By dankempster 6 Comments
For a start, Canis Canem Edit takes place in a much smaller game world than San Andreas. The state of San Andreas is vast, comprising three major cities, several smaller towns, and all manner of terrain including open fields, mountains and deserts. By contrast, the town of Bullworth is probably around half the size of any one of San Andreas' main cities. Rather than producing a sprawling map with a lot of empty spaces, the developers created a small map packed with detail, encouraging and rewarding exploration without alienating the player with open areas of nothingness. This really pays off for Canis Canem Edit, because you never feel removed from the experience; there's always something to engage with, or somewhere to explore. The game world feels tight and focused, which is a major factor in successfully drawing the player in. Part of the problem with San Andreas for me was that it didn't have this focus, because it was always more interested in constantly bombarding the player with the bigger picture, and thus didn't offer the same level of immersion that can be found in Canis Canem Edit.
Further contributing to this feeling of a tight, focused product is the high standard of writing present in the game. Bullworth Academy may be a stereotypical high school, but it's a stereotypical high school with a difference. Sure, you have your standard cliques; the nerds, the jocks, the preppies, the bullies, etc. But each of these cliques is a memorable entity in its own right - can anybody who's played Canis Canem Edit honestly say interacting with the nerds wasn't hilarious? Then there are the adults, who in my opinion just make this game. Who could ever forget the outrageous and disgusting Cook? Or teachers like Galloway and Hattrick? Yes, it's all ripped straight from stereotypes, but it's saved by Rockstar's tendency to satire. The dialogue is sharp and funny at all times, and the characters and cliques are well-realised too. Perhaps most importantly, the game features an interesting protagonist in the form of Jimmy Hopkins, and an equally interesting antagonist in Gary Smith. I'm not saying San Andreas isn't well written. I still think it is. But, once again, it tries to cover too much scope. The Los Santos portion of the game is wonderfully executed, so it's a real shame that the story and characters stop being interesting once you leave. Furthermore, Carl Johnson isn't really an interesting character, especially when compared with Jimmy, or even Vice City's Tommy Vercetti.
It's not just in these areas that Canis Canem Edit trumps San Andreas for me, either. The gameplay shows a number of marked improvements and refinements to the established formula that ultimately just make it a lot more fun to play. Being set in the school environment makes for some really interesting gameplay changes, most of which is reflected in the game's combat system. The hand-to-hand combat is way more fleshed out than the system seen in any of the GTA games on PS2, with a large number of melee combos at Jimmy's disposal. Even the weapons, like the Slingshot and the Spud Cannon, are a lot of fun to use and feel well-balanced in terms of the power-to-ammo ratio. The missions are a hell of a lot of fun, too. Before your time with the game is over, you'll have stolen knickers from the girls' dorm for a pervy Gym teacher, taken incriminating photos of the most popular girl in school, and even tagged Town Hall. Not to mention all the clique related, taking-over-the-school stuff, complete with some really awesome action sequences made even better by the satisfying combat. As with everything else in San Andreas beyond the opening chapter, very few of the missions you undertake seem to have any real focus. Why is stealing a military fighter plane important in terms of freeing your brother from prison? By contrast, everything you do in Canis Canem Edit seems relevant in terms of your interests; that is to say, trying to take control of the various cliques and rule the school while keeping the staff sweet along the way. Maybe it's also because San Andreas is so long - easily a thirty- to forty-hour experience, compared with Canis Canem Edit's fifteen-hour-long main story.
More than anything, though, it's the little touches that give Canis Canem Edit the edge. Throughout this blog, I've been comparing San Andreas' combination of grand scope and lack to focus to Canis Canem Edit's smaller game world and greater attention to detail, and this is what it all boils down to. Canis Canem Edit is filled with little things that make you stop playing and silently congratulate the developers for crafting something so lovingly. Watching the students of Bullworth Academy go about their daily business, attending classes, stopping in the corridors for a quick chat, bullying and being bullied, makes you realise just how much effort Rockstar put into bringing this world to life. What makes it even better is that you're able to do all this too, and so much more besides. The school scenario opens up so many possibilities to do things that will make you giggle uncontrollably for prolonged periods of time. There's just something about throwing marbles under the feet of an old lady, or pulling the school fire alarm for kicks, or throwing a stolen textbook back at its owner that just never gets old. In a ten minute period of game time the other day, I witnessed a same-sex couple holding hands as they walked down the street, saw an old lady riding a moped complete with crash helmet, and heard a nerd say something like, "I'm a really good kisser, I've practised for years on my arm." Bullworth is a world you will get lost in, whether you want to or not, and it's these little touches that make that possible.
If you're a fan of the Grand Theft Auto franchise, you may be thinking that a lot of these points could also be used to describe Rockstar's latest foray into open-world action gaming, Grand Theft Auto IV. It too is a game that sacrifices a wide scope and jack-of-all-trades attitude in favour of a much tighter, more focused gaming experience tied to a well-crafted, character-driven story. It too attempts to refine the gameplay experience and craft a living, breathing world bursting with interesting little details. All these things seem to have been carried over from lessons learned by Rockstar in the creation and execution of Jimmy Hopkins' story. In this respect, Canis Canem Edit can be seen as a stepping stone towards GTAIV, and much more of a spiritual predecessor than San Andreas ever was. By looking at Canis Canem Edit in this way, it becomes even easier to appreciate its importance and also its brilliance.
So there's my two cents on Canis Canem Edit, and why I'm willing to fight its corner when it comes to naming the best of the best on PS2. Thanks for reading, guys. See you around.
Currently playing - Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise (X360)