a successful community. One thing that is sorted that will also help this, is that you can save out your player stats as an HTML file which will be "pretty good for bragging rights" as Dean puts it, and will give a psychological profile of your playing style - don't be killing too many innocents or you could be branded a sociopath!
The control on the PC is, of course, much more accurate than joypad, using the typical WASD FPS control layout (headshots galore!). Indeed, Dean says they feel "[the PC] is the spiritual home of the GTA series", considering that's where it all began. It's hard to disagree with him, even being so used to the fantastic PS2 version the temptation is there to lose another 90 hours to play through the game in PC-O-Vision.
The only thing with the keyboard and mouse set-up is that it doesn't easily lend itself to multiplayer gaming on the same machine, and as such the 2 player co-op mode from the PS2 version is being dropped. Fair enough, it was only ever a surprise bonus in the first place, but as consolation Dean tells us that Rockstar will be "totally supporting of the MOD community", and it will be interesting to see if the guys behind the GTA: Vice City 'Multi-Theft Auto' MOD have anything in the works.
With the PC (and Xbox) release just over a month away, it may have been a long wait from the PS2 release, but considering the size of the game it's nothing really. OK so the new content is mostly cosmetic, but then new content is for new games, and now everyone can live a life in San Andreas before news of the inevitable next instalment surfaces. Our day at an end, we step out blinking from the pitch darkness of the demo room, into blindingly bright sunshine, and would you believe it, a beautiful rainbow too. Not such a bad day after all.
Staff Writer, Kikizo Games