Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is a 2004 action-adventure game developed by Rockstar North and published by Rockstar Games. It is the seventh title in the Grand Theft Auto series, and the follow-up to the 2002 game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. It was released in October 2004 for PlayStation 2, and in June 2005 for Microsoft Windows and Xbox. The game is set within an open world environment that players can explore and interact with at their leisure. The story follows former gangster Carl “CJ” Johnson, who returns home after the death of his mother and is drawn back into his former gang and a life of crime while clashing with corrupt authorities, rival criminal syndicates, and other enemies. Carl’s journey takes him across the fictional U.S. state of San Andreas, which is heavily based on California and Nevada.
The game features references to many real-life elements of the world, such as its cities, regions, and landmarks, with its plot heavily based on several real-life events in Los Angeles in the early 1990s, including the rivalry between real-life street gangs, the crack epidemic of the 1980s and early 1990s, the LAPD Rampart scandal, and the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Unlike its predecessor, San Andreas brought with it new elements of gameplay that would be later incorporated in future titles, including RPG-style mechanics, customisation options with both clothing and vehicle appearances, a vast array of activities and mini-games, and the inclusion of gambling games.
Considered by many reviewers to be one of the greatest video games ever made, San Andreas received critical acclaim upon release, with praise directed at its music, story and gameplay, and criticism for its graphics and some aspects of its controls. It was the best-selling video game of 2004, and with over 27.5 million copies sold worldwide as of 2011, it is the best-selling PlayStation 2 game and one of best-selling video games of all time. Like its predecessors, San Andreas is cited as a landmark in video games for its far-reaching influence within the industry. The game’s violence and sexual content was the source of much public concern and controversy. In particular, a player-made software patch, dubbed the “Hot Coffee mod”, unlocked a previously hidden sexual scene. A high-definition remastered version of the game was released for both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in 2015. In June 2018, the game was added to the Xbox One Backward Compatible library. San Andreas has been ported to various other platforms and services, such as OS X, Xbox Live, PlayStation Network and mobile devices (iOS, Android, Windows Phone and Fire OS). The next main entry in the series, Grand Theft Auto IV, was released in April 2008.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is an action-adventure game with role-playing and stealth elements. Structured similarly to the previous two games in the series, the core gameplay consists of elements of third-person shooter and driving games, affording the player a large, open-world environment in which to move around. On foot, the player’s character is capable of walking, running, sprinting, swimming, climbing, and jumping as well as using weapons and various forms of hand-to-hand combat. The player can operate a variety of vehicles, including automobiles, buses, semis, boats, fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters, trains, tanks, motorcycles, and bicycles. The player may also import vehicles in addition to stealing them.
The open, non-linear environment allows the player to explore and choose how they wish to play the game. Although storyline missions are necessary to progress through the game and unlock certain cities and content, the player can complete them at their leisure. When not taking on a storyline mission, the player can freely roam the cities and rural areas of San Andreas, eat in restaurants, or cause havoc by attacking people and causing destruction. Creating havoc can attract unwanted and potentially fatal attention from the authorities. The more chaos caused, the stronger the response: police will handle “minor” infractions (attacking pedestrians, pointing guns at people, stealing vehicles, manslaughter, etc.), whereas SWAT teams, the FBI, and the military respond to higher wanted levels.
The player can partake in a variety of optional side missions that can boost their character’s attributes or provide other sources of income. The traditional side missions of past Grand Theft Auto games are included, such as dropping off taxi cab passengers, putting out fires, driving injured people to the hospital, and fighting crime as a vigilante. New additions include burglary missions, pimping missions, truck and train driving missions requiring the player to make deliveries on time, and driving/flying/boating/biking schools, which help the player learn skills and techniques to use in their corresponding vehicles.
Not all locations are open to the player at the start of the game. Some locales, such as mod garages, restaurants, gyms, and shops, become available only after completing specific missions. Likewise, for the first portion of the game, only Los Santos and its immediate suburbs are available for exploration; unlocking the other cities and rural areas again requires the completion of specific missions. If the player travels to locked locations early in the game, they will attract the attention of SWAT teams, police, and police-controlled Hydras if in an aircraft.
Unlike Grand Theft Auto III and Vice City, which needed loading screens when the player moved between different districts of the city, San Andreas has no load times when the player is in transit. The only loading screens in the game are for cut-scenes and interiors. Other differences between San Andreas and its predecessors include the switch from single-player to multiplayer Rampage missions (albeit not in the PC version), and the replacement of the “hidden packages” with spray paint tags, hidden camera shots, horseshoes, and oysters to discover.
The camera, fighting, and targeting controls were reworked to incorporate concepts from another Rockstar game, Manhunt, including various stealth elements, as well as improved target crosshairs and a target health indicator which changes from green to red to black as the target’s health decreases. The PC version of the game implements mouse chording: the player has to hold the right mouse button to activate the crosshairs and then click or hold the left mouse button to shoot or use an item, such as a camera.
For the first time in the series, players can swim and climb walls. The ability to swim and dive underwater has a great effect on the player as well since water is no longer an impassable barrier that kills the player outright (although it is possible to drown). For greater firepower, the player can also dual-wield firearms or perform a drive-by shooting with multiple gang members who can be recruited to follow the player. Due to the size of San Andreas, a waypoint reticule on the HUD map can be set, aiding the player in reaching a destination.