Bigger is better, and bigger San Andreas is.
GTA: San Andreas is the third installment of the Grand Theft Auto series to appear during the PS2/Xbox generation. For as improved a game Vice City was compared to GTA3, San Andreas again ups the ante by simply making everything bigger. Instead of a singular city to explore, San Andreas features three major cities comprising of an entire state, giving the player more freedom to explore than ever before. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
You play as Carl "CJ" Johnson, a troubled ex-con returning to his hometown of Los Santos to attend the funeral of his mother. Upon his return, he finds his old gang, the Grove Street Families, in complete disarray and makes it his business to restore the respect of the gang throughout the community. Being watched by the police at all times, CJ is eventually forced to leave the comforts of his hometown and make a name for himself across the state of San Andreas.
Your character, CJ, begins the game with a relatively slendor build. Unlike Vice City or GTA3, there's quite a deal of character customization in this one. By going to the gym, you can turn CJ into a muscle-clad gladiator. Or if one would prefer, you can just treat CJ to burgers and pizza amd watch his side fat cross into the cities of San Fierro and Las Venturas. Depending on CJ's body type, CJ can be a slow pile of mass that can hardly jump... or he can be the opposite. As such, it's usually a better idea to be slim than it is fat, but the decision is up to the user after all. All the while, you can equip CJ with an enormous assortment of clothes, tattoos, and hair styles.
As interesting as CJ is, the star of this game is the fictional state of San Andreas. Featuring three gigantic cities based off of real-world counterparts, San Andreas is a dream come true to the explorer types. The city of Los Santos, where the game begins, is a Los Angeles clone, complete with a Hollywood to amuse the tourists. San Fierro, with all its hills and trams, is based off of San Francisco. Finally, Las Venturas, with its casinos and drunken debauchery, is obviously Las Vegas re-incarnate. To its credit, Rockstar did a fantastic job recreating these cities. As the story progresses, more cities open up, so you can't just travel to Las Venturas from the get-go unless you wish to meet certain doom. Beyond these three main cities also lie a plethora of rural villages that can be found on the various highways that connect the metropolis'.
Like the rest of the series, GTA is about performing missions to advance the storyline. Most of these missions typically involve traveling to point B to kill so-and-so or delivering some goods to someone else. A lot of it is cookie-cutter stuff, but every so often lies a memorable, unique mission, such as the marijuana fields that need to be set ablaze before the authorities bust you. The Wanted system returns as well. The more stars you have, the fiercer the police presence will be, climaxing with the arrival of the army to take you down. If continuing the storyline isn't your idea, there are plenty of side missions to accomplish on the side, such as taxi cab or pimp missions. Even without accomplishing the many side quests found in this game, one can expect to spend 40 plus hours just completing the main quest.
As Grand Theft Auto would imply, your basic mode of transport across the gigantic state is by automobile. With NPC cars scattered everywhere, there's always a car around for CJ to nab. CJ can travel via land, air, or sea, so his options aren't limited to your family friendly SUV. Care to fly a 747? Sure go ahead! For the most part, the handling of each vehicle works fine. It's hardly "realistic", but all vehicles handle differently depending on the model. And there are lots of different models.
Shooting has always felt a little bit clunky in previous GTA installments, and its no different here. Unless you find yourself playing with a keyboard or mouse set-up, you'll find yourself having to lock-on to the bad guys and press the shoot button until they fall down. Unfortunately, with a lock-on feature, often the cursor moves erratically, causing you to boil in a fit of frustration as CJ shoots someone you didn't intend to. It works, but it doesn't do it without stumbling here and there. As for the weapons in this game, expect your typical fare of assault rifles, rocket launchers, and hand guns.
There's certainly a lot to listen to as you cause havoc across the state of San Andreas. The radio system returns in this installment, with stations of talk radio, rap or hip-hop, country, and rock, all of which providing a unique soundtrack. There's somthing downright hilarious to listening to blue grass as you bolt down the highway away from the police.
GTA: San Andreas isn't a gigantic leap over past installments. The series hasn't changed the core roots of its gameplay, but that's a good thing. Providing a long storyline, fans will most definitely be satisfied with the experience.