ON CHOW: Are surprise visits rude?
GameSpot: Best of 2008

Best PlayStation 2 Game

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

Publisher: Rockstar Games
Developer: Rockstar North
Rockstar North has done it again. Two years after we took over Vice City with a Scarface level of bravado and terrifying violence, Rockstar's hugely popular criminal action series has headed west with Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. But just as Tommy Vercetti wasn't satisfied with being a low-level thug for the Forelli family, Rockstar wasn't content with simply squeezing out more of the same. And, luckily for all of us, it didn't fail in the slightest.

To say San Andreas breaks the mold isn't quite accurate--it's roughly the same mold shared by GTAIII and Vice City, it's just a lot bigger and a lot more detailed. Rather than focus the story on a single urban center, San Andreas contains three unique cities, and a serious amount of rural space in between them. The seamless experience of traveling from one city to another, through the countryside, is so natural you can't help but shake the feeling that San Andreas is real.

But San Andreas is just the playground, and it's the players who really make the game compelling. The series has always worn its cinematic influences proudly, and San Andreas is no different. Telling the story of Carl "CJ" Johnson as he returns to Los Santos following the death of his mother, San Andreas starts off as a slightly punchy tribute to early-'90s West Coast gangsta films like Boyz N the Hood and Menace II Society, but once CJ gets run out of town, the story goes far beyond the domain of an inner-city gangbanger trying to reclaim his neighborhood. The characters you'll meet along the way are vividly drawn and believable, thanks in no small part to some naturalistic dialogue delivered by an incredibly talented cast.

And then, of course, there's the violence. GTA has always played to the id, and San Andreas is no different, allowing you (and occasionally encouraging you) to act on some of your darker impulses. The gameplay has been somewhat refined, and a role-playing element has been added--your felonious skills actually improve the more you use them, and small touches such as the clothes you wear can affect how other people will react to you.

In the three years since Grand Theft Auto III made Rockstar's criminal action series world famous, we've been witness to plenty of imitators, but none have even come close to delivering the total-package experience of a true GTA game, and San Andreas stands as the biggest, boldest, and most completely accomplished entry in the series. Considering the quality of its predecessors, it's no wonder we've chosen this as the Best PlayStation 2 Game of 2004.
Best Xbox Game >>