Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
December 24, 2004

 Rockstar Games, Playstation 2
Rated M for blood & gore, intense violence, strong language, strong sexual content & drug use

While 2004 has been a strong year for video games, it’s one of the latest releases that has truly made an impact on me. Regular readers of this column won’t be surprised to learn that my pick for game of the year is Rockstar’s “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.” I’m a big fan of the series and am happy to report this one is easily the strongest in the franchise. The game feels like an interactive cinematic experience.

The game is well thought out and impeccably executed in every way, from the graphics to the story line to the music. The developers of the game have a knack for picking the appropriate music (and talk radio) to set up scenes. it’s obvious they’ve put some thought into the task rather than relying on the cheapest tunes available or, worse yet, Muzak.

In the past, the franchise has come under attack for a variety of reasons. Italian-American groups bristled that the games perpetuated negative “Godfather” type stereotypes. Parents worried their young children would become violent after playing the games. Never mind that it’s an M title — appropriate only for ages 17 and up — the equivalent of a R-rated film.

Here, the antihero is a young African-American character named CJ. Just when he thought he had escaped the hell he grew up in (i.e. the fictional state of San Andreas, which to me sounds more like a city than a state), he gets sucked back in after attending his mother’s funeral. Thanks to a couple of corrupt cops who frame him for crimes he didn’t commit, CJ is forced to break the law to clear his name.

SPOILER ALERT: The crooks actually are the dirty cops who are quite clever and nefarious in the way they lay the blame on CJ.

At one point, I had to hijack a police motorcycle in order to escape wrongful arrest. The chase was awesome — more thrilling than anything you’ve seen on “Cops” and, oddly enough, more realistic. Gamers don’t need to be lectured in a video game, and “San Andreas” makes no attempt to guilt us into any sense of morality. But the characters and their motives are so well thought out that we get it. Sometimes crime pays. And other times it ends up being a means to clearing our names.

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