Most helpful positive review
44 of 50 people found the following review helpful
Great game with just a few flaws
on October 19, 2005
I hadn't played any of the other Grand Theft Auto games before I got "San Andreas" for the Xbox, but I pretty much knew what to expect before I started playing it. Still, the game exceeded my expectations and is a blast to play. Allow me to list the things I like about it, before I make a few complaints:
You control a character named CJ in a free-ranging storyline that takes you to three different cities. The game world feels big, and the quests will take you to every part of the map. Although the three cities are just a tiny fraction of the size of the real cities they're representing (Los Angeles, San Francisco and Las Vegas), they still contain lots of different neighborhoods and it will take ages to explore each one. (And you will have an incentive to explore each city carefully, as each one is full of a different kind of easter egg you can collect to improve your final score.) The ghettos of Las Santos, the hippie areas of San Fierro and the neon glitz of Las Venturas all nicely reflect the popular images of the cities they're imitating. In between the cities there are woods, a desert, waterways, mountains, farms -- the design of the game world was done with lots of care and attention to detail.
I love the multiple radio formats. It's great to cycle through the stations and pick appropriate music for the current setting and mission. And I normally listen to rock and hip-hop, but even the reggae and country music stations in "San Andreas" sound good to me. They obviously spent some time in assembling the songs to get a representative list for each genre, and I dig being able to hear stuff from bands like L7 and Black Uhuru that I'm not familiar with. The DJs do fine work as well; Chuck D as the bombastic old-school rap DJ ("I don't even get paid to do this! I spin these records as a public service!") and Axl Rose as the classic rock DJ (and former lead singer of ersatz band "Crystal Ship") are wonderfully self-aware parodies. I would have liked to have a classic jazz station too or a spoof on NPR, but really -- I have nothing to complain about because the radio aspect of "San Andreas" is exceptional. Even the commercials are wickedly satirical.
I love the varied gameplay. Of course you do a lot of driving in "San Andreas", but there are over 100 different vehicles, from monster trucks to sports cars to bicycles to helicopters. Bouncing through the streets of hilly San Fierro on a motorcycle is a genuine thrill. Many of the quests are of the "deliver this package" or "kill that informant" variety, but there are plenty of more original ones, such as one where you have to drive around with a Mafia guy tied down to your hood until he's scared enough to squeal, one where you street-race a souped-up low-rider through Los Santos, and even one where you have to dance to the rhythm of a particular song to allow you to jack a van full of audio equipment.
The optional side quests are also terrific -- you can assume the role of an ambulance driver, a delivery courier, a vigilante policeman, a fireman, a car thief, a taxi driver -- there are always things you can do outside of the main quest line. There are minigames galore, such as training sessions for driving and flying; you can play pool for money against the shark at the local bar; arcade games at the convenience store; even a demolition derby. You can also get extra money for doing "insane" stunts, like driving off the side of a mountain and bailing out with a parachute.
The details are well-realized too. There are about seven classes of guns in the game, from a pistol-with-silencer to a sawed-off shotgun to a sniper rifle. You can perform melee attacks with items such as a pool stick, a samurai sword, a chainsaw or a bunch of flowers. You can buy all manner of clothes for CJ -- I have him wearing the "Helmut", a spiked metal helmet that makes him look Prussian, sort of. You can get different tattoos and hair styles. You can date different girls with different temperaments. You'll recognize a lot of Hollywood stars among the voice actors, but even the non-famous voice work is good.
And my niggling complaints:
I know that "shooty" games are harder to interface with on consoles than on PCs, because joysticks don't allow as much accuracy as mice when aiming, but "San Andreas" makes it TOO easy by allowing you to press a button to auto-aim at enemies in front of you. I know this game is cartoonishly violent (that's one of its strong points), but it still seemed unbalanced to me that I could single-handedly mow down ten or twenty enemies just by crouching and quickly cycling through them with the auto-aim.
Also, I know that this is very much an adult game, with tons of swearing and violence -- I don't mind that. It seems slightly strange to me though that "bitches" and "hos" are so common (one mission description even says "Take the ho downtown to the hotel"), but I've heard no racial epithets in the game. These characters would definitely be throwing around the "n-word" to each other if their slangy conversation were true-to-life. I guess it wasn't worth the controversy to include it.
And I seriously wish you could drive a bus in the game. How funny would it be if CJ was able to jack a school bus and do a mission where he had to pick up a bunch of kids and take them to school? I don't blame the makers of the game for not including kids anywhere though -- it's not a game for (or about) children in any way.
But as you can see, my complaints are pretty small. "San Andreas" is hilariously profane, over-the-top violent, satirical, varied, open-ended, detailed, funny -- it's practically the perfect game.