Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas [RATED M]
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Rockstar Games' cornerstone Grand Theft Auto series returns for a third run through the 128-bit generation, with this violent, mature-themed third-person shooter and mission-based driving game. Set in the early-'90s gang culture of "San Andreas," a fictional U.S. region modeled after California, the adventure plays out across the entire virtual state, with action centered in its three main cities: Los Santos (based on Los Angeles), San Fiero (San Francisco), and Las Venturas (Las Vegas). Like its immediate predecessor, Vice City, San Andreas strives to provide a wide, deep foundation for its free-form criminal gameplay by setting the story in a slightly exaggerated representation of a familiar (if not glorified) American subculture. As Vice City seemed inspired by Miami Vice, and the pastel-decked, "me generation" ideals of the early '80s, San Andreas is set in a time and place suggested by films like Boyz 'N the Hood, Menace II Society, or Colors, where riots eventually brought a whole city to a halt and awakened new consciousness across the country. Players take the role of a young man named Carl "C.J." Johnson, who thought he had escaped the gangland lifestyle by moving away from his Los Santos home. When his mother is murdered, he returns to the neighborhood of his childhood, only to become embroiled with threats and danger from all sides. Because of his family and friends who remained in Los Santos, he's considered an enemy-on-sight to rival gang members. Even worse, perhaps, the corrupt local law enforcement frames him for a crime he did not commit. To clear his name and save his family, C.J. sets out on a long journey that will lead him all across the state. More than any earlier GTA game, San Andreas features strong elements of role-playing and character development, encouraging players to customize their version of C.J. as they play through his adventure on their own terms. Unlike the protagonist of GTA 3, or Vice City's Tommy Vercetti, C.J. isn't really working for some underworld organization or crime boss mastermind -- he's out to take care of himself and his own family. He is not driven by the immediate promise of wealth or promotion; his goals are far more personal. He must steer the direction of his exploits, to follow them to a satisfactory end. Also in the theme of giving more control of over the lead character's development, players will take care of C.J.'s day-to-day needs. Food presents the easiest way to replenish lost health, so when he is hungry, he'll need to eat -- perhaps at one of San Andreas' fast food chains, like "Cluckin' Bell," or "Burger Shot." If he doesn't eat enough, C.J. will become thin and weak, but too much fast food without any exercise will cause him to grow fat and slow. Players can also choose the clothes that C.J. wears, and have him get customized tattoos. C.J. has to come up with any money he needs for these things on his own, however, since there won't always be some boss character waiting to pay him off as he completes his missions. One way to scratch up some quick cash is by robbing homes at night. When he jacks the right kind of van and puts on his ski mask, C.J. enters a stealth mode, and is more likely to be able to sneak into a house, nab some valuables, and head off to the local fence before the residents even wake up. Overall, San Andreas is in the same format and style that won millions of fans for GTA 3 and Vice City, but it features a number gameplay adjustments and improvements. In addition to C.J.'s stealth mode, he can also swim; a wrong turn off the pier will no longer result in an instant trip to the emergency ward, and if all else fails, the protagonist may even be able to evade pursuers by taking a quick dip. The game's targeting system has also been adjusted. Using triggers and both analog sticks (à la Manhunt), players take more complete control of C.J., and can have him run and strafe, change targets, and shoot in almost any direction, even while moving in another.