Whenever a media publication runs a Grand Theft Auto related list or ranking of the franchise it's almost certain that either Grand Theft Auto III or Grand Theft Auto: Vice City will take the top spot. Just as certain is that readers will always cry foul about Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas not getting top billing.
As the old saying goes, it is what it is and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas accomplished what other games of the same tone couldn't.
There is a good reason for the outcry.
Taking nothing away from GTA III and Vice City—they were monsters and revolutionized storytelling and gameplay in video games as a whole. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was responsible for a revolution in its own right, albeit one that isn't as technologically or socially classy as the GTA titles before it. What San Andreas accomplished was that it successfully created an African-American anti-hero who wasn't a cornball. The title also portrayed gang banging in the most realistic and cartoon-less way in a video game.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is now available for iOS for $7 (buy it here). It'll be out for Android, Amazon Kindle and Windows Mobile soon.
Know that this isn't a glorification of the problem plaguing cities all over the country, but a statement of fact. Because of its sensitive nature, the art-from-life approach that San Andreas took is often glazed over out of the fear of sounding like an advocate of gang life or street violence. As the old saying goes, it is what it is and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas accomplished what other games of the same tone couldn't.
Back in the early to mid 2000s, video game companies were rushing out titles that fed off of inner-city street culture. From a business perspective, who could really blame them. The 90s and early 2000s saw the most lucrative years of rap music where artists were churning out albums that sold millions of copies around the globe. Just do the knowledge on Bad Boy Records, Death Row Records, No Limit Records and Cash Money Records. In Hollywood, movies set in the hood like Boyz in the Hood, and Menace II Society were raking in cash from box office and home video sales. There was gold in them there hoods and the missing piece of electronic entertainment was yet to be tapped.
It wouldn't be long before video games would ramp up urban street memes as the backdrop of their storytelling. Ubisoft had 187 Ride or Die, Eidos Interactive dropped 25 to Life (the title was inspired by Eminem's song from the Recover album in 2010) and the now defunct THQ had Saint's Row—which in its infancy was titled Bling Bling (after rapper BG of Cash Money's hit song in 1999). Everyone was looking to cash in on the rachetry of the hood and they all had one thing in common; they weren't doing it right.