Carl Sagan, when asked if we were the only form of intelligent life in the universe, said it’s an “awful waste of space” if true. The same can be said about open-world games. Especially in the rush to embrace 3D technology in the late 90s/early aughts, publishers wasted a lot of space. But someone figured it out eventually right? Surely a big open game came along that showed everyone how to make them interesting?
Yes and yes. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was released in 2004 and immediately showed the world why Rockstar was the king of open-world games. Six years before Skyrim was on the scene, gamers were treated to the exploits of CJ and crew on the streets of San Andreas, in the biggest, arguably most influential game Rockstar ever made. If you’re an Xbox Game Pass subscriber, it leaves the service on May 10, so check it out soon.
GTA: San Andreas is the biggest GTA title Rockstar has ever produced. Yes, some will argue that the map size on some newer titles is larger but wasting space, even on pretty landscapes and intricate city streets, is still wasting space. San Andreas has a whopping 101 missions in the campaign storyline. By comparison, GTA V has 69.
These aren’t just dumb little fetch quests either. Some truly epic and memorable missions are on that list, ranging from drive-by gang turf warfare to taking a flamethrower a maríjuana crop to a casino heist to stealing a fighter jet. It’s non-stop action set on a massive map with distinct neighborhoods and regions, a true love letter to L.A. It’s impossible to be bored in San Andreas.
All this action is supported by one of the greatest soundtracks in gaming history. The list of artists is staggering. Cypress Hill, Rage Against the Machine, Bel Biv Devoe, Gang Starr, Tupac, Too $hort, N.W.A., The Who, Guns N Roses, and on and on and on. Don’t be surprised if you drive to a mission and sit in the car while the track finishes up.
The voice acting cast is stacked too. You’ll recognize Hollywood heavyweights like James Woods, Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Penn, and Peter Fonda. There really is not a bad performance in the game, which makes some of the extended cutscenes a pleasure to watch. It’s a level of star power that this current generation of gaming doesn’t do anymore.
The gameplay is your classic GTA formula, with a few notable tweaks. Health, strength, and stamina are all trainable skills you develop from going to the gym, running, swimming, and eating right (yes, you need to eat in this game). There’s also a romance system for anyone that’s been looking for love in all the wrong places, and plenty of minigames including a bunch of casino games.
The gunplay is a little stiff by today’s standards, so some of the big shootout missions don’t age as well as the driving/flying/chasing oriented ones. But there are adjustable difficult settings and old school cheat codes for anyone struggling to take the fight to Big Smoke and the Ballas. And don’t worry, there's no toxic fanbase to belittle you for taking shortcuts. Cheating is a big part of what made GTA a standout franchise. You can’t waste space if you fill it with infinite ammo.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is available on mobile, PC, PlayStation, and Xbox. It’s playable on Game Pass until May 10.