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Better late than ever
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas arrives on Xbox and PC
A PC version of an un-PC game

If you absolutely, positively must have the very best available version of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, then you'll want to check out the PC release, which leaves both console versions in the dust. As always with computer games, there are several caveats to a statement like that. Mac users are out of luck, as usual, since GTA:SA runs only on Windows 2000 and XP. And the hardware required to run the game with all the features maxed out is intimidating, not to mention expensive.

With the visuals on their lowest settings, the PC version still looks better than the PlayStation 2 original, about on par with the Xbox port. With the graphics cranked, however, the difference is breathtaking. The draw distance creates a true sense of San Andreas's massive scale, and textures pop off the screen compared to the original's muddy surfaces. Even at night, the urban surroundings are crisp and bright Ėthe game is a joy to look at.

That's if you have enough under the hood to run it. Given the prohibitive price of a machine tough enough to run San Andreas, plus the stodgy keyboard and mouse controls (it's nearly unplayable without a gamepad), the graphical improvements don't warrant purchase of a whole new machine like the most killer PC apps do. It's still obviously a game developed for low-powered consoles, and isn't in the same league as PC standard-bearers Doom 3 and Half-Life 2. Unless you've already got the horses under the hood, stick to the Xbox version.

Ė Mitch Krpata

Reviewing Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas upon its long-awaited debut on Xbox and PC is a lot like Foxís coverage of the 2004 World Series. People have had eight months to absorb the PlayStation 2 original, just as everyone and their grandfathers knew the Sox hadnít won in 86 years. So how to avoid coming across like an even more repetitive and obnoxious Tim McCarver when discussing the newest "Best Reason to Own an Xbox?"

Should I talk about how San Andreas is three times bigger than its enormous predecessor Vice City? That there are over ten radio stations to choose from with cuts ranging from "Green Onions" to "Welcome to the Jungle" to the classic "Mamas Donít Let Your Babies Grow up to Be Cowboys"? Or that San Andreas gives you the opportunity to hit the weights or the burger stand whenever you feel like it?

If thatís all there was to Rockstarís latest epic, then dropping another fifty bucks on either of the new versions would seem like overkill Ė and overkill is what you'll be doing in pitting one lowly G against the fictional state of San Andreas. But what youíll find when you step into the green low tops of Carl "CJ" Johnson is an operatic story that's part Boyz n the Hood and part West Side Story, with the series' characteristic toilet humor and innuendos intact.

At first, you may feel the urge to explore the game's enormous landscape, and witness the distant horizons and smoother controls for yourself, but beware: you will probably die. Thereís no hand-holding in San Andreas and aside from a few early instructional missions telling you to get a new wardrobe or to go to the gym pack some meat on your initially scrawny frame, you're on your own to discover CJís limits and capabilities Ė and the game's.

Unlike in Grand Theft Auto III or Vice City, you begin your stay in San Andreas unable to do anything particularly cool. You canít just hop in a car and expect it to handle tightly, or start firing into a crowd of purple-clad ballers and expect to hit anything except the side of a barn door. You need to earn respect in San Andreas, dog, and that goes for your driving and shooting skills too. In this way, San Andreas strays away from the sandbox-style mayhem of the past games and inches closer to the depth of an RPG.

Those of you who played San Andreas on the PS2 will notice the quicker load times, sharper character rendering, and smoother camera controls, which are most noticeable during driving mode. Accessed via the right toggle stick, the camera swings around your vehicle effortlessly, allowing for greater recognition of your surroundings. The detail of the neighborhoods is certainly richer on Xbox, and, provided you can afford the horsepower, the PC version offers by far the most striking graphics. While itís still hard to read street signs as you zoom by them, you won't need to rely solely on the map for directions. Instead, you'll actually be able to see your upcoming turn blocks before you get there. Coupled with an analog trigger controlling the accelerator, this amounts to the most enjoyable, balls-out driving experience in the GTA canon.

The new versions allow for user-modified playlists, whereby you can upload your favorite MP3s and create your own in-game radio station. While this would certainly benefit games with lousy soundtracks, like the entire EA Sports line, part of the fun of San Andreas is the eclectic song selection. Also new to the PC and Xbox versions is a thirty-second replay function which allows you to savor that wicked sweet stunt you just pulled in your BF Injector. Alas, the replay function works less well when viewing your shooting sprees, which is sort of a downer considering the missed opportunity to see heads exploding from every angle.

With cheap but limp imitators like NARC flooding the retail stores, passing on the latest Grand Theft Auto title would be a crime as big as any you'll find in the game. Thereís cussing and killing galore, but underneath it all San Andreas has a sobering message: Mamas, donít let your babies grow up to be ballers.

Score: 9.0 (out of 10)

Issue Date: June 17 - 23, 2005
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