How to lose friends and alienate people in one sentence: Grand Theft Auto San Andreas was the last game I’ve ever had to pay for with my own cash. Sure, the perks of living life as a games journalist means we rarely have to pay for games, but considering that I could’ve waited it out and been sent a copy a few days after release and still went to a shop to buy it on launch day says something about my anticipation of San Andreas.
I read every magazine article, poured over every screenshot and memorised each rumour regardless of how far fetched it seemed – there was no way I was missing the launch of San Andreas by a single minute, nevermind several days. In short, my anticipation levels were already through the roof.
I’d booked the day off, bought a load of nibbles in and prepared to lose myself in this latest Grand Theft Auto. From the moment I hopped on the BMX with lead character Carl ‘CJ’ Johnson I was hooked. “I’M DOING WHEELIES ON A BMX!” I shouted aloud to no-one.
There are tons of moments in San Andreas like this. Upgrading cars with nitrous, working out in the gym to make CJ massive and escaping the scene of a crime via a jet-pack were all stand-out moments for me, and it never really let up for the 30+ hours I put into it. For me, an open world game lives and dies by the amount of new stuff you see beyond the eight hour mark, and San Andreas has plenty to keep pushing you on.
Of all the GTAs, San Andreas is largest for sheer scale and scope and as a result remains my number one in the entire series. Although I thoroughly enjoyed GTA IV it felt stripped back compared San Andreas, and in many ways it is. The character customisation has been yanked out, the property purchases have been toned down and you can’t even ride a push-bike in Liberty City. Anyway, GTA V will bring all this back right, RIGHT?
I remember coming into the office and chatting with colleagues who were ahead of me in the game, and conversations regarding San Andreas were often talked about in code. A typical conversation went like this “Did you? With the thing near the bridge? Purple monkey dishwasher?". Anything more that could be considered a spoiler would see you cut from the social circle and eating lunch alone for a week. But that’s how much it meant to folk, and me, when blasting through the game.
Above: Hit the weights in the gym with CJ to make him look body-builder buff
What I really love about San Andreas is that the three big cities that make up the fictional state all feel unique and packed with personality. Los Santos (L.A.) feels as busy and bustling as you like when you head downtown and the out of town ‘hoods are pitched at a particularly menacing level – with gang colours paraded on every corner.
San Fierro (San Francisco) provided me with the hills that made for some terrific jumps in my tricked out cars. Plus, the hippy missions where you use the radio controlled cars to blow up vans is another particular highlight. And then there’s the neon lit Las Venturas (Las Vegas) with garish super casinos complete with the jingle-jangle of coins dropping in the slot machines.
But beyond these distinct areas there are dusty wastelands to explore on dirt-bikes, dense forests and the huge Mount Chiliad to scale and then base-jump off. Everything about the playground that San Andreas provides is done for a reason and I rarely felt the slog getting from point A to point B that many open-world games deliver.