In Da Ghetto
Xbox gamers have been waiting patiently for the conversion of what was the best-selling PS2 game of all time. This time round, Tommy Vercetti has put his feet up in Vice City so San Andreas features a new character, black kid Carl Johnson (CJ to his ‘homies’) as the playable hero/antihero. Carl is going home to Los Santos in San Andreas state because of the death of his Mom. Once he arrives, he’s given a “warm” welcome home by dodgy cop, Officer Tenpenny (played with his usual style by Samuel L. Jackson) and all hell breaks loose as his family and friends are attacked at the funeral. Things spiral into gang war, naturally with Carl at the centre of things...
Firstly, this game is absolutely huge. With flawless streaming technology that loads directly from the DVD on the fly - San Andreas features three enormous cities for you to drive through, fly over and float between. The number of missions and variation in the amount of things to do are equally impressive; the feeling of scale is immense. In fact there’s so much rough country between the three cities (complete with one-horse towns and ranches) that at times San Andreas feels like a road-trip with plenty to see. Anyone will tell you that the joy of the GTA games is the freedom, and it’s never been truer than in San Andreas. You can follow the story and do missions or just mess around - it’s entirely up to you, and the GTA playset just got a whole lot bigger! There are far more vehicles than before, including loads of old favourites than have had a facelift, and at least 8 different motorbikes. The first thing you get to ride is a BMX bike and they’re great fun and you can even do a few tricks (you hold the right trigger to pedal normally or tap it repeatedly to sprint). You can now fly several types of aeroplane (including various jets) and even head to the airport and take a scheduled airliner flight from one city to another.
You Are What You Eat
Eating and exercise are now all part of the GTA lifestyle. CJ needs to eat to keep up or replenish his energy (there are fast food joints all over the place), and exercise to build up his stamina (allows him to run further/faster and his punches have more impact in a fight). But just like in real life, eat too little and CJ will start to lose energy and even weight (both fat and muscle), and conversely if you pig out on too many burgers and never exercise in a gym, or run or cycle anywhere he’ll get fat, really fat - and this affects CJ’s mobility, stamina and sex appeal (although some San Andreas girls like a fatty). New clothes, hairstyles and accessories can be bought and mixed and matched, or you can go out in your briefs - it’s up to you! I was amazed to find that CJ can play basketball or even go base jumping (leap from a sheer drop with a parachute), play pool, learn to pilot aircraft, take part in car races and even dance in clubs!
Graphically things haven’t changed all that much from previous GTAs, but certainly have improved here and there on the PS2 version in terms of draw distance and frame rate. The loading times, that sometimes became intrusive on PS2 are significantly improved as well and weather effects are far superior. All of the characters (both CJ and the non-playable ones) are more detailed than before (and they all seem to have their own little lives and conversations going on), and every single vehicle is more realistic. You get real time lighting too - so smashing your headlights can be a real pain if you’re driving at night - and you can now hide in the shadows in certain stealth-based missions. Take to the skies (and you will, a lot) and keep climbing and you’ll pass through some of the best clouds I’ve seen in game and with the new weather effects, you really don’t want to go flying your light chopper in a desert sand storm!
The controls have been modified to suit the new XBox controllers, and using the triggers for acceleration doesn’t make much difference to game play - except looking around in a vehicle is made harder (now uses the white / black buttons to look left and right). However, Rockstar thanks to its superb emphasis on production values, sound and hugely varied gameplay in San Andreas have made XBox owners very happy.