Official ‘next-gen’ GTA may be bearing down on us like a ton of psychos, but you know what? San Andreas was damn near ‘next gen’ in 2005. It’s still so far ahead of the competition it’s not even funny. Except San Andreas is often funny too.
Quite how Rockstar fitted it on the disc, let alone created it all before the universe ended, is beyond us. Each of the ’90s era cities of Los Santos, San Fierro and Las Venturas is huge – LS alone is probably the size of Vice City – but it’s what’s in between that really glues the game together. The cliff-strewn, river-lined valleys and rocky hills to the west of Los Santos give way to the wildly hilly San Fierro (making up for Vice City’s flat Miami in one chassis-scraping hit) and then, to the north-east, to Nevada-like miles of desert. Beyond is GTA’s Vegas, but bristling with ghost towns, aircraft graveyards, truck stops, shallow graves and huge jumps, the desert is anything but deserted. The out-of-town badlands and sands are as big as the three cities together.
The whole thing is ludicrously overflowing with choices. Compare the lead character from the first PS2 GTA – a mute, nameless errand boy – with Carl Johnson. CJ is a heavy mix of his own chatterbox personality and whatever you want him to be. Gorge and he wobbles along knock-kneed. Exercise and he gets wider and stronger, cycle and swim and he thins out. You can also dress in anything from shorts and flipflops to a full leather gimp suit… tonight, Matthew, CJ is the image of your own personality.