Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas Blowout

All the screens, all the info and all the geeky hype we could pour into one feature.
Author: Kyle Sutton
Published: August 9, 2004
Countless games have endeavored to copy its formula. One too many parents have blamed the corruption of their children on its mature content. Millions of gamers have roamed its streets, jacking vehicles and mowing down pedestrians like it was their job. The Grand Theft Auto franchise has unmistakably impacted modern culture like it was nobody's business. Rockstar North, the developer responsible for it all, hasn't let the success go to their heads, and instead of basking in their success, is doing quite the opposite: attempting to push even more boundaries with the latest game in the groundbreaking series, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. What Rockstar appears to be meticulously crafting this time around is the level of customization of your protagonist, Carl Johnson. From food and exercise to tattoos and attire, the possibilities are truly endless, to the point where CJ can drastically vary gamer's version of him to the next. Throw advanced AI, drastic new lighting effects and even an involving new mode of transportation (the BMX), and you've got yourself what looks to be the best Grand Theft Auto title yet. We've got the scoop on all the aforementioned items and are prepared to deliver the goods on it all. Do yourself a favor and take a few deep breaths before reading - there's a lot to take in here.

Returning Home
As touched upon before, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas sees you as Carl Johnson (CJ), a local of Los Santos, San Andreas, a West Coast city in the dumps. When the gang influence, drugs and corruption of the city becomes too much, CJ makes the heartfelt decision to flee his local turf for a more suitable Liberty City. That was five years ago. When the early 90's hit, though, the murder of his mother and downfall of his family and former friends force CJ to return home. Once back on his old turf, corrupt cops of the city assume him to be gang scum and frame him for a homicide he didn't commit. He's been dragged back into the mess he tried to escape, and now, it's up to CJ to clear his name, save his family from their inevitable collapse and take control of the streets he used to know.

The Old Gets a New Spin
With a storyline intact, GTA: San Andreas will no doubt take players across a plot-influenced journey across the entire state of San Andreas. While the team at Rockstar has kept their lips sealed for the most part when it comes to leaking detail on the actual missions themselves, who you'll be working for and the progression of the story, they've been more than happy to comment on just what familiar features have been improved upon. We've decided to throw all of this under one category before moving on to the game's drastic new features.

Bad cops get worse
Police in the Grand Theft Auto titles have always been known for their tenacity, yet the San Andreas cops will be as intelligent as ever, employing new tactics to take you down when you've broken the law. Unlucky for you, many coppers in San Andreas will be cruising the streets on motorcycle and won't hesitate to fire their guns at you while on your tail. In the heat of a pursuit, officers will be coming at you from all angles, unloading their weapons on you and, when in vehicles, try to run you off the road using an array of techniques, such as head-on collisions or simply ramming the bejesus out of your ride. As in previous GTA games, wreaking enough havoc will force the police to resort to using helicopters. Here's something you haven't seen before, though: choppers will intentionally shine their lights upon you in order to obscure your vision, making you much more vulnerable to pursuing officers and hindering your ability to take them out. Here's another new fun fact about the sharper cops: when gunning it out with you, they'll be smart enough to seek out cover in order to save their own butts, while try to put a bullet in yours.

Time to get street smart
While the mindless chatter of the "Marios," the crackpot group of ex-Diaz men that occasionally watched your back, may have appeared to be the zenith of AI interaction in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, it's truly nothing compared to how advanced gang members are in San Andreas. In addition to simply shooting the breeze with one another, they'll exemplify some truly realistic looking habits of loitering, including smoking, drinking, even greeting one another through the use of secret signs. Getting on a gang's good side while do more than just exempt you from their violent habits - they'll actually offer assistance to you when your on their turf, making luring the cops into their territory not a bad strategy.

Ah, but how bittersweet the double-edged sword can be. Get on gang's bad side and you'd best stay clear of their turf. Try to swing by their territory, be it mistakenly or mockingly, and prepare for the repercussions. Not only will rival gang members try to attack you while you on foot or while in a vehicle like we've seen before, but they'll use numerous strategies to try to lure you to your doom. Can you believe they'll actually send a few members to chase after you, only to tire you out and leave you helpless to the hunt of the rest of the pack? Keeping your wits on the streets has never before more important.

"We spent a lot of time getting that level of interaction right, and making it unique," explains Rockstar's Leslie Benzies. "We wanted to convey very clearly that the gangs had a certain way of communicating, very definite mannerisms, and yet had to create signs and language all our own that was faithful to the world we're trying to depict. It was challenging, but it adds a startling level of detail to the game."

Lights... camera... action!
Who can forget the downright gritty look of the concrete jungle of Liberty City? How about the superficial neon glitz of Vice City? Presentation has always been one of the most impressive accomplishments in recent GTA iterations, and one of the main contributing factors is lighting. That's why Rockstar is going all out this time around to craft a truly unique lighting schemes for each of San Andreas' three cities: Los Santos, San Fierro and Las Venturas. See, from city to city, players will immediately notice a change in atmosphere, be it the overwhelming neon glare of Las Venturas (a clear spin off of Las Vegas), the hovering smog and blistering, dirty heat of the game's Los Angeles look alike, Los Santos, or the clear, blue skies and occasional rain storms in San Fierro (clearly crafted after San Francisco). Night and day effects will also play a role here, as the shadows and textures of objects and even cars will look different depending on the time of day. The contrasts between night and day, city and city, have never been so drastic.

If there were any minor drawbacks to the GTA games, most would agree that they'd have to be the camera's occasionally catching a bad angle and the rather flimsy aiming system. Feel free to cross those two off from your "things to be fixed" list, as Rockstar North has put in some extra time in reworking both the in-game camera and targeting scheme for San Andreas. Freedom is the keyword here, folks. The game will feature a sexy new "intelligent camera," as R* calls it, that grants view control into the player's hands. Taking advantage of the common yet intuitive dual stick system, the right analog stick will now control player movement while the left will allow you to swing the camera around as you please, be it while on foot or in a vehicle. When a weapon comes into player, the controls properly adjust - ranged weapons can now be controlled with use of the right analog stick, while with more low-key firearms, players are able to take aim using the right stick while running and, yes finally, strafing with the left stick. From what we've heard, the weapons mode of Manhunt is in the same ballpark as the one to be included in San Andreas. Sounds tasty.

So you want a car, do you?
Remember how, with the press of a button, you were able to toss any old chump out of his/her vehicle and make it yours in a heartbeat? Kiss those days of non-violent carjacking goodbye. Residents of San Andreas are far from oblivious to the waves of car thieves and aren't afraid to put up a fight when you try to yoink them from their precious vehicles. CJ isn't timid when it comes to retaliation, though, and can resort to kicking, punching, pistol-whipping, or even bashing the head of the driver into the dashboard to get his/her sorry carcass out of the vehicle. Contrary to what morals might exist in our world, violence is the answer in San Andreas.

Eat Up!
Now, time to talk about the fantastic features being introduced in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. The first of these is the surprisingly deep new food system. Just like the rest of us, CJ has to eat, and when a message pops up on the screen indicating he needs something before his energy level suffers, you've got to do something about it. Scattered all throughout San Andreas will be numerous restaurants and venders, so all it takes is heading over to one of these establishments and grabbing some grub to satisfy CJ's hunger. Rockstar has so far confirmed three existing restraurants in San Andreas:

Cluckin' Bell
Your typical chicken shack complete with tantalizing items like fried chicken and wings. Customer favorites include the Cluckin' Big Filet Burger and Cluckin' Huge Double Filet. Oh, and the employees dress in chicken customers. One of the many prices to pay for minimum wage...

Well Stacked Pizza
Pizza, pizza, and well, more pizza. The menu here includes The Buster, The D-Luxe and The Double D-Luxe. The staff here doesn't have the best of dispositions, so try not to stuff your face too animal-like and make a fool of yourself.

Burger Shot
Complete with more guys in silly uniforms and unreal amount of ground beef, Burger Shot is the place for all your burger needs. The specialty here is The Double Barreled Burger and you'll likely notice AI customers ordering and chowing down around you. Pretty cool, right?

So you know when and where to eat, but the question still remains: what's the significance of food in GTA: San Andreas? Well, depending on how well you eat or if you even choose to eat, the effect is huge. Say you see the pop-up indicating CJ is hungry appear and you opt to ignore it. Negligence has it's repercussions, for it won't be long until you notice your main man looking a bit emaciated and too thin for his own boxers. He'll slowly become weaker, have noticeably reduced speed and stamina when performing physical activities, and will even loose the power in his punch. Simply said, he won't have what it takes to complete required tasks effectively or even stand his ground in a fight.

Perhaps your reliance on food grows a little too strong and you deny CJ the exercise required to burn those calories off. Once again, the consequences will come and CJ will start packing on the pounds and bulging out of his own clothes. In addition to looking grossly overweight, having to waddle as he walks and even lacking the ability to put his arms to his side, CJ will suffer where it counts. He'll exemplify obvious struggle when trying to complete physical tasks, be it lifting or climbing, swimming or running. His stamina will plunge, often require him to catch his breath, and he'll have a delayed reaction time, especially when in a confrontation. That wide frame won't do him any good either, for it enables cops and enemies to gun him down a lot easier with a larger target. Heck, even ladies, people walking down the street, and the fellas will start making wise cracks and giving dirty looks when he walks by. How cruel people can be!

So have we made our point? An overweight CJ suffers just as much as an overly skinny CJ, therefore its crucial to keep him at a healthy weight. Every item of food will have its own calorific value, and although the aforementioned fast-food restaurants don't seem to be the solution here, proper diet is a must. Eating right isn't all it takes to keep CJ in tip-top condition, though. He's got to shape up too!

Getting in the Gym
Lucky for CJ, all the food he decides to guzzle down can be properly worked off by taking a trip to any of the gyms in San Andreas. While each gym will differ in terms of specific equipment, they all provide the proper means for CJ to bulk up and shed the points. For cardiovascular exercise, stationary bikes and treadmills are on-hand, while barbell curls and bench presses should be sufficient for building up strength. As one can imagine, putting in the time at the gym will pay off, making the results well worth the work. CJ will be able to run, swim and cycle faster than before. Players will also notice an increase in CJ's stamina and a reduced recovery time, abilities that can be, as in previous GTA iterations, improved with frequent running and sprinting. The extra muscle and strength will also come in handy, as CJ will be able to execute punches and kicks with more force, bettering his odds of emerging victorious in hand-to-hand combat.

Each of San Andreas' three cities will have a gym to its name, and what's cool is that each will have its own look and feel, as well as type of equipment, workout, instruction, and regulars who often pay it a visit. The gym in Los Santos, for one, sports the typical grungy look and is often the hangout of local gang members. It's also the best place to pick up some needed fighting skills, as CJ is able to take on an opponent in the ring and learn new abilities punch combos, punching on the ground, and punching while running. In stark contrast, San Fierro has more of a dojo than a gym, which, as you can imagine, is perfect for mastering new fighting abilities (our money is on material art styles, but Rockstar promises to confirm it at a later date). Rounding out the three is Las Venturas' gym - one that shows an obvious lack of maintenance by its seedy, shabby appearance. It's lack of professionalism reflects upon the fighting moves you'll pick up there, which include street fighting techniques and low, cheap shots.

To match the new moves CJ will pick up at the gyms, a new fighting system has been incorporated into the game. Enemies can be locked onto to ensure easier maneuvering, while a second button can now be used to pull off advanced moves and combo. With the heat he's dishing out, CJ is sure to get some in return, and that's where the new self-defense scheme will play out, enabling oncoming blows to be skillfully blocked.

On a final note here, Rockstar has confirmed that there will be a very interesting relationship between body fat and muscle. Although each will count as a separate statistic, players will be able to mold CJ into countless combinations, such as overweight and strong or skinny and lacking stamina, but with tons of power. Also remember that although the eating and working out portions to the game are important, they're not meant to be considered chores, but more as one of the cooler customizable aspects of CJ.

Getting Tricky, BMX Style
Everyone who played Vice City can recall how incredibly cool it was the hop onto a motorcycle and weave between vehicles for the first time. Although we can't ensure that kind of innovative exhilaration is in-store in San Andreas, we do know that a crafty new mode of transportation is on the way: the BMX bike. Whether for peddling for point A to point B or taking shortcuts normally unavailable to vehicles, the bike ensures a lot less hassle, plus it's the perfect fit the neighborhoods of Los Santos. Actually getting the thing to go requires you to tap onto a button in order to build up your pace, so getting up to those faster speeds takes a little work. Riding the bike often will actually be worth it, as CJ can build up stamina and ensure longer riding times. In addition, his skills will improve to the point where he'll fall off of the bike less and it'll be a lot more responsive and better handling for him.

In this modern age of extreme sports, it's clear that BMX bikes are for more than just getting somewhere - they're great for pulling off tricks too! CJ will actually have an array of cool tricks at his disposal, from simple hops to crafty combination moves. These include bunnyhops, wheelies, endos, 180s and 360s. And who said you couldn't ride a BMX in style?

Write It in Ink
Customization is one of the key privileges you're given in GTA: San Andreas. While we've already rattled on about the possibilities of toying with CJ's weight and shape, there exist in the game many more standard ways of crafting him to your appeal. While several outfits will once again be available to dress CJ up in, you'll also be able to change his hairdo by paying a visit to Reece the barber, and even get the ink job done at local tattoo parlors. Rockstar has worked with LA-based tattoo artist Mister Cartoon in order to replicate the very original style of tattoos in 1990s Los Angeles.

"We wanted people to be in complete control of their characters," comments Leslie Benzies. "If they didn't like the way he dressed, they could earn enough money to buy new clothes. The tattoo feature works the same way, only the motivation is different. If you were in a gang, you'd get a gang tattoo showing that."

Getting a tat will be as easy as heading to the local parlor, picking a design and placing it on a certain part of CJ's body. Further making each city in San Andreas feel its own, there will be specific symbols and designs available only in that part of the state. Having a undeniable similarity to LA, Los Santos will have a number of 90's rap and film influenced inks in heavy black that include often guns, gang names and girls. The designs in San Fierro, on the other hand, focus more on Aztec signs and drug-related icons. For the gambling environment of Las Venturas, there are numerous tattoos to properly reflect that, from pictures of Lady Luck to cards and dice. Whether it be for pure showy purposes or to warn rivals of your gang affiliation, the role of tattoos in San Andreas can undoubtedly be a big one if you choose to make it so.

Dirtying Up the Ride
Vehicle realism has always been one of the cooler life-like feature in the Grand Theft Auto series. Bang up your car enough and it'll show, cruise by a nearby explosion and your ride will likely go up in flames as well - we all know the drill by now. In San Andreas, a whole new level of depth will be added, as dirt will now show on your vehicle. Driving through alleyways or going head-on with another car will not only result in proper damage, but the appearance of dirt on those spots as well. Inhabitants of San Andreas don't seem to have much desire to keep their vehicles spotless, or in condition for that matter (don't be surprised to see cars with broken windows, loose bumpers, and bullet-riddled doors cruising the streets!) so you'll often be taking a trip to the car wash if you decide to jack one of the dirtied-up rides.

Our Take
From what we've been informed on so far, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas looks to be the deepest game in the series. Wait, scratch that - this hands-down is the deepest game in the series. We can't even begin to conjure up the possibilities of tailoring CJ to our every whim. Mark your calendars, folks - October 19, 2004 will be a day to remember. Until then, stay tuned as we keep you updated with every new San Andreas tidbit we can get our grimy little hands on.