April 15, 2012 by davionc
Grand Theft Auto (GTA): San Andreas. From start to finish, this game has quite an intriguing storyline and game play setup. Though, I am not sure if anyone else in the course has played the other games in the GTA series, I would say that GTA: San Andreas is definitely the best game of all of them. It has a much more well-rounded and complete narrative, it wrestles through a lot of social issues deeply rooted in our culture, and the game play is very wide-ranging and has a very realistic, interactive open-world environment with so much to explore and unveil.
Right at the beginning of the game, the player is dropped into the city of Los Santos, which is a personification of cities like Compton in southern California. To compliment this theme, the player enacts the life of an early 1990’s Los Angeles gangbanger, named Carl Johnson, or CJ. Prior to the actual game-play, there are establishing cut-scenes that show CJ in Los Santos’ city airport, as he is returning back home to attend his mother’s funeral and find out who murdered her, and why. As soon as CJ exits the airport, he is confronted by a corrupt police-man, Officer Tenpenny (voiced by Samuel Jackson), and he is blackmailed to do whatever the officer asks him to do later on in the game. CJ is then thrown out of the officer’s car, and literally dropped into the world of San Andreas in a back alley, where the game play begins.
As soon as the game play begins, the creators of the game have set up a plan for players to realize everything that is new about this particular GTA game as far as player capabilities. Their plan starts by dropping you off near a bike (since bike riding was a new feature of this game,)which leads the player to get on the bike, and roll out! The game later does a lot of similar things such as place you on missions that expose a lot of the new features of the San Andreas game. These new features include being able to go to the gym and work out, play pool or darts in bars, race cars at race car derbies, play basketball, get haircuts at the barbershops and more. All of these features in addition to the interactivity of every character that CJ deals with while he is participating in these activities makes this game to be so much more enjoyable than most games especially because it is also set in an open-environment. Ultimately, San Andreas allots players the freedom to control just about any aspect of the game that they so choose.
In the midst of all of this, though, you are still only allowed to be CJ, and you still begin the game as a “man from the hood.” And according to national game critic and designer (Dr. Ian Bogost), “in the midst of the open-ended game play, expansive virtual spaces, and the inner-city collides to underscore opportunity biases.” For instance, Bogost details how in San Andreas, the player is actually required to eat to maintain strength and stamina, and also to gain health. However, the only options of eating in the game happen to be the fast-food restaurants including pizza, burgers, and chicken. While eating in moderation maintains Cj’s energy, the fatty foods increase fats on the player, and so CJ grows in fat, thus leading him to obesity. And in San Andreas, CJ is slower and weaker in anything he participates. This leads to him being cast a slow and weak gangbanger, which is not a good look in the game world or in the real world. The game takes it a step further by even simulating CJ vomiting if he eats too much of the unhealthy foods. Players are allowed to buy salads, but the issue here is that (just as in real life), the salads cost a lot more than anything else. In short, you have to pay for the quality! This is not a problem until the player realizes that they don’t have enough money to continuously buy salads, and also buy cars, homes, and participate in the more fun activities of the game. To counter all of this, the player can take CJ to the gym and work out. However, just as in real life, it actually takes a lot of work to build muscle, burn fat, and keep CJ in shape. The game even prevents you from being able to work out for so long as CJ “maxes out” at a certain point, and the game prompts you to come back to the gym at a later time. This passing of time and constant repetition to keep CJ in shape becomes work and actually becomes more stressful on the player, and it begins to hinder game progression speed. On top of all of this, CJ can work legal jobs in the game; however, the game’s simulation of time is very similar to real life, and so the player would have to repeatedly go to work, just as they go to the gym, and this also slows the game progress speed down a lot as well. This overall social setup usually leads to natural player tendencies such as gaining money illegally so that one can always stay healthy and advance faster in the game by not having to worry about the work it takes to maintain a solid job and go to the gym and such. Not to mention, the game also creates countless missions that involve illegal activities, and this also pushes the player to reject the paths of normalcy and indulge in wrongdoing.
All of this is to say that I definitely praise San Andreas for giving the player so much control, but it also forces the player to think about the social structures we have in place as a society; thus, it makes the game all the more better. All in all, I think San Andreas is a great game to play.