San Andreas

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  • DavidN

    You know, when I first played this game I had never been to America – since my wife is from California, I think I understand a bit more of it now. When I played this growing up I had no hope of understanding any of the lingo, and didn’t realize the parallels with the real American cities the levels are based on. More specifically I’m not sure how I only realized just now how heavily the game takes inspiration from Die Hard 3, running around the city desperately trying to answer phones under a strict time limit.

    And I didn’t realize the place names are slightly altered versions of real locations, either! Take San Andreas versus San Francisco:
    Telephone Hill = Telegraph Hill
    Soviet Hill = Russian Hill
    Wood Hill = possibly Knob Hill! It took me a while to get this one 🙂
    Sailor’s Wharf = Fisherman’s Wharf
    Aye Valley = Noe Valley
    Atlantic Heights = Pacific Heights

    As I played through, I realized San Andreas is a surprisingly large departure from Liberty City. First, the layout of the map is a bit more complicated (though the water around the central island in Liberty City always confounded me) – the north area is a nest of over-under bridges and some zones like Atlantic Heights only have one or two entrances. In addition, the number of respray shops has been absolutely slaughtered, from 11 in Liberty City down to just five here. Playing the game with a map open beside the game window (I’m using the ones at ) has vastly improved the experience, as I remember driving around lost on many occasions on the copy I had ages ago that I’d borrowed from a friend. In fact it’s interesting how that aspect of the game evolved along with real life – you used to have to bring a massive hard-to-fold paper map along and consult it, like the paper map that you got in the box with the original GTA, and in the later games your car has onboard GPS and you just follow that.

    Many other aspects of the game suddenly work very differently. The vehicles dotted about that give you extra missions no longer exist – instead, you’re likely to find Kill Frenzies in them instead (which involve doing damage with explosive remote-control cars and are fantastic fun) – in turn, the Kill Frenzies give you extra lives as a reward instead of money. The missions are laid out differently – in both levels, instead of one chain of actions that result in you completing a mission and then going back to the phones, each phone will set off a chain of up to three missions for you to attempt before prompting you to return and get another one. Overall, it feels a bit like each city was scripted by separate people sitting in different rooms who didn’t share much of a design document between them – but it gives each part of the game a very distinct feel.

    So in some ways the game is less generous – the pickups in crates are noticeably stingier, with you only getting 50 or 20 bullets per crate instead of 99 – but in other ways it’s more forgiving. The missions are written so that if you fail one, you still move on to the next – if you hit a turn wrong and completely blow up the truck of chemicals you’re meant to deliver (er, like me), then you’ll move on as if the truck was delivered anyway because you’re told some other contact managed to steal a similar truck. So it feels like there’s more opportunity for reward.

    In the second San Andreas level in particular I felt that missions tended towards a bit too long – often it feels like you’ll be driving around making a chain of four deliveries in opposite corners of the city, which is a dull task if you’re trying to keep the police off your back. (On that subject, it’s not quite as hard to reach the money targets on these levels than I had remembered and you have room to fail a few missions, but the constant threat of death/setback/failure because of your one hit point or touching a police officer still gets my anxiety going!) But in the interests of experimentation, I tried them all, passed most and then went a bit bonkers with my vastly inflated x21 multiplier (see attached).

    I was expecting to keep going as far as I could and make a brave last stand among the increasing heap of burning wreckage, but it seemed that after a while the police just sort of gave up – even though I had a wanted level of four, no further police cars arrived. So after a while I just got fed up and went to the bar to end the level.


    You have such a mission where you go from one corner of the map to another one and to yet another one, in Heist Almighty, too. Forgot the exact things you had to do, but it was about getting cars from A to B and then to C and so on.

    The puns in the names are not only in the places but also in the car and level names and even in the game’s title.

    I didn’t realize any of that as a kid, with English not even being my native language.


    Is the game’s title really a pun? Grand theft auto is a legal term used for stealing a car.


    It just occurred to me that I had no idea what the game’s title meant! Over time it’s just become a game name to me 🙂 But yes, like kdrnic says, seems like “Grand theft auto” is the American term for motor vehicle theft. I’m not sure what the distinction between theft and grand theft is, or why the words are in that order instead of the more natural “grand auto theft”, or why they call them autos and not vehicles, even though I’ve spent eleven years in America now.

    And yes, the car names are also plays on real life ones 🙂 Once again I knew nothing about cars when I played this the first time, but looking at them now… Mundano was a nickname for the Ford Mondeo in the UK because it was a safe, common, boring choice of car. Jugular must be Jaguar… Porka is Porsche, Stallion is Mustang, Impaler would be the Chevy Impala.

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