Saturday, 2 January 2016

Played: Grand Theft Auto San Andreas (PS3)

Hopefully this is a game that will need no introduction at all. Hell, I didn't even think I'd have a reason to write about it in the year 2016 but at the tail end of last year, I happened across a new release of the 2004 classic...on PS3. Now considering that San Andreas has been re-released a few times through digital services on the PS3/Xbox 360, I was very surprised to see a physical disc-based release for the game on shelves in a videogame store. I still have my PS2 copy and save file (with an insane amount of hours clocked up) so I needn't have purchased this mysterious 'new' edition but I had to know what this was all about, especially given that the packaging is identical to the original box with no indication that the game is any sort of HD re-release or whatever.

As you can see in the above image, it's pretty much the same as the PS2 release even down to the BBFC logo on the front insert (when the BBFC doesn't rate games anymore). The manual is only a few pages long and doesn't feature all the extravagent detail, tongue-in-cheek adverts and music listings of the original but hey, they reprinted the fold-out map again! But it was the disc itself that intrigued me so I booted it up right away to see what the deal was.

Turns out that it's just good old Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas with a few minor tweaks so if anybody reading this has been curious themselves, I'll state that you'll find no sort of remake or hugely upgraded HD edition here. It does look slightly better than the PS2 original with superior textures in places (most notably the road surfaces and vehicle bodywork) but whether these are genuine updates I don't know. This version may even be based on the PC or Xbox releases which were improvements over the PS2 game in the first place. Having not played those ports, I can't say whether they were already this superior to the PS2 version back in the day.

There's a new front end menu and new, easier to use menus within the in-game shops as well. The biggest change however are the GTA V-inspired controls which map accelaration and braking to the triggers amongst other small alterations.

Things aren't perfect though. I initially considered that this might be a more convenient, polished version of one my favourite games, possibly a permanent replacement for the original release but unfortunately, there are numerous reasons why I won't be binning my PS2 copy just yet. Most of them are buggy irritations that I'll do my best to list below:
  • Several instances of the game freezing or crashing. Auto-saving and checkpoints did a good job of limiting the progress-related damage but the resets and re-loading were an irritation I rarely suffered on the PS2. On the PS3, I had a slew of them in relatively quick succession. These lock-ups combined with some frame rate issues didn't really give me much confidence in the game's stability.
  • There appears to be some kind of bizarre glitch with the in-car radio stations. If you exit a vehicle then get back in, the radio station's broadcast will have gone backwards so you will hear the same stuff again. When getting in and out of a car many times, it simply makes the radio unbearable, especially when trying to listen to the WCTR talk station. Probably the most heinous issue with this port overall.
  • Some of the default settings were a bit bizarre i.e. the sound effects drowned out the character speech and the camera was set high above vehicles rather than behind them. Less of a moan because you can fiddle with things in the settings to get things set to how you want them but even so, it's a heads-up for other prospective buyers.
  • The shooting is something that I can't seem to feel comfortable with on either of the two available settings. The classic auto lock-on doesn't allow you to break away with the right analogue stick to free-aim (as you could in the PS2 version) but the free-aim setting is not so 'free' considering that the reticule insists on floating over to any potential target/civilian in a half-assed, vague 'lock' on sort of way. It helps at times but more often than not, I get frustrated that I can't freely shoot where I want because the reticule is constantly moving about of its own accord. I've looked through all the settings and can't find any other possible things to play about with so perhaps I'm doing something wrong but shooting in general is not enjoyable.

Revisting some of the totally out-of-control scenarios is fun.

So there are a few downers on the technical side and after playing the PS3/360-era GTA titles, the gameplay has also aged considerably to the point where coming back to a GTA III generation game is a bit of a reality shock. Everything is clunkier, the vehicle crash damage is laughably basic, the world feels quite sparse in spite of the things to do and the missions themselves are sometimes painfully archaic. So many of the missions in GTA V for example are simply exhilerating and ridiculously over-the-top in true action movie style. Here, this rarely happens and when it does, the age of the game mechanics often detracts from the fun.

Having said all that, San Andreas is still my favourite GTA game and for good reason. The newer installments might boast a mesmerising level of detail and immersiveness but there's a raw fun factor in San Andreas that hasn't been beaten and most of it stems from the pure randomness that has sadly been refined out of newer games. Whether it's the random car-jackings, frequent out of control drivers or planes crashing into the road and without warning (a bit of a game glitch that spawns planes too close to tall structures...), there's always something to make you smile. Just speeding about like a lunatic without too many consequences hanging over you is a riot. Newer sequels will punish you for doing the same by throwing the player character through the windscreen of a car when crashing heavily.

It's also impossible not to love the freeways of San Andreas where AI traffic flies along at impossible speeds with even the most sluggish of vehicles able to outpace an Infernus. Stand at the roadside and witness huge pile-ups take place without any of your own meddling. Watch cars slam into the mass of jostling vehicles and flip over to initiate a series of catastropic blasts even as the AI drivers bash each other with shovels to vent their road rage. You simply don't get this kind of grin-inducing stupidity in the latest GTA games. Oh and there's the ability to shoot fuel tanks for instant explosions - something else that doesn't happen in GTA V.

All in all, this latest PS3 version of San Andreas is a bit of a mixed bag and I can't really recommend that people pay any more than £10-£15 for a copy. It has numerous disappointing technical gremlins that spoil what should be a triumphant return but the game itself is still so enjoyable that I find myself constantly forgiving its mistakes and just having a ball with what remains a fun experience.

Note: this physical re-release is also available on Xbox 360.


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  2. Just come across the blog and love it already, keep up the good work.


  3. Cheers! Appreciate the kind comment.