The element of danger in the streets. I've been playing SA recently and this is ONE element of GTA I've missed for a very long time
The streets of GTA: San Andrea's cities are teeming with all kinds of danger. Gang members and drug dealers ready to shoot at you, random psychos and kunckleheads that will attack with melee weapons or even guns for the slightest altercation or provocation, and street criminals that will carjack you at a moment's notice. Yes, it can sometimes be a little annoying being shot at all the time by rival gangs when they spot you, but at least it made you think twice about venturing into certain areas, or keep a sharp eye out for any gang members nearby on the streets. And if it annoyed you so much, start a gang war and take over their turf, problem solved - in the world of the gangsta, you don't get left alone by your enemies by keeping them alive, you have to use murderous force, so it made sense to me. Even when robbing homes, you still need to be careful of armed residents that will blast you if they catch you intruding on their property. It makes the need to be armed with a gun VERY essential - at the very least you need to be packing a 9mm pistol to feel very safe.
No other GTA can rival SA for this experience at this level. GTA Vice City offers the same kind of experience, but not on the same level as SA does. In GTA IV, it was almost pretty much non-existent without the player having to initiate any kind of trouble. GTA V kinda does a good job of it some of the way - the gang turf intimidation feature was very well-done, I liked the way gang members flashed their guns at the player as a warning to leave their turf. However, in V that's the only kind of serious random danger you'll ever face in the streets, not much else.
I would love to see this return in the next GTA. Anyone else feel the same ? Feel free to discuss !