GTA San Andreas is an unbelievably successful title for Rockstar Games and remains the highest-selling PS2 game of all time. While the financial accomplishments of the game are truly commendable, they shouldn't overshadow its critical success.
The consensus among game critics prior to GTA San Andreas' release was that Rockstar Games couldn't possibly live up to the expectations set by previous titles. Given just how incredibly popular and revolutionary GTA Vice City and III were, it was always going to be a tall order for GTA San Andreas.
Yet, in 2004, much to the delight of the fan base and critics, GTA San Andreas achieved the impossible and became arguably the most beloved game in the series. The title did plenty of things differently and brought a host of features that would become series mainstays in the future.
How GTA San Andreas revolutionized the GTA series
1 - Multiple cities
While both GTA Vice City and III featured a modern metropolitan for players to explore, they pale in comparison to San Andreas. Not satisfied with just one major city, Rockstar Games made San Andreas an entire state with 3 cities and a County area.
This prompted the developers to even include air travel between the 3 major cities as a means of transportation. The scope of GTA San Andreas in terms of map size led to Rockstar embracing the appeal of larger maps.
The size of GTA San Andreas' map is still mind-boggling, especially considering the fact that the game came out in 2004.
2 - Increased roleplaying
Roleplaying has always been an idea that Rockstar Games have played around with in the GTA series, but never to an extent where the games can be labeled as RPGs. Instead, the series is content with small RPG elements in a bid to increase player immersion.
To that end, GTA San Andreas included perhaps the biggest lean towards an RPG experience in the series. From body mass to skill, players had unprecedented amounts of control over CJ and were able to tailor him as best as they could.
This kind of roleplay would rear its head in future titles, especially GTA Online.
3 - Ambitious storytelling
The entirety of Vice City and III's storytelling could be summed up in a couple of sentences. GTA San Andreas, on the other hand, was a long, expansive and occasionally confusing storyline.
The game initially starts off as a story about gang warfare and CJ's return to the Grove Street Families. However, the story soon develops into something that players didn't see coming at all. From government conspiraces to top-secret black sites, GTA San Andreas had a lot of ideas to explore.
While not necessarily the best-written story in the series, its scale and scope became something that Rockstar explored in future titles.
4 - Fewer celebrity castings
Rockstar Games' philosophy when it came to casting GTA roles was to rope in as many credible Hollywood actors as possible. From Ray Liotta to Burt Reynolds and Michael Madsen, the series included an impressive number of major film actors.
However, GTA San Andreas, save for actors like Samuel L. Jackson and a few other notable cameos, included professional video game actors and newcomers. The star of the show was undoubtedly Young Maylay, who delivered an absolutely charming performance as the protagonist, Carl "CJ" Johnson.
The success of GTA San Andreas and the positive response to the cast's performance led Rockstar to include fewer celebrity cast members in the future.
5 - Increased scope of gameplay
There came a point in GTA San Andreas when players were thoroughly surprised by just how much they could do in the game world. From visiting gyms to learning new martial arts, the number of side missions and activities was mind-boggling.
The positive reception to this increased scope and scale of the gameplay prompted Rockstar to double down in the future. GTA 5 in 2013 even featured sports like golf and tennis.
For comprehensive guides and walkthroughs, check out SK GTA Wiki