[[GTA Gets Bigger]]
It is not often that a game's success is guaranteed but when Rockstar North are about to deliver a GTA title, we all know who's going to top the holiday sales charts. Following usual Rockstar policy, the developers have been releasing a steady, carefully-controlled stream of GTA:SA details but never enough to satisfy the numerous fans of the franchise.
According to Rockstar this time round the GTA series is getting a full make-over, the biggest one since the title moved from 2D-to full 3D.
The biggest change is, of course, scale. GTA has moved from the tiny and rather flat Liberty City to the well-rounded but limited Vice City to an entire state, San Andreas. A state named after a fault may not sound like the best idea but it's the first in a long line of clues reminding us that San Andreas is based on a real state. If that doesn't ring any bells how about cities with names such as Los Santos and San Fierro?
This time round the series stays true to its roots by tackling the controversial theme of gangs and urban violence, in its usual very tactful and subtle way. If you thought the mob that run Vice City was ruthless you will be shocked by the hailstorm of carjackings, drive-by's, hold-up's and general acts of random violence that GTA:SA will throw your way.
Unfortunately for most fans, developers have gone on record confirming that GTA:SA will not feature multiplayer, sad news for fans of MultiTheftAuto (MTA) a modification for GTA:VC which gave PC users hours of online mayhem. Another GTA fact which makes some gamers uncomfortable is that GTA:SA, being a PS2 first title, may not fully exploit the technical capabilities of the PC and may just end up a simple PS2 to PC port. Is Rockstar planning to change the game for the PC? How exactly can GTA:SA improve technologically on GTA:VC if the hardware remains identical? All reasonable questions which will be addressed by this preview.
GTA:SA is expected October 26 2004 for the PS2 and sometime in the New Year for the PC with an XBox version also suspected.
Carl Johnson, CJ, the game's main character, has been living in Liberty City for the past five years or so, supposedly trying to escape Los Santos where he grew up. The real reason however, is to avoid dealing with the death of his ten year old brother Brian, and he's managing to get by until yesterday when his older brother calls him up to tell him that his mother has been killed. He immediately hops back on a plane to go home to Los Santos to be with his family. As soon as CJ gets to Los Santos he is picked-up by a couple of crooked cops who dump him in a rival gang's territory. Exactly at that point in time, the gamer, you, comes in.
Los Santos, San Andreas is a city tearing itself apart with gang trouble, drugs and corruption. It is a city where filmstars and millionaires do their best to avoid the dealers and gangbangers.
The timeline of the game is the early 90s and CJ will be forced on a journey that will take him across the entire state of San Andreas, to save his family and to take control of the streets.
The main strength of the GTA series has been its excellent and very innovative gameplay. San Andreas plans to use the trademark gameplay features that have made the series such a success and enhance them by utilising new technologies and gamer input.
The gunplay mechanic has been completely reworked in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. True to the series' heritage, R1 will remain the button that engages the targeting system and you can still fire your weapon randomly by pressing Circle at any point, however a brand new targeting control scheme has been implemented.
Once you've held down R1, a number of options open up for targeting enemies. CJ will first attempt to target the closest hostile enemy, circumventing any non-hostiles. Failing that, he'll target the closest target in front of him within a range just over 90 degrees. If there isn't a target within this field, he'll go into free aim mode with the weapon. The camera settles down behind him and a reticle appears in the center of the screen. The analog sticks now behave very differently than in normal on-foot action. The left analog moves CJ forward and backward, and strafes him left and right. The right analog moves the camera angle up, down, left and right.
The effect is that the game feels more like a classic third person shooter and, using both sticks, the player can quickly get a bead on any target they like without using the auto-lock targeting system. A perceptive reader by now may have noticed a problem. If you're using the right analog to target enemies, how are you going to shoot using Circle? L1 is now your trigger button, but only in target mode!
It's still possible, and in some cases preferable, to use R2 and L2 to rapidly cycle through locked-on targets, and if you're in free target mode and want to snap to a target, just tap R2 or L2 (whichever is in the direction of the target) and CJ will lock right on. The system has been designed to give players the option to target however they like.
Like many other aspects of the game, weapons will have a skill level associated with them, and CJ's proficiency with a particular gun can be developed over time. As you use a weapon more and more frequently, you'll upgrade:
Reload Time - A huge factor, as CJ gets better with a weapon he will need to spend fewer critical seconds reloading.
Fire Rate - The firing rate of guns in San Andreas is affected by CJ's skill with it. More bullets in less time means your targets go down more quickly!
Accuracy - As CJ gets better with a weapon, his accuracy with it will improve. You'll notice as you're firing weapons that the circle outside the reticle will now expand and contract to visualize your current accuracy. As in previous Grand Theft Autos, crouching will bump up your accuracy too!
Weapon Stance & Movement - Weapons have different associated abilities that they unlock. For example with certain weapons you unlock the ability to move while firing, others you get an improved weapon stance as CJ learns how to handle the gun, or faster strafe speed, even the ability to move backwards while firing!
Dual Weapons - The ultimate of upgrades. As CJ gets better with weapons, some allow him to hold two weapons at a time, doubling his firing rate and length of time that he can go without a reload.
Countryside Firearm - The Desert Eagle
Affectionately known as the DEAGLE the world over, this massive handgun packs more stopping power per round than any weapon except for the sniper rifles. When CJ first starts using it, he can barely hold onto it when squeezing the trigger. As he gets more used to the weapon, he'll become more and more proficient with it. Without a doubt, one of the most lethal new guns in CJ's arsenal.
Hand held weapons have always been a firm fan favorite in the Grand Theft Auto games. Vice City took this side of combat to a whole new level with the introduction of the traditional Katana, classic tools like the Chainsaw and the infamous Golf Club, each with their own wielding animation.
A new range of destructive implements are at CJs disposal. Some classics will make an appearance as well as some fresh new additions to hand-to-hand arsenal.
It is now possible for CJ to lock on to opponent while wielding a weapon. This enables the player to circle their enemy, choosing the right time to make their attack. Pressing square will also make CJ block. This blocking move will vary dependant on the weapon currently held.
Each of the weapons features a number of different attacks that are available to CJ and a massive amount of effort has gone into making sure every strike with every weapon has its own set of animations complete with some greatly satisfying finishing moves! This makes each tool feel and play very differently.
Countryside Weapon - The Shovel
One of the many new weapons featured in San Andreas is one that no aspiring mobster travels without - the classic garden shovel. This universally utilized tool, often found in people's back yards, is famous for providing the ability to perform important soil related tasks such as digging shallow graves, threatening people in a farmer like fashion and making a very satisfying 'klunk' when the head of the spade meets someone's head.
The Crop Duster
Since San Andreas is so large, planes play a much larger role in the game. Once you've started spending time out in the countryside and traveling between cities, using a plane to get around starts to make a lot of sense! Because of this, Rockstar North have designed a whole range of new airborne vehicles for CJ to fly. The new dodo has full wings now and so it obviously handles much better. It's not meant to be fast, but is solid and has responsive handling. There's actually an altimeter in the bottom left hand corner that appears when you're in aircraft to show you how high you are off the ground.
Plane physics have been reworked to allow for faster and more maneuverable planes like the Crop Duster which is a biplane with two wing surfaces to carve through the air, giving it much better handling. Since you'll be doing things like barrel rolls, hammerheads and loops often, Rockstar North have added an attitude meter that appears over the in-game map in the lower-left hand corner. It shows your plane's relation to the horizon so you have a sense of where the ground is after your third barrel roll!
Mountain Biking Downhill
If you manage to hike all the way up to the top of Mount Chiliad (of if you were smart, and have enough biking skill, ride up on a bike) then you'll find a race starting at the top for you to participate in. Hopefully you will have honed CJ's cycling skill by the time you attempt this race, because you'll need every bit of skill you can muster. Covering a torturous, winding track down the side of Mount Chiliad at extremely high speeds, this downhill race is the ultimate in cycling tests.
Since the mountain bike has a number of gears (chosen automatically), it has a much higher top speed than the BMX CJ grew up riding in East Los Santos. Bunnyhopping is still possible on the mountain bike, but you'd be much better off just riding around obstacles, as going airborne at this altitude can be suicide! Just a word of warning: the other racers in this championship aren't very courteous, sportsman-like opponents and they will take full advantage of any errors you make, having no qualms about barreling into you or knocking you off the side of the mountain. But, finish first at the bottom and you'll be on your way to the mountain biking championship. You aren't king of the mountain til you've conquered these races!
Working Bull Dozer
A vehicle designed to literally plow right though anything, the Dozer has massive amounts of torque to drive it forward. The plow works just like you'd expect it to in real life; it can be raised up and down (with the right analog) to flip cars, terrorize sidewalks, and cause general chaos and destruction.
There are all sorts of objects in San Andreas that you can now destroy; discarded milk crates, white picket fences, small to medium sized plants, outdoor furniture, anything that looks like you should be able to run it down with a big vehicle can probably be smashed. This is very gratifying and adds a new layer of interactivity to the Grand Theft Auto world. Keep in mind that you're not the only one who can and will be smashing up the map as you drive around. Anyone else foolish enough to run into things at high speeds will be wreaking havoc as well. Watch out, because San Andreas is an unpredictable place!
The Dozer also features new steering physics - rear-wheel steering. The bulldozer has all of it's steering in the back and the front wheels are locked in place, just like the real machine. It's a bit unusual at first to those who aren't use to driving a Bulldozer!
Keep an eye out for this last ditch ride! If there isn't anything else around and CJ is scrambling through backyards and fences to get away from some heat, this may just provide the escape you're looking for. While not as fast as a proper car, it's better than hoofing it!
RU Haul is a friendly little shipping company in the rolling hills west of Los Santos. The owner there is always happy to get an extra driver ... and pay them cash for towing some cargo. Any time CJ wants to swing by, there will be work for him here.
To pull the goods, CJ will be driving a classic 18-wheeler. The largest road vehicle in the game, the semi features full articulated physics. This means that the trailer behaves and acts like a trailer actually should; it'll whip around a corner and lose grip if you take a turn too fast, jackknifing just like you'd expect from a real-world 18-wheeler. Like all the vehicles in Grand Theft Auto, the semi-truck feels exactly like it should. If the trailer does disconnect, you have the option to connect to it again, getting back on the road and underway to your destination.
Deliveries pay cash, but you have to be on time or watch your fee get cut in half. There's serious money to be made hauling goods too, thousands for lower-level projects and up into the tens of thousands for "hot" goods that the police might be interested in. If you're short, try a little work for RU Haul!
Also, keep in mind that gas-filled tankers make stellar rolling bombs. Any time you want to take out a group of guys in an area, speed the tanker towards the group, and dive out of the cab. Pop up with a rocket launcher and light it up!
There a number of races that take place out in the country. Whether its rock climbing in 4x4 or big air motorcross races on the Sanchez, there's plenty to satisfy your off-road cravings.
Other gameplay elements:
Fires in San Andreas
Fires are a serious and perennial problem in the real California. In San Andreas also, since the state can be so dry, fires can quickly spread out of control. Any bit of flame can easily flare up and cover a large area in almost no time. CJ can, and will, intentionally or incidentally, start fires from time to time, throwing Molotov cocktails or detonating a car. As your damaged car explodes, the fire can quickly spread to other nearby cars and objects. Buildings can go up just as rapidly as dry kindling out in the forests. When the fire is raging right in your line of escape you'll be thankful that the San Andreas Fire Department are usually on the scene pretty quickly, but there are times when they fail to show up. Luckily CJ himself can now use fire extinguishers to fight fires, and clear his path, or maybe he just wants to save that innocent old woman trapped on her porch by a wall of flame? When disaster strikes, CJ can be ready with a fire extinguisher.
He can pick these up fire extinguishers all over the place, but a great place to find one is any Burger Shot or Cluckin Bell restaurant, where grease fires are an almost daily hazard. Pick one up, aim for the bottom of the flame (just like real life) and pull the trigger to smother the flames. It never hurts to be prepared, if you know things are going to get hot, it's a good idea to have one just in case.
New Foliage with Different Kinds of Plants
The countryside in San Andreas is a huge place, connecting the three cities with an incredibly varied landscape. Rockstar North have developed a sophisticated technology that draws in foliage around you, a technique known as procedural rendering. The level designers tag areas as different kinds of terrain. These terrain types then have designated kinds of plants etc attached to them - for example different kinds of underbrush and grass and even rocks and fallen logs -and the game automatically draws them in. This technique allows for a vast, fleshed out world full of unique areas to explore.
There are dozens of different kinds of plants in San Andreas.
The moon now goes through phases in San Andreas. The game keeps track of the days you've spent in the world, it even knows what day of the week it is! As time goes by, the moon will slowly cycle through a 30 day change. For those of you who don't venture out of the city into the countryside much, take a look up as night falls in the San Andreas countryside, the sky is clearer out there and the moon is brighter.
Gang warfare has been the driving force behind the GTA series and it plays a very important role in San Andreas too. Rockstar, in previous GTA titles, has handled gang dynamics with brutal honesty and has ended up facing a variety of accusations and threats of banning its games. Vice City for example was criticized extensively for its depiction of the Haitians, especially in Miami, the real world equivalent of VC.
In San Andreas, also known as, the Gang State, turf wars, drive-by-shootings and gang related violence are everyday occurrences. Los Santos, CJs home town is divided into territories by the four main gangs, the Ballas, the Orange Grove Families, the Vagos, and the Varrios Los Aztecas. In usual Rockstar fashion, the research into the game has been extensive while the detail is stunning. Gangs of the nineties used clothing and tattoos to identify themselves and they do so in San Andreas too.
Since turf is the most important asset of any gang, you have to always be aware on who's part of the city you are, intruders from rival gangs are definitely not welcome, while your own (Orange Grove members or allies from the Temple Drive Families) can assist if you run into trouble with the law.
As in Vice City, music will play an important part in setting the tone for the game, especially in getting you into the 90's mood. Rockstar has released a little flash application which offers a brief preview of the Radio stations involved. You can get to the preview by following the download tab above.
DJ: Johnny The Love Giant Parkinson
The world's smallest giant, Johnny Parkinson, takes you on a musical, spiritual and sexual journey with a sound track of nonstop classics. The giants of soul, rare groove and just a little classic funk, hosted by the giant himself. Remember, height is not a number.
DJ: Forth Right MC
The mouthiest man in hip-hop, Forth Right MC, brings real
hip-hop to the left coast. East Coast sensibilities and Forth Right's unique brand of conspiracy theory lead you in a history lesson.
DJ: The Funktipus
The indescribable Funktipus plays the indefinable funk. The sound that has had Los Santos partying for twenty years is now on 'The Party', on Bounce FM. The Funktipus will open your eyes to what is really happening out there.
DJ: Tommy The Nightmare Smith
Tommy Smith, formerly with 1970s progressive rock act, Crystal Ship, has now taken up residence on the home of driving rock radio. K-DST 'The Dust' plays non-stop classic rock and roll.
DJ: Marshall Peters & Johnny Lawton
From JA to SA. The legendary Marshall Law sound system has moved from Kingston to San Andreas, bringing with them the best in dancehall, raga, reggae and dub. It's one love as Peters and Lawton argue about everything.
DJ: Philip PM Michaels
Chart topping and club friendly hits, brought to you by Philip PM Michaels, entertainer. New Jack Swing and modern soul from today's hottest acts. Where soul meets preppy. Philip is also available for weddings, funerals and Bar Mitzvahs.
Radio X - The Alternative
Finally, there IS an alternative. The home of Modern Rock. This is a revolution. Guitars, nihilistic hedonism, and telling the elder generation to go screw themselves. Nobody has done this before. We are original thinkers. We are free. Sage leads the navel gazing; she is a remarkable talent.
DJ: Mary-Beth Maybell
A broken heart never sounded so good. Country and western music broadcast from Bone County across the whole state of San Andreas. All of the biggest artists, all of the best music. With the Widow Queen of the Prairie, Mary-Beth Maybell.
Radio Los Santos
DJ: Julio G
Julio G breaks the sound of the streets. This is the West Coast taking over.
DJ: Hans Oberlander
Quality house music, from deep in the underground, brought to you by an excitable German. This is music for people in the know.
When Rockstar makes a game, gaming hearts all over the world skip a beat, when the title is a GTA game those hearts sprint to our mouths. San Andreas is no exception. Rockstar has proved, as each sequel in the GTA series was released, that it is taking GTA to the next level and has not treated the series as a cash-cow.
As GTA made the transition to 3D, gamers were treated to an exquisite visual and gameplay display with Vice City offering an unparalleled open ended experience. The amount of research and detail that has, so far, gone into the games is extensive and many gamers will remember the Miami Vice feel of VC and the way it captured the 802 in its scenery, colours and soundtrack. The innovative use of music was not a lucky move but proof that hard work and imagination by a game developer can break the current creative deadlock which is plaguing the industry. Although technically a sequel, Vice City broke the mould and offered a highly original experience which shocked the big publishers by demonstrating that good work is rewarded.
The success of San Andreas is not in doubt, Rockstar promises a huge, polished and well crafted game with more detail than our little gray boxes can handle and more freedom than ever before. Rockstar also claims that we will be given a full U.S. state to roam around in; and the good thing about Rockstar is that it always delivers on its promises.
As gamers we can only hope that the game quickly reaches the PC and XBox formats so that as many gamers as possible get to play it. We also have some hope that bright programmers such as the people behind MultiTheftAuto, get to work on SA in order to produce some form of online experience. Since we are just over a week away from the U.S. release of the game I can only direct you to the Screens tab above so that you can begin to prepare for San Andreas.