When I was younger, I remember thinking the map in Rockstar’s classic GTA San Andreas was massive. It sure felt that way, thanks in large part to the view-obscuring fog. Well, all that fog is gone in the newly released remastered trilogy collection, and it makes the whole world feel tiny and sad.
When Grand Theft Auto San Andreas was released back in 2004 on PS2, it felt like the biggest game ever made. I remember sinking years of my life into that game, replaying it, exploring the world, searching for mysteries, and pretending to be a truck driver or a camper. What helped make it possible to “live” in this digital world was the size of the map. At the time it seemed impossibly huge. Los Santos, the city you started in, felt like it was hundreds of miles away from the game’s other large cities, Las Venturas and San Fierro. Driving to these cities was a road trip towards far-off places.
But in reality, the map isn’t that big, and instead relies on some tricks to make it appear much larger. How Rockstar pulled this off involved a few things, including curvy and winding roads that made it take longer to get anywhere, and the use of empty space between the cities that you were forced to trek through. But the main key to pulling off the illusion of San Andreas’s big map lies within the game’s judicious use of fog. Partly a technical limitation, the fog blocks most of the world from your immediate view, allowing the PS2 to render less stuff on screen. But Rockstar also designed the map and its cities around this fog. So turning it off—which folks have done before on the PC whenever they want to share a screenshot of the whole map—isn’t a good idea. It robs the world of its size, and makes San Andreas feel like a tiny theme park.
Yet, the remastered trilogy out this week does just that. So now you can literally see the supposedly far-off Mount Chiliad from CJ’s house. When standing on a tall building in Los Santos, you can now see both Las Venturas and San Fierro, and it looks terrible! Seeing the sharp lines between desert and grass with no gentle fog to help hide the transition makes it feel like a Fortnite map.
According to Rockstar, this was all according to plan. In an interview with TheGamer, Rockstar producer Rich Rosado explained that “being able to push that draw distance back and see more of the city” was something not possible on PS2, but only in these new remasters.
“Simply being able to see to the end of a street,” said Rosado, “and see people milling about and cars moving up and down, adds a sense of scale and majesty to the world.”
The thing is, that’s not entirely inaccurate. In GTA III and Vice City, turning off the fog and increasing the draw distance helps a lot in making those cities feel bigger and more real. Being able to see all the big skyscrapers right across the river in GTA III makes it feel more like a true recreation of NYC. And yeah, seeing far-off pedestrians and cars adds to the sense of life and movement in cities that, on the PS2, felt empty and dead.
But in San Andreas, a game with multiple cities that are supposed to be far away from each other, the fog should have been left on. Or at least an option to toggle it on or off. Because in this game, it just makes the whole world feel tiny and fake.
During that same interview with TheGamer, Rosado added that removing the fog was actually a good thing because, “It’s how [Rockstar] hoped the game would have looked back then on that hardware.” I find that very hard to believe.