The GTA Story: All Hail The Sandbox King – San Andreas

The year was 2004. The place was a PlayStation2. It was a good-sized step for Rockstar, yet it definitely was one hell of a giant leap for gaming: GTA San Andreas went from city to state, from action-adventures to RPG/sim/sneaking – all lite though, from the surface of a city to swimming and diving, flying huge planes and even something trivial like bicycles.

Back then, there were those incredible moments you cannot relive – leaving Los Santos for the first time, visiting the countryside and realising the massive size of San Andreas. Trying to San Fierro prematurely just to getting ambushed by fucking fighter jets out of nowhere who shot you down with a motherfucking rocket! The Hydra! The jetpack!

And then, there’s the San Andreas stuff that’s just always awesome! Cruising on a chopper in the desert listening to K-ROSE, flying planes underneath, using the hovercraft, winning one triathlon, getting laughed at because you were too fat or you couldn’t swim, or maybe trying to master the driving & flying schools of San Andreas once more (have YOU ever managed gold in the car driving school?) … who’ll ever forget this? Furthermore, the different climates, the red-smog Los Santos, the foggy San Fierro, the leisurely sunny Las Venturas, the barren forests and the dry deserts, from an abandoned house in the middle of nowhere to downtown L.S. – it was all there, and then, there was some more (the mysterious Area 69, the Resident Evil building in S.F., the weird wheelchair, the ghost cars, the U.F.O. bar and many more). San Andreas was full of sights, stuff and mysteries – and so far, no game has matched the size AND details.

Another milestone was San Andreas’ narrative: While Vice City was fun and tons of humourous nods to movies and TV shows, San Andreas was the story of the American Dream from a black man’s perspective in the early 90’s – racial tensions and riots, gang wars, corrupt cops, crooked government agents, drugs – name it, find it! It was both light-hearted and biting satire, cock jokes and playing with racist stereotypes, and even if you didn’t know or liked the Boyz n the Hood vibe or hip hop in general, it was still fun to get to know that culture (or at least the way it is perceived by many of us). Basically, San Andreas was the beginning of the Rockstar tradition of showcasing serious real-world issues in their games.

The rags to riches narrative easily spanned 50 hours, and of course, there were many betrayals and even more well-known faces: from Catalina and her new-found lover (Claude, the ever-silent GTA III protagonist), and our favourite lawyer Mr. Rosenberg. Will anybody ever forget Samule L. Jackson’s performance as the voice of Cpt. Tenpenny, the real antagonist in GTA San Andreas?

To this day, the epic scope, the diversity and the feeling of a complete game have been unmatched. In the first 20 hours in Los Santos, there’s Lowrider competitions, rescuing a damsel in distress from a burning building (you have to use a fire extinguisher) dancing, gang wars, working out and sneaking missions. Let’s add flying around aimlessly or simply diving near the shore, or maybe just eating until you puked … there’s always a way to kill some time in San Andreas

Of course, a game this size and full of content falls flat sometimes. Even San Andreas is not immune to it. Legendary are the tales of “that tree popping up after my jet exploded”, “there’s my car. Let me just turn around – oh, no it’s gone” and “where has my mission marker gone?” … It’s not all technical glitches, bugs or issues though; Los Santos takes too much place, while San Fierro feels like a rather late addition – imagine a wild car chase up and down the iconic hills of that city, and you realise something was/is missing in those areas.

And then, there was CJ … One good kid at heart, some wrong decisions, and always uptight (“I’m a bad motherfucker, I kill and maim and steal, but I don’t take no drugs, oh no, morality and shit!”). Compared to Tommi Vercetti, he feels weak, and the lacklustre family revenge/redemption storyline is pretty much your average soap opera level.

And then, there is that one fucking stupid Zero mission. The remote plane one. This one:

Worst! Mission Design! Ever!

But despite those shortcomings, San Andreas is still the unchallenged king of the sandbox. Just Cause 2 and Saints Row 2 came close, but the former lacked the size and everything-is-possible attitude and the latter one lacked details. And the best argument in favour of San Andreas is the following test: Pick a sandbox game of your choice, turn it up, it down in a vehicle and start driving around. Now, do the same with San Andreas. Rabidgames guarantees one thing: San Andreas will win.

If we talk about San Andreas, prudery forbid we don’t mention the Hot Coffee scandal! It was ludicrous. “The depiction of sex in a video game” Fox News and other intelligence-challenged conservative and demented outlets cried. “It’ll ruin our youth” … the very youth who was not allowed to play the game anyway, unless the parents so concerned about the f-bomb and sex but fine with the mindless murder of thousands of innocent pixels bought the game for their kids. But you know … it wasn’t even a feature in the actual game, because Rockstar had removed it. And if you didn’t know how to mod your PC version of San Andreas, you’d never seen the “sex”. By the way, that’s what the supersexy fuss was about … enjoy and wonder what the world had come to:

Rabidgames dreams: Nine years have passed, and San Andreas still occupies the sandbox throne. It seems rather ironic that GTA V, again starring (parts of) San Andreas, has the potential to finally dethrone the king.

3 Responses to “The GTA Story: All Hail The Sandbox King – San Andreas”

  1. The tree pop up and Zero mission killed me – was laughing out loud, such great memories. You just have to find a place in your heart for this game. The best ever.

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