Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
As Grand Theft Auto's runaway success continues and more games incorporate the free-roaming, mission-based gameplay made popular by the third incarnation of the franchise, it'd be easy to imagine the folks at Rockstar resting their feet on an automan made of money, authorizing sequels wherein textures are more apt to change from one game to the next than the gameplay. And who could blame them if they decided to? Grand Theft Auto has not only broken sales records; it's been the catalyst in getting developers to start building games with worlds instead of levels, with actors instead of untrained staff, with objectives instead of rings. Granted, not all innovations associated with the title are its own - games like Zelda: The Ocarina of Time and Shenmue had internal clocks and day/night cycles as many as three years before Rockstar North (then DMA Design) had its addictive hit-and-run PlayStation 2 game - but it's hard to argue with a series whose influence is so far- flung that even the folks at Naughty Dog took notice and totally revamped Jak & Daxter for Jak II and III.
It's fortunate for all of us then, that Rockstar isn't sitting still; Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas looks to be an even more ambitious step up from Vice City than Vice City was from GTA III. This time taking cue from the 90's and the gangsta films of that era (Menace II Society and Boyz in da Hood are strong influences here), San Andreas follows Carl Johnson as he returns to his hometown when his mother is murdered on the mean streets of Los Santos. Unfortunately, Carl has no time to mourn as corrupt police frame him and leave him with no choice but to restore order - on his terms.
This time, however, it's not just a city the player is after; from the get go, Carl (CJ for short) will have access to the entirety of the fictional San Andreas county, including fictional counterparts to San Francisco (San Fierro), Los Angeles (Los Santos), and Las Vegas (here called Las Venturra), adjoining suburbs, and the countryside in between. To get some sense of the scale of all this, Rockstar estimates that the game will be four to six times as either GTA III or Vice City, all in a world detailed enough that gangs support different mannerisms and slang.
This combined with the depth already showcased in Vice City might be enough to get excited about, but just in case, Rockstar is adding depth to numerous aspects of the game. Perhaps the most talked about aspect of this is Carl's need to eat and exercise; just as in real life, failing to eat regularly will see Carl's clothes loosen and his strength and stamina decrease accordingly, making him an easier target. Eating too much, conversely, results in an overweight Carl who can't outrun his enemies and is a wider target to boot. Of the food sources available in the game, four have been confirmed that reflect Rockstar's tongue-in-cheek humor - namely, Burger Shot, Well-Stacked Pizza, and Cluckn' Bell, which has its employees dressed as (you guessed it) giant chickens. There will also be a number of hot-dog stands available attended by bikini-clad employees, and with screens available showcasing the Tuff Nut Donut shop, it's a safe bet CJ will also have access to pastries. Whether all the restaurants and chains are fast food remains to be seen, but Rockstar's claim to have spent hundreds of hours researching the LA scene and its history of restaurants should result in a variety of eats.
Previous GTAs allowed for players to increase their stamina by spending more time on foot, but San Andreas will be the first GTA to have a working gym with punching bags, treadmills, stationary bikes, and barbells. As such, exercise not only helps CJ lose weight when he goes off his diet, but allows him to build up strength and speed; time spent at the gym will result in a Carl who can punch harder, run faster, and recover more quickly. It's also been confirmed that each city will have a different gym sporting characterisitcs unique to that area's flavor, ranging from a martial arts dojo in San Fierro to the gritty gym of Los Santos to a gym that can teach Carl down and dirty boxing tricks in Las Venturras.
Rockstar is keen to note, however, that exercising and consuming foodstuffs aren't meant to be the opposite of one another; the two factors may interact, but it's up to the player to find out what combination works best for their needs.
Nor does the character customization end there; expanding upon the changeable clothing introduced in the last game, Carl can visit Reece the barber for a haircut, or hit up one of the area's tattoo parlors for an inking. Working closely with legendary LA skin artist Mister Cartoon to ensure authenticity, Rockstar North plans to make different tattoos prevalent in different cities: gambling themes in Las Venturras; Aztec signs and drug symbols in San Fierro; and, of course, early 90's gang tattoos in Los Santos.
Throw in enhanced police AI that can break through windows, cars that collect dirt and can be washed, and R3 missions that let you plan and conduct armed robbery, and it's easy to see that San Andreas makes strides toward making GTA a fully realized world. Come this October, we'll find out if Rockstar is packing as much heat as they claim.
Click here for new information released on 9/7/04