Since Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was released on the PlayStation Network a few months ago, and since Grand Theft Auto V’s release isn’t too far away, I figured I’d take the opportunity to go back reacquaint myself with the world of San Andreas. After all, I’d always felt it was the best in the series, and after going back to play the game, my feelings about San Andreas’s greatness are confirmed.
San Andreas is the best, not because of a single awesome aspect, but rather because of all the brilliant little things that San Andreas does differently from other GTAs. So without further ado, here is my take on a few reasons why San Andreas stands out above the rest.
The best GTA radio stations has been covered before on Leviathyn, but if I’m comparing entire soundtracks—DJ banter, music, and commercials— rather than single radio stations, then I’m going with San Andreas.
If I had to pick a GTA soundtrack that best represents its time and place, then it would pretty much be a tie between Vice City and San Andreas. Both perfectly embody the overall musical movements and attitudes for their settings. But since (in this hypothetical scenario) it’s my choice, I’m going to give the award to San Andreas, mainly because I cannot stand 80’s music. Forget Motley Crue, Corey Hart, or Flock of Seagulls; I’ll take Soundgarden and Dr. Dre any day.
Although, if I may contradict myself here, there is something to be said for driving around San Andreas in a low rider as Rod Stewart’s “Young Turks” (an 80’s song on San Andreas) proudly blasts from your TV speakers just daring you to change the station. Well, you might as well give up because you won’t touch that dial; you’ll sit there, yes you’ll sit through an entire Rod Steward song for no reason other than to bask in the sheer comic juxtaposition between the soundtrack and your actions.
Okay, personal preference aside, here is more of an objective reason: San Andreas creates more of a dynamic feel in its soundtrack. This dynamic feel is achieved mainly because during recording the DJ’s had more than one script, and secondly because the order of songs sometimes changes. These dynamic soundtrack events make the radio stations feel less stale, which also makes the game feel less stale. You might be hearing the song for the twentieth time, but what the DJ says in between might be different. And in a game as long as San Andreas, this dynamic aspect allowed San Andreas’s soundtrack maintain a certain level of freshness over any other GTA soundtrack.
One thing it’s hard not to notice in any Grand Theft Auto is how repetitive the missions can be. Most missions in GTA usually consist of a combination of the following: pick something up, shoot some people, escort an NPC, chase an NPC, or evade the police/ rival gang. It’s not that big of a deal, but it’s worth pointing out because of that fact that at least sometimes, San Andreas does change up the formula.
San Andreas is definitely not completely free of repetitive missions. However, San Andreas does have some variety thanks to the incorporation of stealth elements in a few of its missions. While these stealth elements aren’t particularly deep, they at least demonstrate an attempt to get players to change the way we play through a mission and to try something new.
The great thing about the stealth elements in San Andreas is that you aren’t confined to them. You are never shoehorned into one play style, but instead are given the freedom to complete any mission that might call for discretion however you see fit. You don’t have to rush in guns-blazing; maybe you can sneak around and strike against unsuspecting enemies. Of course, the opposite is true too: there’s nothing stopping you from being the ultimate GTA badass one-man-army. The end goal is the same, but you have a bit more freedom, relative to the other games, to decide how you’ll get there.
The Kinds of Vehicles Available to the Player:
Speaking of greater variety, another great thing that sets San Andreas apart from every other GTA is its vehicle offerings. And I’m not really talking about the basic vehicles that populate San Andreas like in every GTA.
For some reason whenever you mention vehicles in San Andreas, people are quick to point out the BMX bikes, which everyone seems to love for some reason. While BMX bikes are an example of the variety that I’m talking about, I’m thinking of variety on a larger scale. Why piss around pedaling a bike when you can ramp up your badassery through flight?
Flight in Grand Theft Auto is nothing new, having been around since GTA 3 gave us the Dodo: a rinky-dink plane that was only capable of gliding. While it was fun to see how far you could glide in the Dodo, it didn’t really provide all that much flight time. Vice City brought flight further along with helicopters and its own version of the Dodo, the Skimmer.
However, Rockstar really ups the ante with the introduction of planes and jets in San Andreas. I don’t know why, but there is something about flying around San Andreas that’s just more satisfying than driving. Maybe it’s being able to go from Los Santos to San Fiero with the snap of a finger, maybe it’s being able to use the middle of the road as your private runway, or maybe it’s being able to soar to obscene heights and then jump out. Probably it’s a combination of that and more, but one thing is certain: flying is freakin’ fun.
Unfortunately, planes and jets are absent from GTA IV, which is kind of a shame but understandable being that GTA IV takes place in one large city and not three smaller cities. Here’s hoping they return for GTA V.
The Size of San Andreas:
As I just mentioned, instead of taking place in one city, San Andreas is set in one big county complete with three separate cities, a vast amount of country side, and several small towns in between. The whole design concept is brilliant and adds a largeness of scope that makes San Andreas feel like the biggest GTA yet.
Now we all know that sometimes bigger doesn’t equal better, but San Andreas’s size really works in its favor. Having a whole county to play around in means having more to explore and find in San Andreas—more sights to see, more things to do. You might think the map size would make getting around more difficult, but honestly that’s not the case. The inclusion of those above mentioned aerial vehicles makes traveling around San Andreas a breeze.
The map size also has a significant impact on the game’s narrative, making it feel like a much longer and larger story than previous GTAs. Of every reason why San Andreas is the best GTA, this one is probably the most straightforward: the scope of San Andreas is so vast that it makes the game more fun.
And speaking of size, this works in conjunction with my next reason…
The Character Development and RPG Elements:
Out of every GTA, San Andreas has the most depth because of how much freedom you’re given to make CJ your own. In fact, this is one of the things we love most about San Andreas here at Leviathyn. As with map size, the RPG elements/player customization options make it feel like there is way more to do in San Andreas than in previous GTAs.
Just look at something as simple as customizing how your character looks. Wardrobe changes have been a part of GTA since Vice City, but San Andreas also allows you to change CJ’s haircut and give him tattoos. More than that, San Andreas lets you fiddle around with CJ’s fitness level, letting you sit around and feed your character fast foot or go to the gym and train. These character customization options aren’t simply cosmetic frivolities either. They impact how your character is perceived (sex appeal and respect) and how he performs—a fitter CJ is much stronger and had more stamina than a fat CJ, while a fatter CJ is much funnier to watch trying to sprint.
San Andreas also features weapon and vehicle progression systems. The more you use a certain type of weapon, the better you become with it. And having a higher proficiency doesn’t mean simply having better aim, it also means being able to move around and even dual-wield certain weapons. Much like your weapon skills progress, your driving abilities also improve the more you drive around. Like your weapon skills, which are weapon-specific, your driving abilities are vehicle-specific, meaning that if you tend to ride around on a motorcycle then you’ll get better at handling motorcycles.
Ultimately, the size of San Andreas and the RPG/character customization elements within the game really work hand in hand to deliver a game that feels fuller. I mean what’s the point of going around and exploring San Andreas if there isn’t something in it long-term for the player? Having your character improve as a result of exploring is a pretty good incentive to take advantage of everything that San Andreas has to offer.
Well, those are the five reasons that I think San Andreas I think stands above the other GTAs. Of course there are other reasons why you may or may not think San Andreas is the GTA benchmark. Let me know what you think of San Andreas in the comments section below.