Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas – The Original Definitive Title in Open-World Gaming

In the history of gaming, few titles have left as indelible a mark as Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Released in 2004 by Rockstar Games, this iconic entry in the GTA series revolutionised open-world gaming on the PlayStation 2. As a note this entry is for the original game not the recent HD remaster. 

For the few of you who don’t know Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is an action-adventure game developed by Rockstar North and published by Rockstar Games back in 2004. The seventh instalment in the GTA series, San Andreas is a fictional city based on California and Nevada. This particular game is seemingly set during the early 1990’s. You play as Carl Johnson or ‘CJ’ a member of the Grove Street Families who had previously left the city of San Andreas but has now returned following the murder of his mother.



San Andreas weaves a complex narrative tapestry that transcends the traditional crime saga. At its heart, it’s a story about family, loyalty, and the pursuit of the American Dream. CJ’s journey from an exiled gang member to a player in the criminal underworld is punctuated by moments of tragedy, humour, and social commentary.

Act 1: The Return to Los Santos

The story kicks off with Carl Johnson, a former gang member, returning to Los Santos after spending five years in Liberty City. His mother has been murdered, and CJ is back for her funeral. As he steps off the plane, he is immediately harassed by corrupt police officers, who frame him for the murder of a police officer. Now, CJ finds himself back in the dangerous world of Los Santos, controlled by rival gangs and corrupt law enforcement.

Act 2: Rebuilding the Grove Street Families

Upon returning to his old neighbourhood, CJ discovers that his family’s gang, the Grove Street Families, is in disarray. Internal conflicts and rival gang pressure have weakened the once-mighty gang. CJ decides to take matters into his own hands and embarks on a mission to reunite the gang and regain control of the territories lost to rival gangs like the Ballas and the Vagos.

Throughout this act, CJ reconnects with his brother Sweet, his sister Kendl, and other childhood friends. The story explores themes of family loyalty, gang warfare, and the struggle for control in the dangerous world of Los Santos.

At the end of this act in the mission “The Green Sabre” Sweet phones CJ to ask for help in a gunfight between the Ballas and GSF but he CJ needs to go meet Cesar first. Cesar points to a lock up where a couple of Ballas leave followed by Officer Tenpenny and much to his horror Ryder and Big Smoke followed by Officer Eddie reversing out in the same green sabre that was used to kill CJ’s mom. 

Cesar tells you that the drive-by was meant to take out Sweet, CJ then tells him to get Kendl out of the city when he realises Sweet is walking into a trap. 

Act 3: The Bigger Picture

As CJ solidifies Grove Street’s presence in Los Santos, he discovers a larger conspiracy at play. A mysterious government agent named Mike Toreno coerces CJ into working for him by kidnapping his brother Sweet. Toreno assigns CJ various tasks, ranging from thwarting a drug lord’s operations to stealing military hardware. Meanwhile, CJ befriends Cesar Vialpando, a member of the Varrios Los Aztecas gang, and starts a romantic relationship with his sister, Kendl.

CJ also discovers that his brother Sweet is in prison and must navigate the intricacies of the penal system to secure his release. The story expands beyond gang conflicts to encompass corrupt police, drug trafficking, and the impact of government intervention on communities.

Act 4: San Fierro and Las Venturas

The narrative takes CJ to the cities of San Fierro and Las Venturas, expanding the game world and introducing new characters and challenges. CJ becomes entangled in the affairs of a garage owner named The Truth and encounters Cesar’s cousin, Catalina, who becomes a formidable adversary.

In San Fierro, CJ assists in dismantling a drug syndicate and helps The Truth with his unconventional endeavours. The story also explores CJ’s involvement in a casino heist in Las Venturas, introducing him to influential figures in the criminal underworld.

Act 5: Return to Los Santos

As CJ returns to Los Santos, he discovers that his brother Sweet has been released from prison but is still embroiled in gang conflicts. The city is in turmoil, torn apart by gang wars, political corruption, and the chaos CJ left behind. The final act of the story focuses on CJ’s efforts to reclaim Grove Street and bring stability to Los Santos.

The narrative builds to a climactic showdown with the Officer Tenpenny and Big Smoke, who has been manipulating events from the shadows. CJ, with the support of his brother Sweet and other allies, confronts Tenpenny and his cronies in a high-stakes confrontation that will determine the fate of Los Santos.


At its core, San Andreas is an expansive open-world playground that pushes the boundaries of what was thought possible on the PlayStation 2. Set in the fictional state of San Andreas, the game follows the journey of Carl “CJ” Johnson as he navigates the intricate web of crime, corruption, and family dynamics. The gameplay mechanics are a symphony of freedom, enabling players to explore a sprawling landscape, engage in missions, and indulge in a plethora of side activities.

The mission structure is diverse, ranging from high-stakes heists to turf wars and even casino capers. The ability to seamlessly switch between on-foot exploration and various vehicles, from lowriders to jetpacks, adds layers of depth to the gameplay. San Andreas doesn’t just offer a world to observe; it’s a living, breathing entity that reacts to the player’s choices, creating an unparalleled sense of agency.

San Andreas is a masterclass in mission variety, offering a staggering array of tasks that keep players engaged. From intense shootouts and high-speed chases to more strategic activities like gang management and property acquisition, the missions are a rollercoaster of gameplay experiences. The Heist missions, in particular, stand out as exemplars of tension and strategic planning.

The side activities, including gym workouts, casino games, and even lowrider competitions, offer a delightful diversion from the main storyline. The sheer breadth of content ensures that San Andreas remains a playground of possibilities, encouraging players to explore every nook and cranny.

This game also features a lot of the characters being based on real rappers, CJ is seemingly based on Dr. Dre, Sweet is based on Ice Cube, Big Smoke is based on the Notorious B.I.G and more on the nose is Ryders resemblance to Eazy-E in both appearance and the notion that they “betrayed the hood for money”. What also needs to be mentioned is the brilliant voice acting of the legend that is Samuel L. Jackson as Officer Tenpenny becoming one of the most hated villains in all of GTA. 

Graphics and Sound

Considering the technical constraints of the PlayStation 2, San Andreas achieves visual feats that were groundbreaking at the time. The state of San Andreas is a diverse amalgamation of cities, deserts, and forests, each meticulously crafted to evoke a distinct atmosphere. The attention to detail, from the neon-lit streets of Los Santos to the sprawling countryside, immerses players in a living, breathing world.

Character models are expressive, and the animations are fluid, enhancing the cinematic quality of the game. The day-night cycle and dynamic weather system contribute to the immersive visual experience, making San Andreas a testament to Rockstar’s prowess in creating believable game worlds.

Even with the hardware limitations of the PlayStation 2, San Andreas is a technical marvel. The draw distance, the size of the game world, and the complexity of the missions showcase the developers’ ingenuity in maximising the potential of the platform. While the graphics may appear dated by contemporary standards, the technical achievements of San Andreas remain commendable and laid the groundwork for future advancements in open-world gaming.

One of the standout features of San Andreas is its soundtrack, a veritable time capsule of the early 1990s. The game features an eclectic mix of hip-hop, rock, and funk tracks that perfectly encapsulate the cultural landscape of the era. From N.W.A.’s “Express Yourself” to Guns N’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle,” the radio stations are a journey through musical genres that enhance the game’s atmosphere.

Voice acting is top-notch, with Samuel L. Jackson’s portrayal of Officer Tenpenny and Young Maylay’s performance as CJ standing out. The dialogue is sharp, witty, and often memorable, adding to the overall immersive experience. The ambient sounds of city life, from the bustling streets to the distant sirens, contribute to the atmospheric richness of San Andreas.


The supporting cast is a colourful ensemble of characters, each contributing to the rich tapestry of San Andreas. From the eccentric truth-seeker The Truth to the enigmatic and menacing Officer Tenpenny, every character is a piece of the puzzle that makes the narrative so compelling. The branching storyline, influenced by player choices and actions, adds a layer of replayability, inviting players to explore alternate paths and outcomes.

Every GTA game of the ‘modern era’ is infinitely replay-able, because of the detail in the open world, the unique aspects to a lot of the missions and the storylines that although have a lot of weird and wonderful comedy in, have an underlying serious message about the world.  

Cultural Impact

Beyond its technical achievements and engaging gameplay, San Andreas left an indelible mark on popular culture. Its depiction of urban life, social issues, and the exploration of race and identity resonated with players and critics alike. The game’s “Hot Coffee” controversy, where unused and inaccessible explicit content was discovered, sparked debates about content ratings and artistic expression in video games.

San Andreas influenced the trajectory of open-world gaming, inspiring subsequent titles to aspire to its level of ambition and immersion. GTA IV did not quite live up to those expectations but was still a perfectly good game, GTA V taking us back to the San Andreas area is everything that GTA: San Andreas could have been with better technology. 

The games impact has also had fans calling for a remake, which Rockstar heard and made happen for the fans. Unfortunately, the remake was a straight HD port and was broken and buggy and actually looked worse for it and was panned universally by fans. 



In conclusion, “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” on the PlayStation 2 is not just a game; it’s a cultural phenomenon that defined an era in gaming history and is still to this day used as a benchmark for open world titles or crime sim titles. The games narrative is complemented by memorable characters, intense missions, and a vibrant depiction of the early ’90s urban culture. 


  • Great RPG elements being able to control weight and fitness levels
  • One of the best video game stories ever written
  • Combat and gameplay still holds up to modern standards
  • Paved the way for what GTA is now
  • All characters are fantastically written and flushed out


  • All you had to do was follow the damn train CJ
  • The RC plane mission

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (2004)


The most iconic game of one of the most iconic video game series ever. Fantastic story, fantastic gameplay and fantastic characters.

Matt Evans
PS2 version reviewed