I’ve finally finished Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, only five months after starting it. It would have gone a lot faster if I could have played it while Miranda was watching, obviously, but it is a pretty long game.

I don’t have a lot to add to my earlier comments. I said back then that I wasn’t sure I was going to finish it; its gameplay and plot very much kept me going, though, and actually I’m now seriously considering playing the earlier games in the series. (Though not for a while: I do have a backlog of games to get through first, and by the time I’m done with them, other games I have to play will have been published.)

The mission design is, by and large, excellent. In particular, I was very impressed with the series of Las Venturas missions that leads to the casino robbery. You start off by scaring a mafia member into spilling his identity by driving around at high speeds with him strapped to the roof of your car. Next, you start a fire in the planning department in order to illegally photograph a casino’s building plans, and shoot your way out. You then seduce a casino worker to get a key card. Then you parachute into a dam and sneak around it, planting charges to enable you to later to cut power to a portion of the city. Then you drive around town stealing four cop bikes (some with cops on them, some not) and rendezvousing with a truck that’s driving around the highway. Then you shoot your way through an army base in order to get your hands on a helicopter with a magnetic crane attachment on the bottom, which you then use to steal an armored truck. And finally this all get used in the casino theft itself, which is a well-done combination of sneaking and shooting through a building, with some nice parachute use at the end.

Not all the missions are quite that good. Flight school is a pain in the ass, for example, and you don’t really use the resulting skills enough to justify it. And the return to Los Santos was a bit boring at times: way too much gang warfare. (Fortunately, the gang warfare was a lot easier than the first time you were in Los Santos; arguably, the most annoying thing was driving around what was ostensibly a rival gang’s turf and waiting fruitlessly for them to show up so you could actually take the turf over from them…)

The difficulty level was nice, too; aside from a few flukes, the missions were at worst pleasantly challenging. I admit to using a guide for a lot of the game; I might have resorted to one less if the times when I could play the game weren’t so restricted, but at any rate the game is strong enough that having a guide didn’t ruin it at all, and well-enough designed that I could have done fine without one, though it would have taken longer.

So: recommended. Next up in the slot of “games I’ll play without Miranda around” is Resident Evil 4; I’m also working through the excellent Gran Turismo 4, and just bought the latest Fire Emblem to play when we’re on vacation.

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