The most recent installment of the Grand Theft Auto series of games is finally out for the XBox. It is unfortunate that these complex and content-rich games are not designed originally for the XBox. The load times and transitions between scenes are much longer than XBox-direct games, mainly because game designers are forced to contend with the drive-optional environment of the PlayStation 2
That being said, this is a good game. Think The Sims meets Boys In The Hood. It is far more detailed and varied than the previous version, Vice City, although game-play is pretty similar. The AI of the in-game characters is significantly enhanced. The huge number of side missions, tricks and tasks promise to afford a long-lasting playing experience.
San Andreas is a thinly-disguised rendition of the cities of Los Angeles (Los Santos), San Francisco (San Fiero), and Las Vegas (Las Venturas), along with all the land in-between. The protagonist is Carl Johnson, or CJ, who has come back to the ‘hood after 5 years to find his gang in disarray, with many competing gangs, and much loss of respect. He sets out to reclaim the lost respect and rise up in the under-world. Along the way, he must contend with local gangs like the Ballas, deal with various unsavory characters, and then move on to take over additional gang territories.
There is much social commentary and in-game humor. CJ is coming back to a city torn by strife and drugs. The neighborhoods of Los Santos are decrepit heaps. Street gangs rule the roost. African-Americans are routinely stopped for spot searches. CJ has his own personal demons to contend with. His mother has been murdered, and his childhood friends are mostly a bunch of losers. Corrupt cops use and frame him for crimes. For example, in a couple of missions in Los Santos, CJ must take out some Russian mobsters on behalf of the corrupt officer Frank Tenpenny. This mission also results in CJ garnering his first girlfriend of the game, Denise Robinson. In all, CJ can date 6 girls, all at the same time, if he chooses. He must remember to buy them flowers, take them to fine restaurants, and work out for a couple (although one prefers a bit of flab on her man’s bones).
CJ must eat to stay alive, but also work out at the gym to stay in shape. He can get haircuts, tattoos, shop at fine retailers, and play various games in the casinos of Las Venturas. He must also hone his skills in car-jacking, shooting, fast driving, and flying.
The game is visually stunning, as one has come to expect from the series. In-game music is vast, covering many bands and genres, spanning a 3-CD box set available separately. Did I mention it’s rated ‘M’?