Wow! There is so much to do in this game - it's just purely one of my favourite games and has great replayability.

User Rating: 9.6 | Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas PS2
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is purely amazing in many different ways. In so many ways that you have a map six times bigger than Vice City, a lot more variety in side-missions and much more which I will hopefully try to cover in this review.

First we kicked off the 3D-generation of Grand Theft Auto with Grand Theft Auto III and then not long after came Vice City. GTA III was one killer game and so was Vice City. San Andreas is no exception as it adds so much more stuff and still manages to keep the addicting gameplay that a Grand Theft Auto game has had.

We are not in the present day, we are not in the eighty's – we are in the ninety's. In fact, 1992 to be more precise. There are three huge cities in the state of San Andreas for you to explore. First you'll start off in Los Santos and then as you progress your way through the game's storyline you will unlock other cities which have their own unique things about them. For example, Las Venturas has casinos and San Fierro has trams. As you can probably tell these are parodies of real life cities.

What sort of style is San Andreas? Well, it very much reminds me of the film, Boyz N The Hood in some ways. The life of being in the grove in the ninety's is shown in many different ways here in San Andreas. I think some of inspiration may have come from the Boyz N The Hood film. This time you play as a dark skinned character called Carl Johnson (or CJ for short). He can do many things that could not be done by the characters in the previous Grand Theft Auto games. These things being climbing, parachuting and swimming – all very well put into this game.

The city of Los Santos (your first city in San Andreas) is corrupt. What I mean by “corrupt” is the fact of the police officers doing some dodgy things. This is portrayed at the very beginning opening cinematics of the game. In fact, you'll be seeing two cops very often. Those being Officer Tenpenny (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson) and Pulaski. CJ seems to get caught up with these two on his way through to Los Santos. Why is he there? The main reason is because his mother has been killed.

Throughout the game you'll be introduced to a lot of things that weren't possible in Vice City. Although you could have your own gangs after you acquired various properties in Vice City you couldn't interact with them much. In San Andreas, you can shape up your gang and make them strong. It may take a while but eventually you should get there. The more respect you earn (this is done by helping out the families in missions; shooting down police officers and killing rival gang members) then the stronger your gang will be. If you manage to fill your respect up to its full capacity you can have more members of your gang come round the city with you. This can be helpful for the gang wars or on missions. It is a simple process if you want to have a gang member or gang members to come round with you. All you do it target them using R1 and then press UP on the d-pad. That's that. You can give them a command to stay in their position or to keep up once they are with you. Three main characters you will know early on in the game will help you get used to the game. That is Big Smoke, Ryder and Sweet. CJ and his friends are out to take back what they had from rival gang members. From playing a lot of the game I think the Ballas are their number one enemies.

You won't just be able to go through missions and expect to survive like that. In order to keep CJ feeling his best you must take him to various food outlets. There are many scattered across the state of San Andreas. These can easily be found on the game's map. Once a food outlet has been found you can then enter it (this is indicated by a yellow marker on the entrance). After a brief loading time you are taking to the interior of the food outlet. The reason for the short loading time is because the game has to load this section up separately as it is not part of the main landscape. By walking up to the red blip you can choose from a variety of meals. There are healthy ones and some that seem very fattening. Remember, eating too much junk food will cause CJ to become overweight. Eating too much at one time will also cause him to vomit. You know when CJ is overweight due to the size of his stomach (well, it's pretty obvious I guess). You can also keep track of his fat by holding L1 during gameplay on foot. If this bar is well over half you will notice not only does he look large but also his ability to run will seem a lot slower than usual. Being overweight could make some missions a lot harder. I recommend having no more than a quarter of the bar filled up in order to make things a little bit easier. If you have gone way past the limit you can lose weight by running and exploring the cities. This may take some time, though. A much more easier and faster way is to use a nearby gym.

A gym in the game will help CJ lose weight. There are a few gyms in San Andreas – each with their own training tips. He can use a treadmill or try lifting some weights. So, as well as losing fat you can build up your stamina (this will help CJ run, swim and cycle faster) and muscle (this will make your punches a lot stronger). By filling up the bars for stamina and muscle (viewable on-foot by pressing L1; like you could do to see how much fat he has) it can make things much easier. The best thing about having full muscle means CJ's physical appearance looks better than ever. Now, there is no excuse to take that shirt off.

Speaking of shirts, CJ can change his clothes at various different locations. There will be some cheap clothing stores such as Binco for him to start with. Later you can get more expensive clothing and accessories at ZIP and other stores. He can buy t-shirts, pants, shoes, chains, watches, hats and a lot more. Once bought all of these items will be available at your wardrobe in the safe houses. There are many combinations he can choose from. The only problem I have with this is the loading. Whenever you want to try something on CJ will enter the changing room and you will get a slight delay on him coming out. I suppose this is real since you wouldn't be able to change that quick!

Other customisation options include getting tattoos and hair cuts. Again, with the addition of clothing you are given more options to make CJ the way you want him to. Whether you want a small tattoo or a crew cut, you be sure there is plenty to do in terms of customisation.

If you want to be able to get on well and eventually have “coffee” with a girlfriend you'll need something called “sex appeal”. A girlfriend? Yes, there are even girlfriends in this game, believe it or not. Worst of all, each girlfriend is unique so you can't do the same thing with one girlfriend. Sex appeal depends on a variety of factors. The first, as explained earlier is getting great clothing and hair cuts. Driving a sports car will also help a lot for the sex appeal. Some girlfriends can be very fussy about how well you look. If you have too many bad dates you'll be sure to eventually lose that girlfriend. However, if you keep up well you'll get rewarded. “Coffee” will eventually be offered. What I mean by this is that CJ will be invited into the girlfriend's house to “do their business”. When you are in this stage you will hear various different quotes – some that are quite funny. Once you have got a good percentage with the girlfriend you will get rewards. It may be a car, costume or it may be something to really help you out in the game.

There is so much to write about this game that it seems near-impossible for me to include every bit of detail. Anyway, how well is it during gameplay? People who have played Grand Theft Auto III and Vice City will be sure to notice some changes. You now have a freeform camera that lets you move the right analog stick around you on foot and in a vehicle. This can be a much more easier alternative in the car instead of using L2 and R2 to look left and right. You'll also notice (or learn later) you can climb things. This could include rooftops and fences. Very helpful addition. This is done by pressing the square button near the object. If you are too far way it will treat it as a jump.

In a car you may be wondering how on earth to change the radio stations. Previously, it would have been using the L1 button but in San Andreas it is now controlled using either the up or down buttons on the d-pad. Hold on a minute? If this feature uses the d-pad then how can I control CJ and vehicles? Well, for those who loved using the d-pad to control will be unable to do so in San Andreas. You'll have to adapt to using a more precise control – the left analog stick. I have always used this anyway. There should be a good variety of cars to choose from in the game so feel free to jack them so long as there are no cops around. Each car will handle differently and may have extra features. Some vehicles take advantage of connecting to other vehicles like the tow truck. As well as cars, you get buses and coaches, tanks and other large vehicles. Some vehicles will not let you change the radio station such as a police car, ambulance or fire truck for example. Just beware about driving your car on the highways. Things can get pretty hectic and could cause a pile-up if anything obstructs the roads. The vehicles go super-fast! Try to keep your speed up – especially with a motorcycle otherwise you may get knocked off.

A new type of vehicle to game is the bicycle. You are introduced to this fairly early and can easily be a cool vehicle for performing wacky stunts. The more you use the bicycle then the more your skill meter will go up. Cars, motorbikes and planes also have a skill meter you need to build up. Planes are a great way to get around the state. They may be a little hard to control at first but I'm used to them now. Planes help save travelling a long way by car. The best flying vehicle is the Hydra in my opinion. You can fly super fast and shoot missiles with it. Just be sure not to crash it! Planes and boats can also go on forever across the sea. What I mean by this is that there is no restriction on how far you fly out (there is a restriction on how high you can go). The ocean is endless unlike Vice City where it will automatically put you in the opposite direction when you get to the end.

Boats are once again back in the game. There are a good variety to choose from. The seaplane from Vice City is back and a new addition (the Vortex) can be used on sea and land. You can use boats to travel around the cities and help you get to oysters that you need to collect. One really cool addition is the jet pack. This is unlocked on one of the missions. It controls fairly easy and moves quite quick. You can even shoot from it whilst in the air. This is unique from any other vehicle in the game. A lovely addition may I say.

In terms of variety – you have so many cars to choose from. There are a good variety such as sports, muscle and heavy vehicles. Many vehicles you may remember from Vice City. These have changed in some way to go with the year of the game. Some cars may be hard to find or you may need to unlock them at a school or during a mission. There is plenty of variety in planes and boats as well. Each one of these may have its own unique feel and special features (like missiles).

In order to improve your skills in terms of driving you need to visit the schools plotted out on the map. You will not be able to access these straight away but once you do, you can try to complete them to make things a bit easier. There are three different types of medals you can get – bronze, silver and gold. You need to get a perfect score to get a gold. By getting a gold you'll be able to get special vehicles. I believe there is a flying school, car school, motorbike school and boat school. These school add to the gameplay hours so you'll be sure to playing this game a long time.

As with Vice City, there are three sets of weapons. Some weapons you pick up may require you to replace a slot. There are basic weapons such as baseball bats, knives and pistols. There are some funny weapons such as golf clubs and another which is too rude to put here. You'll also get flame throwers for burning pedestrians and things. Unlike the previous game, whenever you use a flame thrower, rocket launcher or grenades on something you will see that the objects and area will be on fire. The flames go out after a while or when a fire truck comes to extinguish it. If you ever blow up a vehicle (which I'm sure I have done thousands of times) you will also notice that flames will still be present despite it being blown up. This makes it much more realistic than the previous games. Remember, it's best to get the right weapons for missions just to make things that little bit easier. It's great fun using weapons every now and then. You can even practice at shooting ranges just like Vice City (or just use the pedestrians nearby). Some are really lethal. The sniper rifle can be used to decapitate someone, the knife can be used to slit a throat (through stealth) and the chainsaw can be used to hack away at someone. This game is definitely not for the faint hearted. You'll probably pick up more information on weapons through some of the game's missions.

To aim is simple. Just by holding down R1 and then using O (or L1) you can shoot at someone. The closer you are to someone the easier it is to kill. The aiming marker will go towards the head of the person if you are close meaning you can take them out with one shot. Just be sure not to have your guns out if you have a one star wanted level – otherwise the cops just keep shooting.

A wanted level can be achieved by causing panic. You could shoot someone or maybe get a wanted level through a mission. The cops on here can act pretty dumb sometimes. If you have one or two stars you should be able to evade them quite easily by driving away. In some cases, you'll need to find a bribe or a spray garage. I tend to use the safe house if I have a wanted level. The more stars you have the harder it becomes. Having six stars is by far the worst since you have the army coming onto you in their tanks that will easily blow up anything in its way.

Some mini games have been put in for a little extra fun. When you are done exploring the city you can play some retro games. This can be done from CJ's house, casinos and stores. They can be quite exciting but don't live long for me.

The side-missions are back and there are so many more. Some require you to race, some need you to use RC vehicles and some need you to a combination of things. You'll need to do all of these in order to achieve 100%.

As I mentioned before, the city of San Andreas is huge. It is good that the developers managed to make a game so big and squeeze it all onto a DVD. The landscapes look okay. There are some other games that look prettier and others that look worse. Whenever you are close to a wall it will sometimes seem “grainy” and the same goes for some other objects. The pedestrians look average I guess but not the best. Vehicles look quite good especially when you customise them to your tastes. One thing you will probably frequently encounter is the loading of textures. As you may know when you go off into the distance and object will look unclear sort of. When you get closer it will load that object up so it looks more clearer.

Sometimes, if there is too much action around, it will not load some textures straight away. This happened to me a lot when flying around the city. Trees suddenly appear out of nowhere and buildings also suddenly pop up closer than you think. When driving, sometimes I will nearly miss (or unluckily hit) a wall because it hasn't been loaded up on time. This isn't too big of a problem but is definitely something that could be fixed in any future Grand Theft Auto games.

The sound in this game is great – mainly because of the voice actors. We have Ice-T (Madd Dogg), Samuel L. Jackson (Officer Tenpenny), Faizon Love (Sweet), Chris Penn (Officer Eddie Pulaski) and many others who do a great job. Dialogue is very important and makes the game seem like a movie. Other great sounds include the blowing up of vehicles (which has been improved from Vice City), the pedestrian voices, the planes and much more.

Overall, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas proves to be a game that will keep you busy for hours and hours. It has great replay value just like the other games. If you want to achieve 100% then it's going to take more than just ten hours to complete. Released in late 2004, I found this game to keep me busy throughout the holidays and early 2005. Even now I still love playing it. You have a tonne of missions to complete, a massive state to explore (there are plenty of easter eggs in the game) and a whole load of side-missions. Did I forget to mention the rest? Yes, you have to spray tags, collect oysters in the ocean, collect horse shoes and taking photographs in order to get your percentage up. This game is just so fun and is clearly one of the best games out there for the PlayStation 2. If you haven't already tried it then pick it up now. You'll hopefully be glued to it like I was. There are so many good points about it. It's not perfect but still wins me over. Sometimes the frame rate will drop and gangs may be annoying but still you have a great game. This is a game that you clearly need to at least try out if you haven't already.