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Game Profile
 Written by Troy Matsumiya  on May 10, 2005

Final Glimpse: It's good clean family fun!


Here is the shortest preview in the history of Gaming Target:

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is coming to Xbox. Buy it. The end.

(I was actually tempted to submit just that sentence as my preview ? hey, I thought it would have been pretty darn funny. But since Gaming Target's Xbox Editor-in-Chief Nick Doukas is a martial arts expert and has biceps that are thicker than my entire body, I thought maybe it would be prudent ? and a lot less painful ? to fill in a few more details. Damn me for being a pencil-necked wimp!)

Unless you've been living in a cave on a remote desert island, you already know everything about GTA: SA. Released at the end of October 2004 exclusively on the PS2, GTA: SA immediately earned glowing critical acclaim for its insanely fun, open-ended do-whatever-the-heck-you-want style of gameplay (which helped it earn a perfect 10 here at Gaming Target), along with stinging criticism and scorn from politicians, parent groups and the media. In other words, it was a perfect recipe to sell millions.

The only downside is that those of us without a PS2 were left out in the cold, and even though at the time there was no announcement about an Xbox version, everyone expected it sooner or later considering developer Rockstar had previously released the GTA III/Vice City Xbox double-pack. But if history were to repeat itself, it would most likely be ?later? rather than ?sooner? ? possibly a year or more before we would see it on any Microsoft platform.

So when Rockstar announced a June release date for the Xbox and PC version of GTA: SA, gamers (and Microsoft accountants) rose up in a collective cheer of thanks.

For those cave-dwelling desert island residents out there, GTA: SA is the latest edition of the unique genre-bending series that single-handedly vaulted Take Two Interactive into one of the biggest and richest video game publishers on the planet. Combining action-adventure, RPG and third-person shooter elements with innovative open-ended gameplay, GTA gave players the power to create their own game experience. If you wanted to follow the story and complete all of the objectives in order, you could. If you preferred to play nothing but the countless minigames and perform stunts, hey, no problem. If you wanted to do silly things like drive people around in a taxi, go ahead. Or if you just wanted to beat people up, run over pedestrians and generally cause as much violent mayhem as possible, feel free to do so. This open-ended style meant you could easily rack up 100 hours of gameplay doing whatever you want, and enjoy every minute of it.

The game takes place in the early 1990s and follows the story of Carl ?CJ? Johnson, who has been forced to return to the fictional city of Los Santos, San Andreas after his mother is killed under suspicious circumstances. CJ had been in a self-imposed exile in Liberty City for five years to get away from the violent gangs, drug culture and the memory of his younger brother's murder. However, upon his return, two corrupt cops, Frank Tenpenny and Eddie Polaski (exquisitely voiced by Samuel L. Jackson and Chris Penn, respectively) frame him for murder and dump him in hostile gang territory. CJ is then forced to return to his old neighborhood and call upon his older brother Sweet, his sister Kendl and his friends Big Smoke and Ryder to clear his name and unravel the mystery of his mother's death. The intricate and detailed story, co-written by rapper DJ Pooh, is reminiscent of a Spike Lee or John Singleton movie and features a star-studded cast, including Ice-T, Axl Rose, MC Eiht, Yolanda Whittaker, George Clinton, Peter Fonda, and James Woods at his creepy bad guy best.

Gameplay wise, the Xbox version is a straight port from the PS2 version. There are no additional levels, missions, mini-games or vehicles. This is not a bad thing, since the PS2 version is pretty darn good. You will still travel between the three huge cities of Los Santos, San Fierro and Las Venturas, along with all of the smaller towns in between. To get to your destination, you can choose from a ridiculously wide variety of vehicles, including bicycles, dune buggies, tractors, hovercraft, helicopters, even a street sweeper and combine. You can even customize and modify your car and in doing so, influence how others perceive and respond to you (especially the ladies). CJ's appearance can also be customized with tattoos, different haircuts and clothing; you can also affect his body type through exercise and diet (or lack thereof), all of which influence CJ's level of respect, sex appeal and physical capabilities. And yes, the limited but oh so fun co-op mode is included as well.

What has changed, however, are the beautifully enhanced and upgraded graphics, higher resolution textures, improved shadow and lighting effects, and vastly increased draw distances. In other words, the pop-in and framerate issues of the PS2 version should be a distant memory on the Xbox. Support for 480p progressive scan and 16:9 widescreen has been added so you can really show off the improved new looks to your PS2 buddies. You will also be able to customize the massive soundtrack, which essentially lets you create your own radio station. But the coolest new addition is the 30-second replay feature which will allow you to relive cool stunts, bone-crunching accidents, bloody gunfights, and particularly delightful acts of wanton destruction.

The changes ? which are mainly cosmetic ? are certainly not radical, so those who already played the PS2 original will likely not be interested in the Xbox version. But for those of us who are not bi-console and enjoy a loving monogamous relationship with our Xbox, GTA: SA certainly goes to the top of the "must have" list.

Final Thoughts
You've read all the reviews; heck, your PS2 buddies may have even given you a taste of the insane fun that can be found in San Andreas. But soon, very soon, you will be able to experience the fun for yourself on your big black box and widescreen TV. Will it be worth the wait? Let's just say you should start saving your spare change and get ready to grab GTA: SA when it hits the shelves in June.


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