Published in 2004, GTA San Andreas quickly became a huge favourite with fans of the Grand Theft Auto series. It has since been succeeded, firstly on the Playstation 2 by Liberty City Stories, and more recently on the Playstation 3 by GTA IV. With the superior graphics and many enhancements of these next-gen games, surely GTA San Andreas has been surpassed for quality and entertainment?
Actually, no. San Andreas was the first GTA I played and despite having played numerous other installments in the series, I still believe it has not yet been beaten by its younger brothers. The game boasted an expansive map – too big, in fact, to allow a PSP remake to be made – that spanned covers of three cities: Los Santos (L.A.), San Fierro (San Francisco) and Las Venturas (Las Vegas).
Like most GTA games, the storyline was compelling, the characters fascinating and varied, and the game life huge. But what sets San Andreas apart is its ability to stand the test of time. So many other games, be it GTA or not, have little replay value or look and feel dreadful after the rich graphics and gameplay we have become accustomed to on the PS3 or Xbox.
Playing it again now, the graphics are admittedly a poor relative of their fourth-gen cousins, but for content, quality, variety and entertainment, I believe San Andreas equals or even surpasses GTA 4. San Andreas has the ability to cater for both casual and hardcore gamer – it has masses of missions and sub-plots to complete for the serious players, but those simply seeking enjoyment can do as they wish, driving,walking, swimming, flying or cycling in a bigger variety of surroundings than GTA 4 can offer.
One of my favourite aspects of San Andreas was the inclusion of remote, tiny towns and settlements on the long roads connecting the three main cities. The area around Las Venturas contained numerous small villages with little going on and seemingly little purpose, but this is where the adventurous gamer thrived. For a long time after buying the game, I could drive through the countryside or desert and have no idea where I was going or where the roads ended up. That is a quality that GTA 4 seems to lack.
Another inclusion that was overlooked in 2008 was the main character’s “homies”. San Andreas had Carl Johnson, the protagonist, surrounded by fellow Grove Street gang members. Furthermore, other areas of Los Santos were owned by rival gangs, who would shoot on sight at unwelcome visitors. This added an extra element of unpredictability as you never knew what to expect upon entering another gang’s territory. Admittedly, this element would have been harder to apply in the modern setting of New York for GTA 4, but a similar idea could have been implemented to make missions more interesting or add something else to do after completing the game.
Of course, GTA 4 has its advantages over San Andreas: hugely improved graphics and online play spring to mind. However, San Andreas had that pick-up-and-play feel that I don’t think has been replicated. The controls were simpler, the storyline more accessible and interesting, the missions more varied and the setting more engrossing. That is why GTA San Andreas is the best GTA yet and why GTA V, set only in Los Santos as opposed to all three cities – will also struggle to better this classic videogame.