An Introspective Look In on GTA: San Andreas

By Speed on the Beat

Has it really been almost eleven years already? Wow, I remember when I first heard of the release of San Andreas. I was 15, and had just finished Vice City. VC was cool and made me happier than GTA III (more on that in a #300WordsOrLess Review on soon), but I still felt something was missing. Tommy Vercetti was a jackass, he was suave, but he wasn't someone I could truly identify with. He was a 30-something white guy in Miami during the Scarface era of drug-fueled decadence. I, at that point, was a teenager in Baltimore who, like many my age, was always looking for some sort of come-up. So, when I found out that San Andreas would feature a black main character, I was ecstatic. Finally, a character who looked (somewhat) like me in a story that I could relate to more than being a drug lord or a Mafia boss's right-hand man.

When the game released in October 2004, I got a copy from Gamestop (thanks to knowing practically everyone there), went home and loaded it up. The first thing that sucked me in was the music. Now, I spoke on the music of SA in a post a year or so ago for, but the soundtrack captured the 1990s perfectly. These are songs that I grew up as a four or five-year-old with people blasting them out their car systems. These are the songs I heard on MTV when I was over my aunt's house. These were the songs of a generation. As was the story of San Andreas.

For those who don't remember, GTA: SA follows a young man, Carl "CJ" Johnson on a path to discover who killed his mother and broke up the gang he once repped. The story, written by DJ Pooh, Dan Houser and James Worrall, went deeper than a simple story of retribution, focusing on gang violence, police corruption, the aftermath of the 1980s crack epidemic, and more. Players even got homages to Milli Vanilli and Vanilla Ice tossed in.

Gameplay-wise, we're given over 100 missions (some wackier than others), all of which help expand on the storyline of San Andreas. In other words, even when it looks like you're just doing shit to do shit, you're still expanding the story (this is something which San Andreas' spiritual successor: GTA V does as well). I mean, where else in GTA can you advance the story by having sex with someone, eating at a chicken joint and gaining fat, conversing with friends, or stealing alien gunk? I don't see Niko Belic doing that and I damn sure don't see Trevor doing it (although it would've fit in well with his pseudo-white trash persona). It was outlandish and over-the-top (remember how heads would disappear if you shot someone in the head?), but it still felt like everyday life. That was one of the greatest things about SA. No, not everyone is engaging in a gang war or fighting corrupt cops. But, the game still felt normal--even when it wasn't.

However, not everything about San Andreas holds up eleven years later. For example, the graphics are crap. Yeah, they're 2004 good. But, 2004 good (even Square Enix levels of 2004 good) still pale in comparison to 2015 graphics. Additionally, some of the secondary characters aren't as fleshed out and we kind of have to accept it because, hey, this is the CJ and Friends show. I would've loved to have more interaction with Denise after I rescued her, aside from having sex with her. Yes, I know: GTA is usually testosterone-driven and the women are usually seen as fucktoys, annoying bitches, or some combination of the two. But, for fuck's sake: San Andreas had the chance to do something different and it fell back into the same shit. Same goes for some of CJ's male friends.

Nevertheless, even with these hiccups, the game is a classic and will probably be loaded up for years to come.


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