Unless you've been out of tune with pop culture during the last few months, it's safe to conclude that you've played the PS2 edition by now. Exalted as one of the biggest games of 2004, Xbox gamers have been eagerly awaiting its arrival with baited breath as fans were especially curious of the potential improvements that would be incorporated and more importantly, if it would achieve the level of quality as seen in the GTA Double Pack. For the most part, the Xbox edition manages to deliver, but like a tasty dinner served in tiny portions, it leaves you wanting more.
When it was originally released, San Andreas took the industry by storm with it's massive world filled with a bevy of mini mission-based objectives to explore. With so much to do and see, it was easy to invest so many hours into the game without ever touching the main quest. Need a few examples? Well for starters, you could change your wardrobe, work out, grab a meal, or spend some time with the honeys (something that's gained a lot notoriety via the Hot Coffee mod that's recently surfaced). San Andreas also featured an abundant of hidden items to collect (all 100 tags, for example), and while this openness has always been a hallmark of the series, the sheer size and scope of it here makes the game a much more complete package than Vice City could ever offer.
As fans of the franchise know, each entry into the series spotlights a distinct hero in a different city, and San Andreas walks away from the standard Mafioso anti-hero of past installments and takes the gangsta route. You play the part of young CJ, who has returned to Los Santos after a five year hiatus in Liberty City to bury his mother, who's been brutally murdered. Dragged back into the world of gang-banging and crime, CJ sets out to uncover the mystery behind the death of his mother and set things right. To do this, he'll need to help out his old gang, the Grove Street Families to regain prestige and power.
First off, the Xbox edition is essentially the same game that was released several months ago. Although no new stages or objectives have been added, the production values as a whole have been stepped up quite a bit. Much like the previously released Double Pack, the graphics have been given a significant facelift. In addition, Xbox gamers can enjoy the game in 480p glory, and the draw distance isn't quite as short as before.
Though the improvements aren't quite as noticeable like the PC edition, it's definitely a step up from the PS2 counterpart. Cars sport a much nicer, shinier look and the graphic presentation showcases a smoothness that was missing on the PS2. While custom soundtracks have also made their return, players will be disappointed at the limited control offered. Sadly, the planned addition of commercials that would play in between your custom songs also failed to materialize. And oddly, you'll find that many songs will start halfway through or even at the end, ultimately making it somewhat impossible to locate a specific track during certain in-game situations. Imagine my disappointment when I discovered I wouldn't be able to plays War's Low-rider during the low-rider competition!
Minor quibbles aside, loading times have improved drastically thanks to the Xbox's speedier drive. This gave me a great sense of relief, especially during key moments that used to be fairly grating like when CJ would be changing his clothes or getting a haircut. This certainly speeds the overall game up considerably, maintaining the focus where it should be: on the missions themselves.
For those that previously completed the game on the PS2, expect to invest a similar number of hours (approx. 35 hours). San Andreas is just so damn huge, there's always something that you haven't seen that's just begging to be explored. If you haven't already been to Los Santos or wanted another reason to return, look no further.