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Grand Theft Auto is the King of Controversy in video games. There's been talk about how they're a bad influence on kids, contain inappropriate content, and are a glorification of crime. Other accusations against the series include racism, sexism, and even the idea they incite people to genocide.It's also a game series I, until recently, never really played.I actually tried to get on the series with Grand Theft Auto IV and its spinoff, the Ballad of Gay Tony. However, the learning curve was too much for me. I really needed a tutorial for Grand Theft Auto IV and was under the mistaken impression that wrecking your car was a bad thing as opposed to an inevitability. The Ballad of Gay Tony was a poor way of easing me into the series because my first real missison was Luis killing thirty or so cops.So, I swore off the series and ironically picked up Saints Row and Saints Row 2. Those two games are equally violent as Grand Theft Auto but are much more ridiculous in tone, letting me remove myself somewhat from the violence of the game.So, knowing Saints Row was inspired by Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, I decided to try and give the game another shot. The game is, thankfully, available for download off Xbox Live and I got it for a steal. So is San Andreas different from Grand Theft Auto IV? Certainly. Is it better? That's subjective, but in my opinion, hell yes.Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is a much more cheerful, for lack of a better term, game than Grand Theft Auto IV. It takes place in sunny California, or an analog thereof, rather than a dark and gritty analog to New York City. The game's learning curve is much more forgiving than GTA IV, giving you much more time to ease into the role of your protagonist and learn the ropes. You move from tagging walls to car chases to bigger crimes and, frankly, I appreciated that.Players take the role of Carl Johnson, a young African American gang member who is just returning to the city after a five year absence. Not minutes after arriving in Los Santos, Carl is framed for the murder of a police officer and made the pawn of corrupt cops. It occurred to me as I played that, barring Jax from Mortal Kombat, there aren't that many black protagonists in video games.It's kind of disappointing that the first lead in a sandbox role-playing game is a gangster, but it's better than nothing. Carl is a likable enough character, despite being a criminal who will do some pretty horrible stuff over the course of his duties. I wonder if anyone got anything from the experience of temporarilly stepping out of their ethnicity in video games - I certainly did.The game is huge, really, giving you a lengthy map and mission set which left me feeling like I'd gotten my money's worth less than halfway through the game. The graphics hold up surprisingly well and it didn't feel too dated. Like Symphony of the Night, I don't think that Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas will ever go out of style. It's just a good, good game with excellent voice acting and storytelling. The gameplay is wonderful as well, being as fun stealing cars and wrecking stuff as completing the story missions.I think the sheer variety of gameplay also appealed to me. One thing that always put me off First Person Shooters is the fact that every single mission is more or less the same. GTA: SA is all about variety. There's car chases, stealth missions, gun-play, martial arts brawls, and more. Just about every mission requires you to react in a different way. It makes the whole thing a great deal more rewarding.The soundtrack isn't as good as the one in Saints Row 2, Welcome to the Jungle by Guns N' Roses being the standout song, but it was passable. Really, my favorite channels were the talk radio ones, routinely going in bizarre and oddball directions. Just about every aspect of American culture is satirized at one point or another, sparing neither the Left nor the Right. I think the whole ridiculousness of the setting was necessary to make it feel like a fun game, otherwise the violence CJ sometimes engages in would be unsettling.I mentioned it above but the storytelling and voice acting deserve a special note. Samuel L. Jackson turns in a stellar performance as corrupt cop, Officer Tenpenny. He reminds me of Vic from The Shield and it's obvious that Tenpenny has gone off into his own little world of crazy self-justification for all the horrible things he does. As bad as Carl Johnson is, Officer Tenpenny is worse. Yet, you can tell that Tenpenny was probably made the way he was by his job. You can't stare too long at the abyss without the abyss staring back and all that.Despite how impressive Samuel L. Jackson's performance is, I actually liked the character of Big Smoke better. Voiced by Clifton Powell, Big Smoke is a simultaneously endearing and skeevy character. Compared to CJ, Big Smoke is much more cynical about the hood and the gangbanger lifestyle. Yet, simultaneously, he's probably a lot less hypocritical about it.CJ talks repeatedly about protecting the neighborhood and doing right by his friends yet they consistently manipulate him and try to incite him to violence. Big Smoke seems aware, routinely quoting Bible passages, that there's something wrong with the world they live in. He just doesn't have the courage, or perhaps the strength, to escape it. I really liked the guy and wished I could have had more interactions with him.Overall, I really enjoyed GTA: SA and I hope others will download it from Xbox Live. I should caution players, though, that the game's activities are something you have to take with a grain of salt. Carl Johnson is a criminal and a sociopath, despite his more charming qualities, and you do a lot of morally reprehensible stuff in the game. Yes, it's usually to people who have it coming but not always. At the end of the day, though, it's just a game.10/10
ALL YA HAD TO DO WAS FOLLOW THE DAMN TRAIN, CJ!!!Van
You'll have to check out Vice City next. Probably my favorite of the whole series.Van