On October 26th 2004 (my 13th birthday, fyi) a game was released which completely changed the worlds outlook on video games. I’m talking, of course, about Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. When I say it changed the worlds outlook on video games, it did this both positively and negatively. It was a game riddled with controversy but also critically acclaimed. A feat that we haven’t really seen since.
GTA: San Andreas
San Andreas was the follow up (but not in anyway related to the story) of GTA: Vice City. Vice City had been a huge success so Rockstar needed to follow it up with something huge. Huge is exactly what they did. They made San Andreas over 5 times larger than its predecessor which considering that it was released on the same console is quite astonishing. They also managed to abolish loading times when crossing between areas.
The story of GTA: San Andreas is centered around Carl ‘CJ’ Johnson who is returning home following the murder of his mother. Your first job is to get home from where the game starts. As you take the final turn you’ll hear the one defining line that for some reason I remember more clearly than any other line in any other GTA game. “Grove street… home. At least it was until I f*cked everything up.”
Throughout your journey through the world of San Andreas you’ll encounter many lovable and less desirable people such as Sweet, Big Smoke and Officer Tenpenny (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson). As your journey progresses you’ll spend time with each character; doing missions both for and with them. However, missions weren’t the only thing that you could do in San Andreas. Parts of the game had more of an RPG aspect. You could spend all your time at the gym to get swole, work on your shooting skills, spend your time causing a ruckus on a bmx all around each city, get a girlfriend (which we’ll come back to) and so on.
As a 13 year old (I know I shouldn’t have had it but my parents trusted that I wouldn’t kill real people) my mind was blown with the choices that I could make. In fact, San Andreas had elements that not even the latest GTA 5 has. You could drive a train. That mechanic hasn’t even appeared in the franchise since and I remember spending hours doing it. What the hell, Rockstar?
I remember this like it was yesterday. Hot Coffee. It was a mini game where you get to bang your girlfriend in the game. When news outlets found out about this there was a huge debate raised about video games in general and how they poison the minds of people. There were calls to ban the game world-wide and a crazy amount of outrage pouring in from every avenue. And I’m glad too. I hadn’t heard of the Hot Coffee mini-game before then and when I found out about it I immediately loaded up Action Replay (remember that old gem?), found the code that you needed then played Hot Coffee continuously for 3 days. So thank you media for raising awareness, the 13 year old version of me really appreciated it.
Obviously now, sex in video games is normal. Games like The Witcher, God of War and even games aimed more at children like The Sims contain sex, nudity or imply sex. Back in 2004 though, it was the hot topic on everyone’s lips. Parents were disgusted by it but what I never understood was that this was a game where you could kill thousands of people in the most horrific ways possible. Why did anyone care about a little sex? Is sex really more of a taboo than murder, drug smuggling, theft or gang wars? What it did do though was start the conversation of what can and can’t be in a video game. It opened the door to a lot of content which developers had previously steered clear of to avoid a media backlash. Rockstar said f*ck it, weathered that storm and now some of the best games today (Witcher 3) can have nudity in and nobody even bats an eyelid.
A lot of games and gamers have to thank Rockstar for GTA: San Andreas. It revolutionised video games as we see them today, pushing the boundaries in terms of gaming power and gaming content to help reshape the industry and truly becoming a staple of the video game hall of fame. It is for me the best and most defining game that Rockstar have ever made. *tips hat*