One of last year's biggest PlayStation 2 games is barreling toward the Xbox--Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas will hit Microsoft's big black box in early June. We got a hands-on look at an early version of the Xbox port recently, and while the game hasn't changed in a fundamental way since the original, this looks like the version to get if you haven't experienced Rockstar's sprawling crime story yet.
To be frank, San Andreas on the Xbox is the same as San Andreas on the PS2, in terms of content. You've still got the lengthy storyline that casts you as rising thug Carl "CJ" Johnson in the fictional cities of Los Santos, San Fiero, and Las Venturas. You've still got the all-star cast featuring the likes of Samuel Jackson, James Woods, and Peter Fonda. You've got the character customization aspects, which are new to the series and let you influence CJ's weight and muscle mass, taste in clothing, and more. And yep, you've got that infamous, seminal sandbox-style gameplay that lets you steal every car in sight, murder the innocent, and build your criminal empire from the ground up. It's definitely San Andreas through and through.
So what's special about the Xbox version? Naturally, it looks better. We saw a significantly greater draw distance in the demo we played, which means the horizon is farther away than in the PS2 version, so you can see a lot more of your surroundings at once. The textures are also noticeably higher resolution; the signage, graffiti, and other such elements of the backgrounds are more legible now. Thanks to the Xbox's superior hardware, the game loads much faster than on the PS2. Even in that version, you only saw a loading screen when you entered a building, but on the Xbox that load will take only a second or two, which nicely speeds up the gameplay.
There are a couple of other new features in San Andreas for the Xbox that ought to tickle fans of the series. Vice City let you make your own custom radio station with songs ripped from your own CDs, but Rockstar has done that feature one better by letting you set up your track list like a radio station, mixing in the game's DJ chatter, station identification messages, and commercials between your songs to help seal the deal. The developers have also added a nifty replay feature that will let you pause the game at any time and rewatch the last 30 or so seconds with full camera controls so you can check out that rad stunt you just pulled off, or whatever. Rockstar is toying with the idea of letting you save multiple replays for later consumption, but that feature wasn't implemented in the build we tried out and may or may not make the final cut.
San Andreas is currently slated to hit the Xbox on June 6, and if you haven't played it yet, this will be the time to do it. If you need more information on the game (c'mon, where have you been?), check out our ludicrous previous coverage of the PS2 version, as well as the full review.