When I first played the game I was really amazed at how the neighborhoods looked, the first area was vast expanding all the way through the country side, some of the cities in the game were pretty much carbon copies of the actual city like San Francisco, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.
The game was visually amazing at the time as nobody could imagine that the game had a huge environment including the huge mountain on the first area called Mount Chiliad which is the best way to escape from the cops, also its fun to drive cars, bikes or tanks off the mountain and watch how far you're able to drive off it.
With its amazing Soundtrack they released a Box set just like they did with Vice City. It ranged from Country, Rap, R&B, Rock, and Reggae. Just like Vice City they brought back well known artists like Bobby Brown, Eddie Money, Rod Stewart, SWV, Soundgarden, Rick James, and Kool and The Gang.
Though the game spawn racial tension as most gamers already hated the whole black thing and the Boyz in the hood style storyline. It was something totally new for the GTA series.
I think what most gamers didn't like was the music as they mostly complained about how they hated the whole gangster rap type genre and wished that they brought back most of the music that was introduced on Vice City.
But...what young kiddies should understand is that's what the 90's were about especially on the West Coast, with the whole gang wars in Los Angeles so making a game in that era in that area was amazingly depicted in this game. So most young 14 year olds who play this game today will never be able to understand the era, just like how young kids didn't understand GTA Vice City's era with the clothing and the gay macho man look.
I'm glad that it got the scores that it received, I would imagine it would be game of the year as well because of how many people it attracted and how many people hated it because of the way GTA was going at the time. I would be so happy if they would make a GTA type game set in San Andreas because this would give the developers a new way of creating a realistic city on a next gen console.