Scheduled release date:
October 26, 2004

The release of the next installment in Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto series is rapidly approaching with only a little over a month remaining until its debut. Once again, gamers of all ages (over 17 of course) can crash and smash their way through a world full of street thugs and wild police chases in whatever vehicle they see fit, with whatever weapon they can get their little gangster hands on. This time around, however, Rockstar has created a world that's immensely bigger, alarmingly more brutal, and outright bolder than ever.

In Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, you take on the role of the Orange Grove Families gang member, Carl Johnson. After a five-year stint in Liberty City, Johnson returns to San Andreas to avenge the murderous death of his mother and little brother. Joined by his older brother, Sweet Johnson, who has since become a key leader of the OGF, and other fellow gang members Ryder and Smoke, CJ must regain control of the streets and save his family from further peril. To make matters worse, he is framed for homicide upon his return, by two corrupt cops, Frank Tenpenny and Eddie Polaski. Other characters you will encounter in San Andreas are CJ and Sweet's estranged sister, Kendl Johnson, CJ's childhood barber, Old Reece, and The Flats and The Ballas, the two main rivaling gangs of the OGF.

A part of what made the Grand Theft Auto series such a huge hit in the past has been the many different vehicles and weapons you can utilize. While a fully complete list has yet to be published, there are quite a few vehicles that have been confirmed in either written text or in screenshots. To list a few, CJ can access a bicycle, hatchback, convertible, muscle car, pickup truck, police motorcycle, semi truck, ATV, van, or helicopter to carry out his duties. Some weapons that can be used include a .45 caliber, 9mm, shotgun, or an Uzi. You can also dual-wield some of the weapons, which is an added bonus especially when you find yourself in a sticky situation.

In terms of the environmental conditions of the game, the most obvious improvement you will see is the sheer size of San Andreas. To set things straight, San Andreas is a state that includes three separate cities based on San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas. Each of these cities is connected with rivers, mountains, deserts, and miles of freeways and roads. However, gamers must take caution as vehicles are now capable of rusting and getting dirty. If you find yourself on the freeway on a bicycle, prepare for tired hands as you must repeatedly tap the control buttons to pedal. Along with a much larger map, Rockstar has also incorporated weather into the mix with visible rain and smog in Los Santos (the city that reflects Los Angeles).

In addition to environmental and vehicular improvements, the main character himself has become more high maintenance than a college sorority girl. You must now take time away from gang fighting (where's the fun in that?) to be sure that CJ eats to maintain a proper level of stamina to complete missions. That's not giving you permission to stop by Mickey D's whenever you need fuel; you need to eat a balanced diet to prevent your character from becoming overweight and, as a result of the extra baggage, sluggish and unable to perform even the simplest of functions. If you do find that you've binged a little too hard on burgers and fries, you must get CJ into the gym to burn off the fat and to stay in overall good shape. CJ is also now capable of swimming (and drowning, so don't get overzealous), changing outfits, getting haircuts, recruiting other characters to form a gang, drive-by shootings, and has improved hand-to-hand combat techniques.

Along with all of these huge improvements to the game, there will be more missions that CJ must complete. Some of these missions include cab-type missions, such as delivering pizzas or ambulance patients, assassin type missions, and some other vigilante missions. On top of that, CJ will be able to play mini games throughout San Andreas that include casino games. The purpose of these games is to help your character develop skills that will help him later on in more plot-based missions, so not only will they be fun, they will be helpful.

Overall, it looks like Rockstar has made Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas much more involved in every aspect imaginable. It promises to deliver everything that we loved about the preceding titles with an even bigger punch. GTA: San Andreas will be available for the Playstation 2 October 26, 2004 and is rated M for mature.