Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was a revolutionary release on the PlayStation 2 in 2004. It was a source of an unbelievable amount of controversy in its heyday and has remained a beloved game since then.
The original Xbox’s re-release brought about some noteworthy improvements to the game, but no version has changed this classic quite like the mobile port.
Rockstar essentially rebuilt the game from the ground up, and the results are mixed – but largely fantastic. San Andreas’ story remains as great as ever. CJ is back in San Andreas to bury his mother but gets set up by corrupt cops – including the game’s biggest enemy, Tenpenny. CJ is one of the franchise’s best protagonists because he is just trying to rebuild his life and everything gets thrown at him. He reunites with his Grove Street gang and the game’s adventure begins.
Adventure is the perfect term to describe San Andreas because this is the largest-scale GTA game to date regarding sheer locations you can visit. You start off with a Los Angeles-esque area to explore complete with its vibe thanks to the lower-income setting. Things get classed up a shade when you go to San Fierro and have a bit of money for you as well as more characters to interact with. The final third of the game takes place in a Las Vegas-esque area that remains a joy to behold.
Each area feels distinct and has a large patch of land to connect them. In-between these areas, you might just find yourself exploring the mountainside area and listening to some country music. If you don’t want to do that, maybe go to a clothing store and change into something more fashionable. Workout freaks will be happy to see gyms litter the land, and you can use them to boost your stats for the first time in franchise history.
San Andreas brought RPG-style stat progression into the franchise and gave you more customization options for the main character than any entry before or since. You can tailor CJ’s clothes to be whatever you want – so if keeping him in Grove Street green is important to you, do it. I prefer keeping him in clothes that are consistent with the character’s wealth – so early on, he’s in jeans and a shirt, and then things get better-looking over time. I love the tuxedo option, and it reflects his character is gaining a ton of money and not being completely corrupted by it.
CJ’s crew is usually tight-nit, but corruptions enter its ugly head thanks to money, and then things get crazy. Friends become rivals and folks have to pick sides. You’ll meet a ton of new characters throughout the adventure, from a David Cross-voiced store owner who has an affinity for flying planes to a stoner who absolutely, positively needs his crops protected. Racing missions remain as well, and you get to drive some of the franchise’s best cars in this game.
In keeping with the customization theme, all of their color schemes can be altered. While this may not seem like much, I loved using it to modify the colors to fit console color schemes. There’s nothing quite like destroying a gang war in an SNES-color scheme car or simply having one outfitted with boosts to evade better the cops. Driving and biking skills play a part in stat progression too, and will aid you in avoiding cops during your most intense cop chases.
Cop chases, hand to hand combat, driving, and gunplay are all on-point in the mobile version. They weren’t perfect even on consoles, though, and sadly, they haven’t been improved a ton here. Controller support makes things easier to use than the default mobile controls, but the highly-customizable and context-sensitive controls do work well enough. Every button can be adjusted in both size and position, and that makes things work far better if you have a large tablet screen or simply need to have the buttons take up more space on your phone.
This port features revamped textures than the PS2 original, giving everything a new sheen. That isn’t just a saying, though – everything appears to be slathered in grease, making some things look more artificial than they should. Skin and clothing, in particular, suffer the most from this, while floor tiles, cars, and other metallic objects benefit from it. Animations have remained the same while the new 16:9 aspect ratio makes the cutscenes look more cinematic than ever before.
The spectacular voiceover work remains great, but the mobile version does suffer from some stuttering and voices just dropping out during cutscenes. It kills the flow of things, and while it isn’t too bad if you’ve played the game before, it still hurts things. Players going through it for the first time could wind up feeling a bit lost due to this issue. This port also features fewer songs than the original console versions due to licenses expiring. Fortunately, you still get dozens of early-’90s songs from country, rock, rap, and alternative to listening to – so it’s not a massive loss.
Grand Theft Auto San Andreas was a classic game in 2004 and remains a great one many years later. The passage of time may have affected some parts of the game – like the graphics and somewhat-iffy gunplay, but it tells a fantastic story. It’s a must-own game for anyone who hasn’t played the game before, and fun buys for those who just want to take another trip through the countryside, then go work out to a gym and ride a bike before outrunning a slew of cops. It’s an exciting romp from beginning to end on any device you so desire.