God spelled backwards is Dogg.
I remember hating Vlade Divac when he played for the Lakers. "That big European oaf," I thought, "If only he would flop and accidentally break every bone is his body - then he wouldn't be so bad." But it never happened, and my spite for him grew and grew until one day he was traded to, of all teams, the Sacramento Kings. My team. Soon enough, I thought, "Ah, he is such a wise basketball player! Look at the grace with which he drew that offensive foul! I will surely name my first child Vlade, if a boy, or Divac, if a girl." I've come to my senses a bit since then, but it's still true that when a superstar plays for your enemy, they're a lot harder to like.
So hang on to your neuroses, Xbox fans, because after eight months of exclusivity, one of Sony's biggest stars is finally falling onto green machines everywhere in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Though in the past you might have played it at a friend's house and felt it was less than enthralling, that was only your envy talking. San Andreas is one of the best action games ever made and if you own an Xbox you must have it...unless you're a kid, in which case you should return to your games of stomping on cute animals and stealing shiny coins from their corpses.
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 Xbox 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 Xbox version. While making dead people in the GTA games has always been a simple pleasure, it isn't quite as easy as it used to be. The port uses every button on the Xbox controller, but there just aren't enough buttons in the right places to allow for good drive-bys. Accelerating and breaking are assigned to the triggers and looking left or right is assigned to the White and Black buttons, which seems fine until you realize that you'll have to somehow press B if you want to bust any caps. To do this, you have to quickly take your hand off the gas, pin a White or Black button with one finger and hold down B with another. By the time you accomplish this incredible feat of Finger-Twister, you'll be wrapped around a power-pole and the old lady you were going to ice will be pointing and laughing at you. Thank god for baseball bats.
Aside from the drive-by difficulty, the Xbox port's control scheme works perfectly whether terrorizing the hood in a vehicle or on foot. Playing the Xbox version feels just like playing the PS2 version, and that is a very good thing.
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 Xbox version.
But unlike the PS2 and PC versions, the Xbox port comes with that rarest of GTA treasures - a replay feature. If you do something extraordinarily violent or cool, you can replay the last thirty seconds of carnage, minus sounds, and play with the camera for new views to the kill. Sadly, you cannot save your replays or apply any effects to them. Still, I hit a pedestrian and popped her at least twenty feet, straight up into the air. I watched that replay at least five times from various angles, and that's something I wouldn't have been able to do in any other version.
Of course, every version has graphics, yet oddly San Andreas doesn't seem as impressive on the Xbox. Just like the GTA Double Pack, 480p progressive scan is supported, but it basically just gives you a clearer view of San Andreas' ghastly anti-aliasing issues. Ironically, these aren't nearly as apparent on a regular television screen. Still, the lighting is more sophisticated on the Xbox version and the character models look much, much better than they did on the PS2.
But the sound quality between the port and the original is almost completely even. I had the audio cut out on me once during a particularly nasty hit-and-run spree, but it came back when I got wasted and reloaded my game. Aside from that aberration, 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. This game sounds bad in a good way.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas' Xbox arrival was not unexpected - we knew the port would be on the way as soon as Sony's exclusivity contract ran its course. But it is imperative. If you have any sort of Xbox game collection, you must add Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas to it. We know, we know, it slept with the enemy, but trust us, San Andreas did the seducing.