You'd be hard-pressed to find a game more eagerly anticipated than Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. From the information on the game that's trickled out so far, it seems that San Andreas will continue to evolve the simple but ultimately revolutionary free-roaming mission-based system that was introduced in GTA III. But Rockstar North is aiming to do more than simply offer the same kind of experience we've played before in the upcoming San Andreas. The game will take a dramatic departure from the previous entries in the series and will borrow liberally from both traditional Japanese dating sims and turn-based strategy games to create a new gameplay hybrid that--OK, no. Rockstar North is savvy enough to know that it can't rest on its laurels, but the team isn't insane either.
San Andreas is being crafted to be an ambitious entry in the franchise, even by Grand Theft Auto's own revolutionary standards. While the core experience will stick close to Rockstar's winning formula of gritty criminal mayhem, San Andreas will also feature a host of new gameplay features that will make the world you'll explore even more interactive. Over the next few months, we'll be taking a look at these new features, and we'll be sharing new information and assets with you as well.
The first feature we'll be looking at is San Andreas' food mechanic, which will require you to keep your virtual alter ego, CJ, in good physical condition by tracking down some choice grub. The basics of the mechanic are simple: When CJ is hungry, a message will appear onscreen alerting you to his need for some chow. If you choose to ignore this missive, his energy level will start to decrease, and a host of other bad things will begin to happen. Superficially, your boy will get skinny and look generally emaciated, resulting in the ill-fitting of his clothes, which is hardly the look you want to have when trying to earn respect on the streets.
As if this wasn't bad enough, you won't just look weak. Your skinny butt will be unable to lift boxes or punch with any kind of force, thus ensuring many a beat-down in hand-to-hand fights. Along the same lines, you can say goodbye to speed and stamina, which will affect your performance as you swim, cycle, or run through the game.
To keep yourself from looking like Snoop Dogg's sickly cousin, you'll have to seek out places to chow down. We've been hipped to a few of the locales in Los Santos, the LA-inspired city in the state of San Andreas, where CJ will be able to get his food on. As with the previous GTA games, you can expect the food service establishments in San Andreas to mirror real-life locales--but with satirical twists.
To wit, three of the franchise restaurants in the game are Cluckin' Bell, Well Stacked Pizza, and Burger Shot. Cluckin' Bell is the obligatory chicken shack that you'd find in most any civilized town. The Bell's menu is all about chicken, and it features such specialties as the Cluckin' Big Filet Burger and the Cluckin' Huge Double Filet. There's also a wings-pieces bucket and a "fowl wrap" burrito. Well Stacked Pizza is a pizzeria whose menu includes such pie variations as The Buster, The D-luxe, and The Double D-luxe. Finally, Burger Shot will offer delicacies such as the Double Barreled Burger, for those craving a regular dose of ground beef.
The restaurants are given an extra touch of realism, and it's a touch that's no doubt unpleasant for some. The employee uniforms for Cluckin' Bell and Burger Shot are of the fantastically demoralizing variety that anyone who's worked in fast food knows and loathes. However, if you're on the go (as any good gangsta should be, since sit-down meals beg for assassination attempts) and you don't want to hit up one of the above establishments, you can always stop by one of the vending carts that you'll find peppered throughout the city. An added bonus is that, based on our screenshot, it appears said carts are manned by moonlighting supermodels--which is never a bad thing.
Now, while it's clear Rockstar wants you to keep CJ fed in the game, just chowing down on anything and everything isn't going to do you any favors either. You obviously don't want CJ getting freakishly skinny and weak, but, at the same time, you don't need his morbidly obese butt rolling down the streets either. Each of the menu items we've mentioned has a specific caloric value that will affect how much CJ's energy and fat levels will increase. Finding the right balance between the two is a must, because eating too much can have some unpleasant results.
First and foremost, you will become fatter and fatter, resulting in the unpleasant sight of CJ bulging out of his clothes. Your tough saunter will become a waddle, and you won't be able to put your arms by your side. To drive the point home, you'll notice CJ struggling to catch his breath when standing still. If you let CJ reach obese proportions, expect the extra pounds to impact everything he does that involves physical exertion, such as lifting, climbing, swimming, cycling, running, and so on. You'll even find that some actions will be impossible to perform once CJ balloons up enough. His reaction time will be slow when fighting, and his pudgy bod will make a target so big your grandmamma could hit it.
To add insult to injury, expect to see non-player-character reactions to you change depending on your appearance. So plan on being taunted and not having much success with the ladies if you're too tubby. There really is nothing worse than being verbally abused by bandanna-wearing gang members in your own hood. Seriously. Worse still, if your rotund avatar has too much to eat, he'll just throw up, which isn't great either, because the money you spent on food will have gone to waste, and you'll be unable to buy more food for a while.
So what do you do to ensure that you'll be in tip-top shape? Eat properly, and wisely avoid binges. And, when in doubt, work out. While we can't go into too much detail on the game's exercise system just yet, we will say that, like the food mechanic, exercise seems like a simple gameplay addition at first but features a nice bit of depth to it. The benefits to having a healthy, fit CJ are pretty obvious. In peak condition, CJ will be faster and stronger. Additionally, he'll have more stamina and will demonstrate a quicker recovery time.
The key thing to note is that skinny doesn't necessarily mean fit. You'll have to manage CJ's development of fat and muscle to have him be in optimal physical condition. Once you understand how the system works, you'll be able to have a custom CJ that you can physically tailor at your whim. For example, you can have CJ be relatively thin and possess little stamina, but you can also have him exercise and build up his strength to the point that he hits like a tank. The system appears to feature some nice, subtle touches that will affect your experience in the game based on how other characters react to CJ's overall appearance. The potential fat and muscle combinations can make for some very interesting looks for CJ.
While there's no word on how much of San Andreas' food will be Atkins-friendly, the food system seems like it could be an interesting addition to a series already known for quirky but compelling features. The character development and maintenance mechanics we've discussed here are far more complex than in the previous Grand Theft Autos, and they're frankly pretty innovative for the action genre in general. (How many games let you gain and lose weight?) We'll have more on GTA: San Andreas in the weeks to come. Until then, check out nine exclusive screenshots on the game's