Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas box artSo many of us have gotten used to disappointment in this hobby that when a much-anticipated game comes out and actually doesn’t suck, a lot of reviewers go a bit overboard and immediately give it perfect scores. Such was the case with Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. As a result, I find myself writing this review not to tell everyone why this game is great (which it is), but rather to explain why it’s not perfect (which many others would have you believe).

The main problem I had with San Andreas is that the missions are a lot more structured than they have been in previous GTA titles. In earlier installments (particularly GTA III), you were often given an objective and allowed to complete it any way you wanted. While San Andreas still has some missions like this, many of them are much more rigid. There is a lot of doing specific tasks a specific way, often in designated vehicles. There often isn’t any room for alternate approaches, which I always felt was one of the most appealing aspects of the GTA games.

There is also a fair amount of inefficiency within the game. Missions often require you to drive very long distances to begin your objective (instead of say, showing a cut scene of you going there), and when the goals are met, many missions require you to return home before it is considered complete. And I’m not talking about daring escapes and getaways… Very often you are forced just to drive back to your hideout (without any immediate threat to you), when they could have just as easily given you a “Mission Complete” by that point. I’ll admit that the main character CJ has a pretty cool job, but that doesn’t make his commute any more interesting.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

Another typical day of thug life in San Andreas.

My final complaint is that while the designers did a great job of creating a lot of varied gameplay, they may have gotten a little too carried away. It seemed like I was learning some new skill every other mission, and many of them were only useful once or twice in the entire game (such as operating a forklift). This resulted in a lot of “On-the-job-Training”, which at times made the game feel a bit disjointed and frustrating. I also wished they had stuck to the ol’ tried and true driving and shooting gameplay that was so prevalent in the earlier installments. There are still a fair amount of older-style missions, but I would have traded a few of the newer ones to get even more.

Having said all that, the game is still awesome. The world of San Andreas is a real marvel — I haven’t seen anything so interactive, huge and alive in a game before. And despite my complaints, the main missions are still fun to play, and there is enough extra stuff to keep you going for a long time. San Andreas is great, just not perfect.