It's well known already that Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas will be by far the biggest in Rockstar's blockbuster series of open-ended criminal action games when the game ships this October. Question is, what kinds of activities will you be filling your time with as you explore a state-sized chunk of land that features three huge urban sprawls? In recent weeks, GameSpot was the first to bring you details on a number of key, new features and details in GTA: San Andreas, such as the food system, bike tricks, and gym workouts. In addition, we provided an intimate look at the streets of Los Santos, San Andreas' LA-style capital city. This week, though, we've got perhaps the most intriguing update yet, and suffice it to say we can't come up with any euphemisms for it. So let's cut to the chase and tell you all about breaking into people's homes and robbing them blind. And after that, be sure to stick around for details on how to swim in San Andreas. (Say goodbye to treacherous instant death-by-water!)
Latter-day GTA games have allowed you to take on story missions as well as some optional side missions, such as ferrying folks around Crazy Taxi-style in taxicabs, fighting fires in fire trucks, or requisitioning cop cars for some vigilante justice. Vice City added pizza delivery missions, which were good for a chuckle but maybe didn't seem like an appropriate use of ambitious gangster Tommy Vercetti's time. In turn, San Andreas will feature what sounds like the most intense, deepest, and most lucrative side mission-type in the series to date: robbery.
Robbery will be a means to an end in GTA: San Andreas. That's because money will be very important in the game, since you'll need it not just to equip yourself with the hardware you'll need to survive but also because it'll be the key to main character CJ's influence and ability to move freely about the state. Unfortunately for you and CJ, you won't automatically rake in dough each time you complete a story mission like you did in previous GTA games. After all, CJ's not some hired goon. He'll end up doing much of his dirty work on account of his friends and family. Still, he'll need cash. And to earn it, he'll be able to break into people's homes, steal their valuables, and then sell these items to a fence.
One of the very first images released for GTA: San Andreas--the one seen above--showed a gang of armed hoods sneaking up on a residence in the dead of night, shotguns drawn. This image turns out to be highly reflective of the new robbery missions in the game, which represent a new type of "R3" mission. This means that, just like with the taxi or vigilante jobs, you'll initiate them at will simply by pressing down on the right analog stick when behind the wheel of the appropriate vehicle. What's an appropriate vehicle for a robbery? A moving truck, of course. Find one, switch places with its driver, hit R3, and you're good to go.
Well, actually, maybe not quite. You don't want any eyewitnesses, one way or another, if you intend to bust down some rich snob's back door. So, to prep yourself for a heist, you'd better change out of those shorts and T-shirt and try on something like a ski mask or a balaclava. Naturally, both are available for a fair price from the local sporting goods shop. A baseball bat might not be a bad impulse purchase while you're there, though a visit to the local Ammu-Nation would probably be best for safety's sake.
Then it's time to pick your target. We pointed out last week that rich neighborhoods like Los Santos' Vinewood and Rodeo will be readily apparent from their fancy-pants residents and overpowered sports cars. These may be appropriate locations for you to strike. Alternatively, some quaint, little out-of-the-way homes may offer fewer rewards, but there's much less risk as well. Gotta start small, right?
Read on and we'll tell you all about the fine art of breaking and entering.
Borrowing Without Asking
Interestingly, robbery missions may only take place at night, which makes sense, because you wouldn't want to get the police to catch wind of your scheme in broad daylight. Furthermore, when you walk straight through the unlocked back door of some ignorant sap in the middle of the night, chances are you'll find him sound asleep. Maybe you can take his TV, VCR, stereo, and other valuables without even rousing him. And if not, well...just make sure he doesn't make it to his telephone--or else you'll have company real soon courtesy of the fine folks at the 911 hot line. A pistol or rifle trained on your robbery victim's chest might cause him to throw up his hands in surrender. However, it's up to you to decide how to proceed from this point. Of course, cowards aren't the only people you'll be robbing in San Andreas; some of the state's finer residents will make every effort to defend themselves and their possessions. As a result, you might have a fight on your hands, which is all the more reason to show up ready for anything.
Speaking of which, it's not like everybody's going to leave their doors wide open for you. That's why they've got windows. Bust those suckers open, and climb on in. And if there's a fence barring the way between you and a door or window, well...climb over that bastard too.
Robbery missions will reward you for not making a ruckus. Rockstar recently informed us that as soon as you equip yourself with a ski mask or balaclava, you'll enter into a sneaking mode, causing you to move about more quietly than usual. We've already learned that GTA: San Andreas will incorporate some of the improved gameplay mechanics found in Rockstar North's last game, Manhunt, including that game's improved targeting system. Now we've learned that some of Manhunt's stealth elements will also figure into play. A horizontal noise meter will appear as part of the game's heads-up display, and you'll need to gingerly nudge the left stick to move quietly, or else the noise meter will top out and send some unwanted attention your way. In Manhunt, characters could hear you as well as see you if you weren't standing in shadows, so expect some of those same gameplay refinements to be put to good use in San Andreas.
Rockstar also informed us that San Andreas will feature some new audio technology, making for realistic contextual audio distortions. This will be apparent in such cases as when you're trying to eavesdrop on a conversation in a home you're robbing but are barely able to make out the words that are being said because of the building's solid walls. As another example, when you're in a high-speed chase in a tunnel, the action will sound even more deafening than usual.
At any rate, once you've taken anything of value from the house and have loaded it into your truck, it's time to pawn off all the junk you've "collected" to reap the rewards of your hard night's work. This means it's time to pay a visit to the local fence--that is, the guy that's willing to buy all of your hot goods from you. What you proceed to do with your hard-earned loot is naturally yours to decide. Whether you pig out on fast food, pick up a shotgun, or save up for that local business that's looking for a shrewd investor is up to you.
So it's clear that robbery will be a surefire means of making some money on the hard streets of San Andreas. But will the robbery missions be any fun? We haven't tried them for ourselves yet, but they certainly sound like it. These are apparently complex, multistep affairs that seem much more involved than previous R3 missions in GTA, and they involve driving and on-foot sequences, both outdoors and indoors. One possible hitch is that Rockstar has previously noted that GTA: San Andreas will feature no loading times as you drive across its massive expanse of land. However, there will be brief pauses as you make transitions to and from the insides and outsides of buildings. These brief pauses will probably be along the same lines as the transitional loading times found in Vice City. So that might seem a little discouraging for those enjoying the completely seamless experience that the game provides. On the other hand, though, it sounds like the robbery missions will pack in a lot of variety. You'll never quite know who or what to expect when you make the decision to case a joint. Besides--it sounds like a decidedly action-packed way to while away the wee hours of San Andreas.
Another way to pass the time in the next GTA will be to take a little dip. That's right! Previous GTA protagonists' intense aversions to water will be things of the past this time around, which was recently revealed to us by Rockstar. You'll be able to dive into San Andreas' many rivers--or even the ocean--to cool off, exercise, and more. Plus, getting onto boats from a pier will be a life-or-death affair no longer. Find out all about swimming next.
School of Fish
Swimming will be easy in San Andreas. Jump on into the water and you'll immediately begin treading it--and you'll be able to do so indefinitely. You'll then be able to swim around at a leisurely pace by doing the breaststroke, which requires you to simply move the left analog stick. Alternatively, you'll be able to do the equivalent of sprinting on land by switching to a freestyle swimming stroke. This is handled by pressing and holding the X button; tapping X will make you swim even faster still, but this causes your stamina to drain quickly, so you'll only be able to sustain this pace for so long. Still, swimming as quickly as possible may be just the ticket to a clean getaway. Cops got you pinned down on a bridge? Just dive on down, and wave good-bye to those suckers.
Speaking of diving on down, you'll be able to dive under the surface of the water when you press the circle button. There you'll be able to explore San Andreas' watery wonderland as much as you like--at least until your breath-o-meter runs out, in which case you'll drown. So just remember to come up for air. Rockstar promises that underwater adventures will be worth the trip. Hidden packages, anyone? But there should be a lot more than just a few secrets. Expect to see aquatic life (sharks, perhaps?), as well as a cool refraction effect when you look up past the surface of the water. Incidentally, you're not the only one who knows how to swim in the state of San Andreas, so expect to see other folks swimming in the drink along with you.
The fact that the main character can swim may not sound like a big deal, but anyone who's spent some time with recent GTA games and anyone who spends a few moments thinking about the ramifications that water in the game is no longer equivalent to molten lava will realize the potential here. For one thing, you'll now be able to survive situations in which you send your car careening into the water. Again, let's say you've got some unfriendlies in hot pursuit, and there's no way out. Now you can just head for the nearest body of water so that you can get the heck out of your car as soon as you're immersed. There won't be much time to escape from the waterlogged vehicle, but you're not going to need much time if you can swim.
Getting out of the water is going to be easy. Just mosey on up to any nearby beach or embankment, and you'll get right out. Ledges or piers will also allow you to automatically climb out--if they're realistically low enough to the surface of the water for you to reach. This doesn't mean that you'll always need to swim to shore. A nice city by the bay, like San Fiero, is sure to have plenty of boat traffic, so why not try to swim on up and grab yourself one? The sheer terror of having someone clamber up onto their lovely overpriced yachts will generally be enough to cause these former boat owners to dive the heck off the sides of their floating palaces, thus leaving you with a convenient means of getting back to solid ground. Careful, though, the waters won't always be calm along the San Andreas coast. New weather patterns and waves may rock you and your little schooner like nobody's business.
At any rate, it's clear that Grand Theft Auto will be departing from the relative stability and predictability of street-centered life in this next, upcoming installment. Between having lots more action inside people's homes and having lots more action out in the water, it's becoming clearer and clearer that GTA: San Andreas is, well...going to offer even more depth than its predecessors. And that's exciting news, indeed. Stay tuned to GameSpot for more weekly updates on important, new features in what's surely one of the year's biggest, most important games. We can't wait to tell you more.