Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Build an empire in the vast, gang-riddled Golden State of the early nineties. San Andreas is coming for all of us. Details, screens and character artwork.
- Announcement (March 2004)
- Preview 1: First Preview (June 2004)
- Preview 2: Tasty New Screens, Diet Info
- Preview 3: Workin' Out, Jackin' Cars
- Preview 4: Another Massive Update
- Preview 5: Livin' Los Santos
- Preview 6: Shops and Robbers
- Preview 7: First-Hand Impressions
- Preview 8: Near Final Build Impressions
- Preview 9: It's Here! Final Preview
- Review - our final verdict
Update: Tonnes more in new previews:
By Adam Doree
There's no question that Grand Theft Auto is one of the most revered franchises in modern games history. Rockstar's premiere property has the power to make even the most anticipated firstparty titles squirm on their release schedule. And after many months of speculation, last month's E3 finally spilled the details on Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
But it wasn't at the showfloor. It wasn't even behind closed doors. Aside from the recently released screenshot staged in front of a fictional rendition of the Los Angeles Convention Center, it wasn't actually at the show at all. But it was in the July edition of Game Informer magazine, which secured probably the exclusive of the year with a ten page blowout on one of the year's hottest titles.
The exclusive feature was - and still is - pretty much the only source for information of any substance on the game, aside from some basic story details. So with all due credit to the magazine's earth-shattering deal with Rockstar, and without pinching their multitude of screenshots (you'll have to buy the magazine for that, won't you?) we present a shameless mix of details and conversation with Dan Houser, Creative Vice President at Rockstar North.
The gist is that you play a character called Carl Johnson (not to be confused with our own super staff writer) in the early 1990s, in a fictional place known as San Andreas - but the big thing is that San Andreas isn't merely a city, it's an entire state, California, that comprises fictional renditions of three key cities and all the countryside found in between.
The three cities are Los Santos (Los Angeles), San Fierro (San Francisco) and Las Venturra (Las Vegas) - each the same size as Vice City, bringing the estimated size of the entire game to around five times as big as any previous GTA title.
Houser told the magazine, "We're not setting the game in a new version of Los Angeles or San Francisco or Las Vegas, but in all three - and with the countryside in between. We take this GTA stuff seriously and we work hard on it, and we don't just do it to try and churn out a game. We think we've got some clever ideas and some clever angles on things."
The brand new chapter in the series boasts a storyline, according to Rockstar's E3 announcement, that goes something like this. 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 filmstars and millionaires do their best to avoid the dealers and gangbangers.
Now, it's the early 90s - one of the most troubled periods of the Golden States history in a time riddled with gang wars and big time crime. 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 neighbourhood, a couple of corrupt cops frame him for homicide. 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.
Each city lends itself to a particular style of play. Houser explains, "For good driving one ot the things that Vice City missed was hills... in San Fierro, things are a lot more driving-focussed, and that's when the game becomes a lot more about cars and driving and the environment reflects it."
The core gameplay elements promise to be improved as well, particularly regarding the shooting sections and the targeting system that has universally proven difficult in all third-person shooters to date. "The hardest thing in any open-world, third-person shooter is making targeting fun," explains Houser. " It's something that people criticise in GTA, but I don't think there're many games that do it well. It's a fundamental problem with a third-person shooter. We've done a lot of work to make that really fun this time."
And the cities are linked together by the countryside. "One of the things that the countryside gives you is a mountain, you've never had a mountain in a GTA game before. The idea of being able to drive from LA, through the countryside, up a mountain and into San Francisco and on to Vegas is just freakish, and it feels amazing!"
San Andreas promises to be as technically impressive as it is vast in scale. Rockstar has created new streaming and rendering technology to accommodate the scale without compromising on quality, while an improved graphics engine will offer reflective paintwork, dynamic lighting and shadows, and a lot more detail than before. Says Houser: "Looking back to Vice City, we had a much bigger map, but not everything was as dense and interesting as it could have been. This time, every bit of the map looks much crisper and has a lot more stuff going on."
The portrayal of crime infested Cali is guaranteed to get some people in a stink, but Rockstar has been working overtime to ensure the portrayal is fair and balanced. "We have a full-time set of researchers, which I don't think many other game companies have. We also took the whole team and all the artists all around California and Vegas with hundreds of digital cameras - deep into nasty neighbourhoods and the nicest casinos and all the points in between. We watched hundreds of movies to get the California vibe into the game. Also, we've got people who are in those communities and in that environment who we speak to about stuff to try to make it as faithful to that as makes sense."
The game's audio - something the series is most celebrated for - promises exceptional quality once again. Houser revealed: "Yes, there will probably be some rap music in there, but GTA music has always been about variety and we're not gonna deviate from that at all." And as for voice actors, Houser is not impressed with cash-in Hollywood talent voicing games. "We're not going to put a famous voice in there just because it's a famous voice. We're going to get someone who sounds wicked for the character, and if they're not famous it doesn't bother us at all."
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas isn't just going to be much bigger - it promises to be a whole lot better too. Rockstar promises a more sophisticated, complex experience than before, in which for example money plays an important and multi dimensional role being that you are building a criminal empire, in which there are hundreds of skills to learn, and that offers a lot more character development as well.
Impressively, the dynamic realism filters right though to Carl's diet - if you junk out on fast food and avoid exercise, the character will actually put on weight, become less agile and even be called a "fat bastard" in the street! Rockstar says this weight dynamic is another way to make the player feel more connected to the game character more than ever before.
We're starting to get an idea of just how impressive San Andreas is likely to be, and we're loving it already. Stay tuned to Kikizo for a whole lot more, starting with a fresh wave of screenshots shortly.