Big would be the best way to describe GTA: San Andreas. Taking the time to drive from one side of the map to another can take forever - half an hour - and even when you find the transportation (train, plane) it will still take time. And thus, I will not take your time, just a minute or two, then you can get in your car and pick up this excellent game for Xbox - if you don't own it already. And so Xbox owners, welcome to Los Santos.
You play CJ (Carl Johnson) who has returned to Los Santos at the word his mother has died. With the loss of his brother earlier in his life, CJ finds the news distressing and possibly telling of gang warfare. No sooner does he arrive in Los Santos than the cops pick him up and frame him for a murder. With the cops blackmailing him, he returns to the streets to gather his homies¯ and retake San Andreas from the corrupt. Of course, Carl isn't the most genuine character - last I checked, killing, stealing, and pimping aren't admirable traits - but he has his heart in the right place. Carl, unlike the mercenary Tommy from GTA3 and Vice City, has been unfairly thrown into his situation. And so, yes, Carl, CJ, has to kill, steal and pimp. But, to quote Ice Cube, Pimpin' ain't easy, but it's necessary.¯ Damn necessary.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas for the Xbox is, without a doubt, the best looking iteration on console thanks to the Xbox's aliasing ability. Now there are less repeated textures, clearer signs and graffiti, and the characters look less washed-out. The draw distance has improved, but not by much. San Andreas also features the much needed Xbox-only ability to play custom soundtracks during the game. Still, for those of you familiar with the previous games - and, if you're reading this, you probably are - the music is no throw-away garage music. But the custom soundtrack option truly makes the music that much better. Or, I guess, as good as your taste in music, anyway.
The story is more accessible than 3's or Vice City's hands down. Because you're not controlling a murdering thug whose sole purpose is to make money, San Andreas's premise becomes almost humane, and nothing short of epic. CJ is one of the more human and empathetic characters to come along in a while. The others you meet become like brothers to you by the end - or very close cousins¦some sort of relative anyway. And when you lose them - as per the life of the streets - when you lose them you'll feel you've lost someone forever. Of course, the game doesn't really get started until you get out of Los Santos - thrown out, actually - and into the real street life. Rockstar did an excellent job with both the story and the script writing, which has many the homage to classic films. The peeps at Rockstar really know their movies.
The Xbox version of San Andreas gives the new ability to watch a replay, though I hardly find it necessary - unless you do something really cool. It seems more like vanity for vanity's sake. Maybe if we could exchange videos over Xbox Live, the addition would have been warranted (next time, maybe?).
While the gameplay remains largely the same, the graphics a little better, and the sound, customized, there still remains one problem - one glaring little problem - with the Xbox version. That is, you cannot map the controls to the controller. Here's why this is annoying. While the game requires of you great dexterity in you thumbs & forefingers, it also requires you to reposition your hand in certain circumstances. While performing drive-bys, one of the games frequent missions, you have to hit 1) the gas, 2) the look left¯ button, and 3) the fire button at the same time. While you're driving, the the gas, look left, and fire buttons all are pressed with the right hand - two of them are pressed with the thumb. Two. You see the dilemma. For instance, to perform a looking left drive by, you have to press the white button, R trigger (for acceleration), and B button to fire, all while steering and avoiding traffic. How annoying. The problem is simply that the Xbox controller isn't set up properly for this type of dexterity. Positioning your hand, then, becomes very uncomfortable, and not one you're probably used to. For controls, the PS2 dual shock is much better for GTA: San Andreas.
To alleviate this annoyance, Rockstar could have given the possibility to adjust your controls in-game. They don't. So we're going to have to tweak our hands to the end of the game - 60-80 hours of gameplay.
But this is not the only problem with the game. Sometimes I get stuck repeatedly going-in, coming-out, and going-in buildings because of some honky coding. When the problem keeps happening for six or seven tries, one gets a little concerned that you'll ever get out of the gym. Luckily, it stops at the eighth try or so, leaving me determined, but slightly annoyed.
I also have some complaints that the gameplay requires a little too much go here, pick this up, go here¯ gameplay. While this is fine for a while, it becomes increasingly apparent that, had you this job in real life, you'd tell you boss where to stick it on the second day. The mini-games are great: additions of owning your own business (imports/exports), stealing stuff from people's houses, and all the other, insanely addictive things distinctly Rockstar. There exist all the other games from the previous Grand Theft Autos, so if you really liked the ambulance missions, firetruck missions, or pimpin' missions, they're still here.
The storyline will take you a good 40 hours, especially if you take your time and mess around in the sand box.¯ If you take the game at your leisure, finishing everything can put you over the big 100 mark in hours. This is a great big game. And it's a great game. This is a great, big game. The gameplay, even with some minor shakes, is still one of the best out there. It's still not for kids. But adults need their fix too. Adults, go get your fix.