The scene is the early 1990s, the place is a vastly expansive (fictional) state way out on the west coast of the United States called San Andreas. San Andreas encompasses three major cities: Los Santos (based on real life Los Angeles) San Fierro (based on San Francisco), and Las Venturas ( based on Las Vegas). The gang culture has taken hold, whether the youth wanted to be a part of it or not, many couldn't escape it.
San Andreas was the third installment of the Grand Theft Auto series and blew the two previous installments out of the water. Literally, as in this one you could finally swim! Not only could you swim, you could actually dive and stay submerged for a period of time, which in and of itself was an amazing feat.
Along side the ability to swim came an RPG feeling element of gaining heath and getting better at skills like driving, shooting, fighting, etc. We now had the ability to go to a gym and bulk up, or to Burger Shot and pig out. We also had an exceedingly massive landscape to explore, with woodlands, deserts, small towns and big towns, and just about anything you could imagine in between.
With a larger environment came a larger selection of modes of transportation including: various planes, boats, helicopters and you could even hijack a train and chug along the tracks from one end of the state to the other. What GTA would be complete without a copious amount of cars, trucks and motorcycles to drive around aimlessly? Not only did they give us that, but they gave it to us in large quantities, including the ability to feel as if we're really living the west coast life and giving the player the ability to customize almost every vehicle in the state of San Andreas.
To coincide with the west coast lifestyle of custom cars and movie stars, San Andreas also gave us the ability to buy new clothes and change the style of our main protagonist. We could live the champagne wishes and caviar dreams in a house in the hills, or live in a small hick town just outside of Los Santos, with plenty of other homes and assets to choose from! And last but not least, we had the small, but real, ability to interact with the fellow public. A very simplistic system, but it was fun to react a certain way to a comment directed toward our protagonist and see how that person would respond.
San Andreas blew my mind, to the point that it ruined my ability to go back to GTA 3 or Vice City. San Andreas was so massive and had so much to do that I found it impossible to go back to the previous games for more than 10 minutes without being overwhelmed with boredom and making the switch back over. From the huge list of missions, side missions, collectibles and other things you could acquire, customize or just waste countless hours doing, San Andreas was packed with fun.
For years, literally, I found myself popping San Andreas into my Xbox and sitting down for whole night sessions of finding certain cars and finding most of the ways I could customize them. Even just little personal challenges were fun! How long will it take me to get from Grove Street to San Fierro on a bicycle? The fun was endless.
With as much as I've played, I'm sure there are still places in San Andreas I haven't seen yet. Although the call to return to San Andreas isn't as strong as it once was, it's still there, and I do from time to time. I think I'll go hijack a tractor and hitch it up to the front of a random pedestrian's car and drag them around for a few hours!