GTA San Andreas [REVIEW]

Platform: Xbox Series X
Version Origin: Original Xbox Platinum Hits Disc
Version Played: Xbox 360 Remaster
TV: TDL 4K HDR 55"
Audio: Pioneer 5.1 Stereo


What a mess of a way to experience this bit of gaming history, buuut I ran through it last month, so here is a review of it. I will include passing comparisons to both the 1st version (on the PS2/Xbox) and the latest Definitive Edition but the "official" review will be of the 2014 "Remaster" digital copy.

Okay, let's start there. Playing older games on modern consoles is both a holy blessing and a goddamn curse. Inserting an old Xbox disc into the Series X and watching it go fetch a digital copy of the game is sometimes euphoric because you know that you'll get to see a prettied-up HDR version with no load times. The catch with San Andreas? You are going to get the 360 Remaster, which (to my understanding) is the iOS mobile port.

The high-level view of the differences is that the yellow-hue/smog/heat atmosphere from the original (particularly from the PS2) has been scrubbed out along with a lot of songs. The excellent pause menu, (which is an absolute hallmark of Rockstar games), is butchered. My assumption is that it had to be more mobile-friendly and they didn't bother putting the old menu back in place. The menu on the original PS2 and Xbox versions of the game is beautiful in its design. Useful, easy to use, and pretty. In other words, it "fits." The 360 version is a gaudy mess.

It's sort of silly to split hairs on a video game story so I'll give this a perfect 10. It takes you on a journey through the '90s and Carl Johnson's little corner of Los Angeles. There are ups, downs, and loops. It's pretty impressive that R* weaved a tale here that just about everyone playing could relate to. Maybe it isn't yet fully understood as to how you could be from a farm in Indiana or the suburbs in Ohio and could get into the main character and story. The era did have mass appeal, I suppose. CJ's story of personal growth while maintaining a strong foundation plays out well. The pitfalls of both greed and loyalty are bookended by his brother and friends in Grove Street and for the majority of the game you bounce in between. It's well done and zips along, even when you are doing side tasks.

Nothing in this version of the game is too terribly hard to get through. There are added checkpoints and using a modern controller helps, so if you want a more "reasonable" experience, then this remaster with work for you on that side of things. Otherwise, objectives in this game feel meaningful and necessary (and fun). It can get tedious when you get out into the country in the 2nd quarter of the game, but just enjoy the ride.

IN-GAME ART / DESIGN +5 (10 on PS2)
The artwork and design are in this remastered version but I have to cut the score in half from what it was on the PS2 (and the OG Xbox mostly) where the ambiance and atmosphere are pitch perfect. It isn't in the 2014 version. It isn't in the Definitive Edition, either. In a way, this shows one of R* strengths that other studios completely miss. They understand limitations and work with what they have. They also know how the game is going to be played. Back in the early 2000's it was a CRT. Playing a 2014 remaster now on a 55" 4k TV is so far removed from what it was originally it's absurd. Something else mentioning is the fantastic illustrations that you see during all the load times are minimized on the Series X. I mean, that's good, per se, but those illos were critical to filling in the gaps on the original version and IT WORKED. Ever see that gif of the moving circles then it tells you to look at a Van Gogh? It's like that. Early 2000's R* got it as well. They still get it, particularly with RDR2, but back then the tools were so limited. It's an art in and off itself.

MUSIC AND SOUND +5 (10 on PS2)
It's a legendary soundtrack of 90s hits and the DJ's are funny. The sounds are fine. I like the sort of cartoonish sounds of the weapons because realistic sounds in a game like this (mowing down humans) gets a little much. I know it has changed now, but... I don't know. Topic for another day. This Xbox remaster gets a 5 because a handful of songs are missing from the original version. Is what it is.

This game invented open-world fun. Vice City hinted at it, but San Andreas perfected it. Everything feels "right." Not too loose and cartoonish, not to realistic like a sim. I love that the vehicles feel a lot different from one another. Even compared to today's games, which can get a bit serious, this one just works. Remember fun? It's here.

Of course, it doesn't have the impact it once did, but the soul is there and if you start walking in rhythm with it you'll feel it. The only issue with this version is that you remember the original version, which is better. Same with the recent "definitive" version. It's part nostalgia, but it's also the feel. I can tell when I fire up the Original Xbox version. It "feels" better.

LONGEVITY +0 (10 on PS2)
There is no reason to play this version in 2023 and beyond. I mean, I did, but no reason you should. Play the original on the PS2 or Xbox. Don't have one? You can get a system (either) for about $100. You can probably find a copy of the game at a local thrift store still (I did). Those versions get a 10, because I still play this game. Beyond that, play the Definitive Edition.

I think they (R*) wanted a new version because this 2014 one is sort of caught in the middle (comparatively). The PS2 version shaped an entire industry.

Fun, still!

Perfect. I'm scoring this off the Original Xbox version. The disc box is recognizable, the artwork style is great, included maps are amazing. 



Every other version save for the Original Xbox is somewhere closer to the 63.