Wassup homies! Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is the latest, and possibly the greatest, of Rockstar's infamous crim sims. However, unlike the previous 3D excursions into Liberty City and Vice City, San Andreas is actually a whole state - basically a parody of California - that includes the three huge cities of Los Santos (Los Angeles), San Fierro (San Francisco) and Las Venturas (Las Vegas), plus acres of hillbilly, banjo-plucking countryside in between.
Set in the early 1990s, GTA: San Andreas follows the fortunes of Carl Johnson, who returns to his old, run-down 'hood in Los Santos after hearing that his mum has died. CJ must first earn respect from his local gang, joining up and completing missions such as robbing an army base, nabbing explosives from a moving train and popping a cap into rival gang members.
Rockstar North - never a developer to shirk from inserting brave new ideas into GTA - has excelled this time with, wait for it, role-playing game elements. Now obviously we're not talking about shields, goblin magic and wizard hats (God forbid), but you do have a host of stats such as respect, stamina, muscle and sex appeal. The latter will be affected by the clothes, tattoos, hair and jewellery you buy, for example (all available in various stores), and any physical attributes will be affected by diet. Yep, CJ has to eat at certain points, and if you only scoff at fast food restaurants like the Cluckin' Bell chicken restaurant, you'll end up with a flabby body only a big mama would love. So, unless you want to keep getting busted - even by donut-eating cops - you'll have to go running or haul your fat ass down the gym to burn it all off.
San Andreas has some tasty new vehicles to jack including a BMX bike, a very sleek low-rider car (that can be tilted in all directions), a tractor, a locomotive and -
get this - CJ can even parachute or base jump from buildings! Almost too cool. You can now also swim (no more sad, drowning episodes), talk to pedestrians, play
coin-op videogames in the arcades and even gamble in the casinos of Las Venturas. Rockstar North has even added an element of stealth, so you can sneak up on people to slice them from behind - useful when completing goon-heavy missions and burgling houses for loot.
There's more. Probably even more exciting is the prospect of two-player missions, where you and a mate can choose a character and go on a killing spree, then kiss each other - just like Bonnie and Clyde. Rockstar is keeping the plans for
its PC conversion of GTA: San Andreas close to its hairy, gold medallion-wearing chest, but we're quietly hoping for online versions of the multiplayer mini-games for more than just two players. In any case, with its licensed radio stations pumping out Public Enemy, Faith No More, The Stone Roses and Cypress Hill, plus another A-list Hollywood cast including Samuel L Jackson, Peter Fonda, Shaun Ryder and Axl Rose, GTA: San Andreas is da bizniz. Word. Ahem.