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GTA: San Andreas: Hard Knocks: Life in San Andreas

When Carl Johnson left Los Santos, San Andreas 5 years ago he had no intention of looking back. After the murder of his mother, Carl was forced back into the gang-infested metropolis only to find that his family was falling apart and his friends were on a one-way ticket to jail... or worse. Things only get worse when a couple of corrupt cops frame him for homicide, forcing him to take action and not only save his family and friends, but his own life.

This is the world of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, which leaves the glitzy worlds of porn stars, cocaine dealers and mafia life found in the original two installments for the hard knocks life of 90's Los Angeles. However, don't expect the next installment to simply replace one gangster with another.

GTA: San Andreas will feature a number of improvements over past games which should quell the fears of some gamers. The jump from Vice City to San Andreas will be slightly bigger than that from GTA 3 to Vice City and will give you an even more open-ended experience that the previous two games.

First off, unlike the locales in the previous two games, San Andreas isn’t a city, it’s a state. The state of San Andreas will feature three distinct cities which will each have their own flavor and experiences. You’ll begin the game in Los Santos, which is modeled after Los Angeles. Eventually you’ll move on to San Fierro and Las Venturas, which are based off of San Francisco and Las Vegas. Expect Los Santos to feature a more Compton-like atmosphere while Las Venturas will no doubt feature lots of glitz and neon lights. Judging from the sense of humor displayed in previous games, something is also telling me we’ll see at least one Siegfried and Roy joke thrown in while traveling down the Strip.

Mr. JQ Smooth

In San Andreas, how you look will tell a lot about who you are. Building on the ability to change Tommy’s clothes in Vice City, San Andreas will allow players to customize the look of the main character, CJ, to their liking. Nearly every aspect of CJ can be customized, from his hair to his clothes and even tattoos. The option to change clothes and hair styles isn't added fluff and plays a major part of the game as a whole. CJ's look will influence how well respected he is in the community. The sharper he looks, the more people will take notice and the more authority he'll be able to gain within his gang, the Orange Grove Families.

Several barbershops will be littered throughout San Andreas. Among them is Reece's, which is the local shop in CJ’s neighborhood. Here players will be able to choose from a variety of hairstyles, including cornrows, a jheri curl or even the bald look. Players will also be able to choose from a number of tattoos to apply to their character. The tattoos you get will help identify aspects of your personality like where you're from and who you hang out with. Tattoos can also be used as an identifying tool. Certain tattoos will show you which gangs people are in, a method that will also be used by the police. Since tattoos are more permanent than hair or clothes, the police will be able to identify you no matter how you change your look after an arrest.

After a trip to the barber and tattoo shop, CJ needs to dress for success. When the game opens, CJ will be outfitted with plain pants and a t-shirt. As he goes through the game and acquires money, he can spend it on new outfits. Eventually, he'll have to start wearing the gang colors, which will gain him both respect from his gang and scorn from rivals. Wearing gang colors will allow rival gang members (and the police) to easily pick CJ out from the crowd. If CJ happens to stumble into rival territory, he better be ready for a fight. Colors will also allow the cops to identify his allegiances.

What clothes you wear will prove to be just as important as the colors you wear. Various stores will be scattered throughout San Andreas that will cater to different looks. Some, like Binco, will carry discount merchandise geared towards poorer citizens. Other stores, like SubUrban and ProLaps, will carry more high-end, name brand apparel. The prices of items in these shops will, of course, be steeper, but they will also carry with them more prestige within certain gangs.

The more "successful" CJ looks, the more people will take notice of him. Women will give him a second look and men will fear him. CJ will keep everything you buy and will be able to change between outfits to help better fit the situation. Some missions will even require that CJ wear certain outfits, such as ski masks during robbery missions. What you are wearing will also influence people’s reactions. Walking around in high-priced sneakers may impress members within your gang, but they may also cause people in your neighborhood to shy away from you.

Body type will effect how CJ looks as well as things like stamina, health and strength. Managing CJ's body type will depend greatly on the how the player runs his life and plays the game. Different types of food will be available in the game, from pizza to burgers. Each food type will carry with it a caloric value, which translates into how much energy and fat CJ gets from them. Running around and riding bikes, as well as eating the right types of food, will result in a stronger, trimmer, faster CJ. On the opposite end of the spectrum, over eating and driving everywhere will have negative consequences. CJ will become slower and weaker. He won't be able to perform many in-game actions, like running, lifting, swimming -- any physical activity. His stamina will also take a hit, resulting in slower reaction times. Members of the community, especially the ladies, will also react to how your body looks, influencing their respect for you. Even the best clothes can't make some people look good.

Keeping fit will require CJ to work out. He'll be able to do this by going to the gym or riding a bike. While gaining strength through activities like curls and lifting weights, CJ can also learn new fighting techniques and combos. Depending on which gym CJ decides to train at, he'll be able to learn different types of fighting styles, like martial arts and street fighting.

Thug Life

Life in San Andreas is about more than just looking good; crime also plays a big part of the daily grind. True to previous GTA games, living on the wrong side of the law will be the main focus of San Andreas. This will not only involve doing jobs for certain people and auto theft, but will also include new crimes like breaking into people's houses.

Crime will take on a different aspect this time around. CJ will still perform missions for people, but he won't always be paid for the job. His motivation for crime is completely different from the characters in other GTA games. He's not just someone's thug with his mind on money and power. However, money still plays an important role in the game and is needed for progressing CJ's mission. This means that he'll have to steal in order to make ends meet, which will involve having to fence people's stuff. This isn't as easy as it sounds as it will require planning, smarts and the right tools.

The first thing you'll need to acquire is a getaway van. Carjacking will stick close to its roots, but now people will put up more of a fight. Some people will give up their car with little resistance, but others will put up a fight. This means that CJ will have to resort to other methods in order to acquire new wheels, like pistol-whipping them or bashing their heads into the steering wheel. Of course, there’s always the option of carjacking someone at gunpoint. After you have your wheels, you will need to pick up some trade tools, such as a ski mask (to hide your face) and weapons. Weapon selection will be important since noisy weapons might alert neighbors to trouble.

You'll also have to wait until after dark before pulling a heist, otherwise the neighbors will see you or the owners will be home (apparently there’s a high unemployment rate in San Andreas). Sometimes you’ll get lucky and the poor sap will leave his doors unlocked. Other times you’ll have to find another way into the house, like breaking a window.

Once inside a house, you'll have to keep an eye out for both the residents (who will hopefully be sleeping) and valuables. If you make a lot of noise, the inhabitants may wake up and react in different ways. Some will call the police or may just hide in fear, others will come at you with both barrels, so be ready for anything. If stealth isn't your thing you could always choose to remove the residents, which could have greater consequences later on.

The items you can snatch from houses will have greater value placed on them by your fence. Because of this, it’s important to keep your eyes out for more expensive looking merchandise. Depending on which neighborhoods you make your target, you'll be able to find objects which will bring in more money.

In the event that you're caught, you'll have to deal with smarter cops. The police department will stop at nothing in order to keep the streets free of crime, making CJ's chosen path that much harder. He may have the best intentions in mind, but there's no grey area as far as the law is concerned. Cops will resort to a variety of tactics while in pursuit. This may not seem like anything new, but the tactics displayed in San Andreas will be slightly better than the predictable patterns found in Vice City. While in pursuit, the police will open fire on your vehicle and will attack from all angles, even going so far as to ram your car from the side or try and cut off escape routes. If you’re able to escape the ground troops, they break out the helicopters and spotlights. Not only will this make it even harder for you to escape, but it will also affect your aim when trying to shoot at cops in the direction the light is coming from. The police will also take cover and use more group tactics than previous games. This time, 911 ain’t a joke.

Down for the Hood

The concept of turf is nothing new to the GTA series, and it will play an even bigger part in San Andreas. The higher your influence in the gang, the more loyalty members will have towards you. If you’re threatened by anything in your home turf, members will have your back. On the flip side, other gangs will have their member’s best interests in mind when in their territory. This makes it important to know exactly where everyone’s turf is. If you’re being chased by the cops, heading into your territory will cause your members to jump into the action and help you out – possibly even giving you an easy way to escape.

Just like the police, rival gangs, as well as your own, won’t always hit you with the same tactics. One time they may hit your with a few of their weaker members and leave you be. Another time they may send the big dogs out.

Peace Out

It goes without saying that Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is one of the most anticipated releases on the PS2. This also means that it will probably be one of the more highly scrutinized titles, especially from the people who found Vice City to be little more than rehash of GTA 3. So far, it looks like Rockstar is throwing everything it can into San Andreas, which means bigger everything, including controversy. Make sure you clear out some time at the end of October, you’re going to need it.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker
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