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Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas PlayStation 2

Published by Rockstar Games
Developed by Rockstar North
Release Date: Out Now
Price: £39.99

It's finally here, the game most PlayStation 2 owners have been waiting all year for is upon us and as I write it has been out for exactly one week. It's already at the top of the sales charts and scored almost full marks on most gaming websites. These reviews have done nothing but proclaim the game as virtually perfect in every way possible but now it's time for our review. If you're like me when you read a review you'll quickly scroll down and look at the score of the game before you read the review. You may be wondering why our rating is comparatively low (even though it's still a good rating) when all the other have claimed this is the game of the year? Well although Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is a good follow up to the previous games in the series it's not as good as we were expecting it to be.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas puts you in the shoes of CJ, a man returning to his neighbourhood for the first time in five years in order to bury his mother. On arriving he's stopped by the police, has his money taken off him and left to steal a BMX bike in order to ride back to his mother's home. CJ learns that his neighbourhood is being destroyed, piece by piece, as a rival gang have assassinated his friends and family. CJ initially has an uneasy time of it as he's criticised for not being there for everyone (even though he's been behind bars and couldn't have been there if he had wanted to) but before long he claims he's home to stay and to take on his neighbourhood rivals in order to claim back the territory that was once his gangs.

Rockstar North have attempted to jazz up the formula of the recent Grand Theft Auto games by adding a few minor RPG elements to the game and although they work to a limited degree it can't hide the fact that the game is very similar to the two previous games in the series. CJ can build up his physique, put weight on, buy food, improve his sex appeal, swim etc., but at the end of the day you'll still be going from mission to mission in the same way that you were in Vice City and GTA III. That said though you can, just like in the previous games, take a break any time you want and do as you please although this only has limited appeal as you'll want to move the games story on by completing the missions. This isn't a bad thing of course but I was expecting more. Having to eat (which replenishes your lost energy) and work out (to improve your physique) seems good to begin with but it ends up becoming a chore and a distraction that you could do without. I would rather had the core formula of the game been improved or at least I would like changes to have been made to make the game feel different and fresh. However as a result of all the previews and early reviews of the game being so wonderful I was expecting a lot more and I'm surprised it feels so similar to the previous games in the series.

GTA III and Vice City were both 18 rated games and although San Andreas is also an 18 rated game it's content is far stronger. Gratuitous swearing fills a lot of the games conversations and there is also a fair share of racist remarks which some may find unacceptable. I know that with the game being rated as an 18 means you should expect senseless murder and the occasional outburst of language but I don't imagine it would prepare most for the excessive use of profanity and racist comments in the game. It could be argued that the language used is within the context of the game but the language was never this bad in Vice City and GTA III so why make it this bad for San Andreas? Deaf gamers be warned, as there is plenty of swearing that is not subtitled, don't play the game within earshot of hearing children.

Graphically the game's average and the performance is, to be quite honest, disappointing. It's all too easy to simply turn around and say that the PlayStation 2 has had it's day and that it's not up to scratch for a game like San Andreas but that argument doesn't wash. Rockstar North have created the game for the PlayStation 2 and they would have known it's limitations and should have developed the game with them in mind. At times the frame rate is appalling and even small pauses are not uncommon. Load times can be cumbersome too although to some extent that's to be expected as it's a problem in a lot of PlayStation 2 games. I've also had the misfortune of running into several bugs such as my car crashing into a telegraph pole which caused my car to become permanently stuck to it (the telegraph pole was sticking through the boot/trunk of the car). It's also annoying to see a BMX knock over street lights. Draw distance and pop-up is also disappointing too and should have been so much better.

Subtitles can be enabled in San Andreas but despite our complaints about subtitles not being on by default and the previous games taking you straight into a new game without giving you the chance to enable them, San Andreas is exactly the same and you'll be forced to watch the introduction without subtitles and then you'll have to enable subtitles and begin a new game which is just plain irritating. As always tutorial messages, mission objectives and cutscene dialogue is shown in text which is good to see. All other speech is not shown in text though and if you're walking around in an enemy's territory you won't notice the gang coming from behind and threatening you before you start getting beat up, which can be annoying. There are times when other characters will makes conversational comments to CJ and these are not shown in text (most of the time) either. To be fair though there's enough of the game subtitled to enable deaf gamers to play the game.

We said at the top of the review that our review wouldn't quite be the glorifying effort that others have produced and whilst many have classed it as the PlayStation 2 game of the year we certainly wouldn't class it as so. The comments above are simply how we find the game and what should have been an excellent game is spoilt, in our opinion by certain issues that are just not right. From a personal point of view the racist comments and use of profanity to the extreme is a big turn off. Even if this doesn't bother you there is also the issue of the poor performance of the game which hasn't been made to make optimal use of the console it was created for. Yet these issues aside, it's a solid sequel to the previous GTA games. In terms of game play I was disappointed to see the same old formula, although some new RPG elements have been bolted on but they don't bring enough to the game to make them exciting inclusions.

Overall Game Rating: 7.7/10
No it's probably nothing like the 'wonderful' rating other websites have given the game but the frame rate is shocking, as are the glitches. The new elements end up being more of a chore than actually improving the game and the extreme profanity and racist comments should not have been included.

Deaf Gamers comment:
The game is partially subtitled. Most of the important stuff is subtitled but I would have liked to have seen everything subtitled. It still does the same annoying thing of going straight into a new game without giving you the chance to enable subtitles. Just remember our warning about some of the swearing not being subtitled, especially if there are hearing children in your household.