THE TRIBUNAL: Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (PS2)

We reviewed it here, and gave it a 9.5, but now it’s time to put Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas to a true test. Is it overrated? Or is it really the game of the year? How will it do when we take this latest installment in the GTA series and throw it into the pit we call…THE TRIBUNAL?!?!

THE SESSION HAS NOW BEEN CONVENED

I’m running the show today, and I picked a hell of a day to do so. Today we have before us one of the biggest releases of this year, and certainly the marquee release for the PS2. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, then you know what Grand Theft Auto has meant to the popular culture of America, and especially to the video game world. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is bigger than any game to date in the series, but does that make it better? That is what we are really here to decide and your judges are: Matt Yeager, Michael O’Reilly, and Chuck Platt. Will we uphold the original score, or will this tribunal go against the trend? There is only one way to find out my friends, so sit down, keep it quiet in the back and show some respect as three of our best take center stage and tell you exactly what Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is made out of.

LET THE JUDGEMENT COMMENCE!

JUDGE #1: Matt Yeager

How can you be very original in the 5th game in a series? Rockstar shows us how. GTA took concepts like property ownership and plans from Vice City and turned them into fully realized options, they added DDR, dating sim, RPG like stats, gang wars, picture taking, swimming, stealth and so much more and fit it into the GTA universe. Not only that but they made it seem like natural additions into the GTA world. San Andreas maybe the most ambitious game this year in terms of size and successful blending of different genres and new features. I have never seen a sequel stay so true to the original gameplay while still cramming so much new content in.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is one of those rare games that has a lot of hype to live up to and not only lives up to the hype, but exceeds it. While the theme and style of the game might not appeal to every person, judging the game on its own merits it is the best game I have had the chance to play this year and it is an amazing use of the PS2 hardware.

THE SCORE: 9.5/10

JUDGE #2: Michael O’Reilly

California is one BIG state, and any game trying to model itself on that area of the United States had best be a BIG game. Fortunately Rockstar North have gone and created a massive game with their title Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Unfortunately they went and set the game in the 1990s, and failed to provide gamers with decent music to play the game to. Happily however this is really the only complaint I can make about the game.

When you compare this game to it’s predecessors, its scary just how many things they improved. They included more flying options, more driving options, more everything options, and they could have stopped there but didn’t. Instead they went and added off track gambling, casino gambling, sky diving! SWIMMING! I felt really stupid when I crashed my first car into the ocean and CJ drowned just because I didn’t get out of the car, let me tell you. Having to learn to fly before you can easily access an airport runway light be a bit of a chore but it adds to the quasi realism of the game. This is the game that kept on giving for me, as the farther into the game I got the more fun I could have. Be it the stealth kill missions, the skydiving, the gang wars, or the planes that you could ACTUALLY fly, this game is a fantastic piece of work. Highly recommended.

THE SCORE: 9.5/10

JUDGE #3: Chuck Platt

Let’s face it: if you waited for my opinion on a game before you bought it or not, you’d still be working your way through Viewtiful Joe or a Karaoke Revolution sequel. No, you already know if you are the Grand Theft Auto San Andreas purchasing type or not. So, this piece should either be a definitive explanation of my feelings on the game, with no reservations about whether or not someone will buy this particular game with my blessing or not, or a summation of the games lesser talked about aspects. Since I am not so bloated in ego to think that my final yay or nay on a title is of any real importance, because, let’s f*cking face it, even if Lucard and Bebito both swear it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread, I’m not playing an import only manatee dating game, and you aren’t going to buy a game you are steadfastedly opposed to on the say of some hackneyed two-bit writer on the intranet type thing, let’s go with the lesser discussed features of San Andreas.

First off, the guide is simultaneously very much needed for a 100% trip, if you lack the Internet and a printer, but has a serious flaw as pertains to the San Fierro Snapshot subquest, which has been errataed on the Brady Games site. If this doesn’t bother you, and you cannot easily access your computer whilst playing, then feel free to drop $17 on the guide. While not exactly under appreciated, the game’s soundtrack does deserve a mention, mainly because I’m sure most, if not all, reviewers stick their in game radios to either KDST, Radio X, or Radio Los Santos. Doing so truly pulls down the game. Nothing beats the insane funk of Bounce, the pure coolness of the Rose (Eddie motherf*cking Rabbit, y’all!), and Master Sounds. Seriously, this game’s soundtrack is truly a staggering work. AND Axl Rose disses grunge rock on KDST, how cool is that?

The meat of the game is what you’d expect, although some missions are especially great, like burning the Truth’s crops, but the real reason GTA trumps all pretenders to its throne is the excellent sense of immersion each game lends, and San Andreas delivers this in spades. Want to date a kinky nurse and a hood rat girl at the same time? Go ahead. Want to make a fortune playing pool and killing the winner if you lose? Right on. Hell, you can even be a valet attendent or courier, if you are so inclined. The way competent and, at times, great side games are integrated into CJ’s world is a thing of beauty.

Speaking of CJ, one of the really overlooked aspects of the game is the fine voice work of Young Maylay as CJ. He may not be as flashy as Samuel L. Jackson’s Training Day-esque dirty cop or Dennis Hopper’s fantastically loony Truth, but Maylay does something I found amazing: he makes a stone cold killer gangbanging thug likeable and well rounded. Kudos.

THE SCORE: 8.5/10

The Tribunal has spoken! This is what we ended up with:

SCORE #1: 9.5
SCORE #2: 9.5
SCORE #3: 8.5

FINAL JUDGEMENT: 9.16

No matter what anyone else may say about this game being overrated, we obviously implore you to tell them to shove it. With an average of nearly 9.2 we deem Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas to be an excellent game that will stand the test of time. Years from now people will STILL be talking about what GTA: SA did and how it gave even more history to a series that already sits atop the gaming mountain. With its open ended play, size, new features, in addition to all the things gamers expect from a GTA game San Andreas delivers all the goods and will leave no one disappointed. Now get out, play the hell out of it, but make sure you take a moment to step back and realize you’re not just playing a great game, you are playing a genre defining game that will still be talked about twenty years down the line.

THIS SESSION HAS NOW BE ADJOURNED

Until next time in the Tribunal may you go and bask in the gaming goodness that is Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.