Born to ill.
Although PC gamers have to deal with all sorts of headaches foreign to console gamers (tech-support, compatibility, outrageous video card costs, etc.), they have historically slept well knowing their platform offered the best that gaming had to offer. At least, they did until Grand Theft Auto 3 hit the PS2 in 2001. Even though the first two GTAs appeared on the PC, neither could hold a candle to GTA 3, one of the most revolutionary titles of all time. Is it any wonder PC gamers seemed so bitter?
Hardly, considering GTA 3 was quickly surpassed by GTA Vice City, which was then one-upped by last year's San Andreas. But while PS2 gamers again got first crack at this hood rat, it's now available for both PC and Xbox owners. While the PC version of San Andreas is not necessarily better than the others, it is definitely the best looking and benefits from the keyboard and mouse control scheme.
Set on an island off the West Coast in the 1990's, San Andreas follows the hard-knock life of Carl "CJ' Johnson and his travels through Los Santos (L.A.), San Fiero (San Francisco), and Las Venturas (Las Vegas). After moving to Liberty City (seeGTA 3) for five years in an attempt to escape the gangster lifestyle, Carl returns home upon learning that his mom has been gunned down by a mysterious assassin. Vowing to avenge his mother's death and restore glory to his neighborhood gang, the Grove Street Families, Carl and his crew battle rival gangs, drug dealers, cops and mountain militiamen until everyone bad and good is dead, including your mother's killer.
The PC version is pretty much a direct port of the PS2 game, containing all of the data, missions, features and story of the original. You jack cars, shoot everyone, kick ass and take no names. Bicycles, food, clothing, hairstyles, the gym, turf wars - it's all here. Rather than re-explain the massive list of features, I implore you to read the original San Andreas review. Seriously, get to it. We don't have all day to rewrite things.
Back so soon? Then you're clearly wondering what's new in the PC version. The answer is a few things, actually. While driving in the GTA games has always been ghetto-fabulous, it's even better now thanks to the ability to check out your surroundings with the mouse. Couple this with much greater draw distances and resolutions and you'll spot short-cuts like a pro and dodge oncoming traffic with ease. OG GTA nuts can hook up a gamepad to make it feel more old-school, but frankly, the mouse-keyboard is pretty darn comfy.
Out of your car, you'll be able to pick off pesky cops, thugs and civilians with greater accuracy than PS2 or Xbox gamers could dream of. Auto-aim has been completely excluded, so taking aim for head-shots is far easier. CJ's enhanced aim is a double-edged, uh, gun, due to the fact that the enemies aren't smart or lethal enough to cope with somebody who can regularly shoot them in the head. They don't ever seem to exhibit much intelligent behavior, and picking them off becomes more of a sadistic pleasure than a challenge. Still, sadistic pleasures are why people play the GTA games in the first place.
As before, the numerous, varied and largely exciting missions make up the bulk of the game, but can still get on a playa's nerves. Many are long and difficult, and getting back on track once you screw up can take forever, especially if the mission has you traveling out into the boondocks. Although checkpoints wouldn't do anything for the game's awesome sense of realism, reloading every five minutes doesn't do much, either. This hasn't been fixed in the PC version.
But that's okay, because the PC version has the best, albeit most difficult to find and use, replay feature of the bunch. With the F1, F2 and F3 keys you can watch, save and load replays of CJ's greatest hits. By pressing F1, you'll be treated to a replay of the thirty seconds of game time immediately prior to your pressing F1. After the replay ends, you can press F2 to save it, and then you can press F3 anytime to watch it again. While it's too bad that you can only store one replay, that's more than can be said for the PS2 and Xbox versions.
To go with its best replay feature, the PC version also has the best graphics. Though San Andreas's visuals won't impress fans of Half-Life 2, the adjustable draw-distance, better textures and overall improved look exceeds the console versions significantly. The hood has never looked so good.
And the sounds are still unrivaled. San Andreas' level of audio detail is overwhelming. Tractor motors sputter and stall, guns pop-pop-pop in the distance, and sirens blare to add ambience. The radio stations provide a schizophrenic soundtrack for your adventures in pandemonium, and the fantastic voice-acting makes the PC move without any sort of hiccup.
While PC gamers have every right to be bitter about the fact that one of their favorite franchises left them for the consoles, they should rejoice in its return. Sure, the instant replay feature was left out, but this is a mostly untouched Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, one of the best games ever made, and now a version of it can be played on the PC with the best controls and graphics available. Clearly, PC gamers aren't the only ones who should be bitter.