Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Got this on Friday, but waited until now to write about it, just to remind myself that no game is perfect – not because I've been playing non-stop, but because I would have have only written good things about it, and that didn't quite seem fair.
Not that I can find much bad to write about it – it's a very polished product, fun to play, and fun to watch being played, if you've never played or seen GTA3 or GTA: Vice City you're missing out on great examples of open-ended gameplay, while some might argue it's rather pointless – just messing around and finding out what it's possible to do has always been a big factor in the popularity of the series.
- In-game it's now the 90s, so the style, the clothes, the vehicles and the suberb music are all updated. There are a few anachronisms – it's not as perfect a recreation of the past as Shenmue – but touches like your character's breezeblock of a cellphone are good touches.
- Bicycles – BMXs and Choppers to be truthful aren't that useful but rather good fun and at least two side missions or mini-games are based around them. There are a lot of other new modes of transport too, like jet planes and (finally!) the ability to swim and to jump over fences and walls.
- Mini-games – Basketball and Pool plus loads of arcade games with even two-player versions of some – the pool game is actually a pretty slick game in it's own right. Spray-painting graffitti and diving for oysters replaces the hidden packages from the previous two games.
- Skill increases – you can go to the gym to improve muscle and stamina as well as practice you driving skills in all the different modes of transport, this is probably my favourite addition as it gives a purpose to even my most meaningless personal "missions".
- New weapons – a pool cue after playing pool, a spray can for graffitti, a spade in a dug-up garden, fire extinguishers in fast-food kitchens and a rather curious item in the showers of the police station.
- Gambling – not such a hot idea this one, as it's rather easy to win a lot of money (I turned about $2500 into $8.3 million in about five visits)
- Shopping – far greater selection of clothes, tatoos and car upgrades to spend all your winnings on – although I've bought everything there is (including houses) and still have $8.1 million left.
- The city of course is all new too, and like GTA3, Burnout3 and the first Driver game borrows heavily from action scenes in films, especially Bullitt. The map is huge, although a lot of the countryside areas are mostly empty – I haven't open it all up yet, but have yet to encounter the "loading…" new area screen present in the last two games. There is a lot more height variation as well, with some very steep hills making it very reminiscent of Mafia – the control system has been modified to help, and I have doubts over how easy a possible PC version will be to play – drive-by were very hard to perform with mouse+keyboard, and now the view flies around all over the place if not controlled with the analogue sticks.
- "Courier" missions – two new ones, a bicycle supermarket delivery one replaces the pizza boy one, and pimping one which is a bit more varied involving beating up uncooperative customers and frequent visits to the car wash. Both earn you lots of cash and have big rewards for completion.
- Some of the missions (and resulting mini-games) require you press buttons in the correct order to dance beat, much like Dance Dance Revolution or Amplitude – they are annoying as hell.
What's the same?
- The humour's still there – all the horses have rude names, it's sometimes rather English and often quite subtle, but there all the same.
- The thundering soundtrack, like Vice City features real music of the period, and the same outrageous DJs and talk shows and comments from people in the street that have been a trademark of the series since GTA1.
- The rather boring taxi, ambulance, fire truck and vigilante missions are still there, but the skill increasing system means they aren't as must-do as they were.
- I've yet to find a docks mission where you can take cars for sale, which was in all the previous five games.
- I competed in a road race, but not found a race series to compete in.
- Some of things that were undertandably taken out after GTA1 and GTA:London such as bonuses for running over cops and multiple pedestrains. A modern London version wouldn't go amiss either – I know there's Getaway, but not only is it impossibly hard but there nothing to it apart from the missions that drive the main story.
Anyway, I'm a bit stuck at the moment – I've gone everywhere I'm allowed to go, bought everything in sight, maxed out all my stats. I can just mess around, but I did enough of that in the previous games. The unique jumps and graffitti spray locations are pretty hard to find, as the new climbing controls mean they can put them on top of places not easily visible from the street. The only two missions available are a really annoying dance one which you seem to have to complete almost perfectly and a very lengthy shooting one where I inexplicably exploded near the end last time I attempted it – it's one mission that would be a lot easier with a mouse. The previous mission took me about twenty attempts where you steer a motorcycle down the train tracks while your inept passenger consistently missed the people he was supposed to be shooting.
I expect I'll try again, though.