I have a lot of memories of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. The first time I got to the top of Mount Chiliad. The first time I saw that big Golden Gate Bridge knock-off. Playing the last mission and actually beating the entire game. But my favorite memory from GTA San Andreas is when I got to fly out of the map and explore a small section of Liberty City, the location of Grand Theft Auto 3.
I remember the moment very clearly. I was 13 and it was the weekend. A mission asked me to get into a plane and fly to Liberty City. I expected the game to show me a cutscene of me flying to the city and then maybe a cutscene of C.J. in Liberty City before spitting me back home. Instead, I was shocked to find I was actually going to the city and would get to do a whole mission in this East Coast metropolis.
Grand Theft Auto games rarely let the player truly leave the map and visit another location. Grand Theft Auto V is maybe the only other example of this, sending the player to the snowy town of North Yankton twice in the game. Once at the very start and later on during a story mission towards the end of the game. And while I enjoyed these moments in GTA V, they aren’t as cool as getting to re-visit Liberty City in GTA San Andreas.
The main reason the San Andreas detour is more memorable for me is because of the location. In GTA V you fly to a small town in the North, which is neat. We don’t get to visit rural small towns very often in GTA games. But I don’t have much of a connection to that location.
Liberty City, on the other hand, is a place I know. I can navigate the streets of that digital city better than most real-life cities I’ve lived in. I can get to the Banshee spawn blindfolded. I know where the airport is and where the Dodo is located at that airport. I remember the first time I crossed the bridge. I can still find gun stores without looking at the map. It has a special place in my brain and I’ll never really forget it.
So getting to fly back to Liberty City while playing San Andreas was amazing. Getting to see my old stomping grounds, now covered in snow, was wild. Things had changed while I was away visiting Vice City and San Andreas.
The location C.J visits during the mission is Marco’s Bistro, a location that I remember very well from my time playing GTA 3. This is where you park a car with a bomb to kill a mafia member dining at the bistro during an early mission in that game. Getting to go inside this location, something you never do in Grand Theft Auto 3, was so exciting for young Zack at the time.
The mission C.J. is tasked with completing in Liberty City isn’t very interesting. You just kill some mafia thugs and leave. But getting to visit a snowy Liberty City more than makes up for a dull mission.
To pull this visit off, Rockstar recreated part of the city and then placed it high above the San Andreas map. Weirdly, this area is actually considered an interior, even though it looks to be outside. This is due to how San Andreas handles locations and rooms. Basically, when you fly to Liberty City, Rockstar teleports you inside a big room that is the city and the Bistro. Another fun fact about this mission and trip across the country: This is the first time we got to see snow in a Grand Theft Auto game.
15 years after San Andreas was released, I still think about this mission. I hope in the future, with the inevitable Grand Theft Auto 6 coming one day, that Rockstar lets us fly to another city. Even if it’s just for a mission. These types of missions help make the world and game feel bigger. Plus, who doesn’t want to take a vacation every once and while.