Over-the-Top Insane Awesomeness
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. The most anticipated game of the year this side of the Xbox. You've seen the other reviews. You know it's selling like crazy. But honestly, is it really that good? Isn't it just more of the same? Or is it a revolution of the genre and a shining example of Rockstar's dominance? Well, it's all of those things. It is the same, yet it is different in so many ways. Is it the best PS2 game of all time like several sites/mags are saying? No, it's not. Is it a damn fine game worthy of your purchase? Well, read on.
At a glance, such as a screenshot, San Andreas looks like it has greatly improved upon its predecessors. The cars are shinier. Floors are reflective. The environment effects are nice. But in motion, the game is disappointing. The game either shows how old the PS2 really is or a complete lack of desire by Rockstar to fix issues from the last two games. The pop-ups are ridiculously rampant. By that I mean that the draw distance is quite short and if you come over a hill, the skyline of the city, or even a street sign 50 yards ahead of you, doesn't fade in but rather just pops up after a second. It's annoying but you do get used to it...kinda like how I've gotten used to horrendous "jaggies" due to the PS2's aliasing issues, which are prevalent here as well. Another thing that wasn't fixed was collision detection and overall physics. The cars still drive very well, but if I drive a lawnmower off a 50ft overpass, I shouldn't stay on the damn thing. And if I pop a wheelie on a motorcycle and hit a car's front end, I shouldn't roll with the bike off the side of the car and keep moving. I also shouldn't be able to walk through car doors. But while these issues are annoying, I'm nitpicking a little. Either way though, San Andreas is not a gorgeous game by any means.
The gameplay as a whole is superb. They've increased the depth of the hand-to-hand fighting and the targetting is a bit better thanks to some influence of Manhunt. The cars handle like they should, especially when you gain more driving experience. Quite simply, you can do whatever you want. Yes you can fuck hookers, go to a strip club, kill cops, and steal cars. But you can also buy a whole new wardrobe, get tats, get your hair done, eat enough pizza to gain 100lbs, workout and run a treadmill to lose weight and gain stamina, play basketball, compete in lowrider contests, shoot pool, date multiple women at once, recruit gang members, start street wars, and...oh yeah...YOU CAN SWIM!
On top of all of this, I love the new character development system, which bases all of your skills on experience. You want to dual wield Tec9's, well you better use machine guns enough to gain enough skill to do so. Every action you take goes towards your character's development. Run alot, gain stamina. Eat alot of burgers, get fat. Get new clothes, gain sex appeal. It's surprisingly deep, and a welcome addition to the game.
The star in this category is obviously the soundtrack and radio as a whole. Over 150 licensed songs are available over nearly a dozen radio stations. I don't think they nailed the early 90's era quite as well as they did with the 80's in Vice City but it's still a valiant effort to capture the times. Along with the huge track list is the ever-hilarious Talk Radio station which features several comedy bits; one of which features Andy Dick in "Gardening with Maurice."
The soundtrack is what gets talked about, but the voice-overs are just as deserving of praise. Almost immediately you will recognize Samuel Jackson as Tenpenny, the corrupt police captain. Other talent includes Chuck D as the DJ for the rap station, George Clinton as the DJ for the funk station, Peter Fonda, Charlie Murphy, Bijou Phillips, Chris Penn, Wil Wheaton, and James Woods. The production values are high in this department.
I'm currently progressing at about 1% completion per hour. Given, I spend alot of my time just driving around the city doing stuff that's not related to the story, but starting street wars and finding graffiti tags is as much part of the game as the storyline is. The storyline is quite good, and once again steals many things from film and TV much like Vice City did with the likes of Scarface. Even if you played straight through the story it could take you around 40 hours, but if you do everything possible it could be 60-100 hours. San Andreas simply offers more than anyone could ever expect in terms of things to do. Hardly any of them are required to progress, but that's perfect because it lets the gamer decide how he or she wants to play the game.
All graphical glitches and annoyances aside, the game is just fucking fun to play. The sense of freedom is unmatched. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is indeed one of the best games for the PlayStation 2. I fear the day when Rockstar has a PlayStation 3 to work with...fear in a good way.
*** This review was written for Flamevault.com shortly after the release of the game. ***