Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

The biggest game of 2004 is here, but does it live up to the hype? We take to the streets of San Andreas.

Rockstar North

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By Kikizo Staff

Everybody likes a buffet dinner. The food just sits there, taunting you in its magnitude, daring you to come over for another plate. The roast beef steams next to the golden-brown chicken, which dwarfs the crisp roast potatoes sitting right next to it. Opposite is the dessert table, where you know you'll be spending some time later. You'll eat your fill, and, if you're anything like me, you'll go back for just one more - because you can. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is the pinnacle of buffet gaming. There's something here for nearly everyone, and while the game is short of perfection, it's a sumptuous experience to be savoured over time.

Grand Theft Auto III got things running back in 2001, but it was with 2002's GTA: Vice City that the series really captured the public's awareness. To a child of the Eighties - which crucially included a large portion of the target audience - it was heaven. Just hearing Blondie belt out Atomic or Michael Jackson boogie down with Billie Jean was enough to make the game a required experience for me. People of my generation tend to romanticise the Eighties. Pop music was better. Teen movies were excellent. And the fashion provides a wealth of retrospective humour. The Nineties, though, were a whole other story.

California, or in this case the semi-fictional San Andreas, was a den of villainy in the Nineties. Few will look back to that decade with wonder. It was, in fact, quite ugly. The world seemed to get a lot nastier. So it seems only fitting that GTA: San Andreas is the grittiest, the ugliest, and the most violent of the series.

Rockstar's choice to set the game in the world of African American gangsterism is an unsurprisingly controversial one. The recent spate of Manhunt hysteria in the UK seems like a portent of things to come if the worst predictions of industry analysts and insiders are to be believed. But the setting works. What more natural environment for constant, egregious harm to your fellow man than the gang culture of the west coast of the United States?

The state of San Andreas is an impressive place to be in. Even more so than Vice City or Fable's Albion, the world is alive. It's the sort of game world where you could remove every instance of story, every trace of thematic progress, and still watch in awe as it deftly whittles away at your social life.

Standing on a street corner, observing, gives you an opportunity to witness the AI in action. People mill around, going about their lives. Gang members accost rival gang members. Some drivers sit and wait, dutifully, at traffic lights, even as others behave suspiciously like they're under the influence. Random people flirt with one another on the street. The end result is a recreation of the world right outside your door, albeit one simultaneously more cartoonish and dangerous.

Ask someone to define the Grand Theft Auto series in a word, and you'll typically get one response: violence. But this is too simplistic. The real heart of the game is the freedom it proffers. Don't want to go on the next story mission? Why not drive an ambulance instead? Or a taxi? Or a fire-engine? Or work on your automotive skills at the driving range? Or act out your vigilante tendencies? Or park cars at the hotel valet service? Or bike your way through the cities? Or rob slumbering houses? Or scour the countryside looking for good eats and scenic views?

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Video Coverage
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Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Direct feed gameplay - various scenes
(480x360, 1.3Mbps)
3.00m 25.9 MB WMV
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Trailer 3 - direct feed
(640x480, 1.3Mbps)
1.18m 11.6 MB WMV
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Trailer 3 - direct feed
(640x480, 1.3Mbps)
1.10m 10.3 MB WMV
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Trailer 1 - direct feed
(640x480, 1Mbps)
1.17m 10.0 MB WMV

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