Grand Theft Auto developer Rockstar North wisely recognizes that among all of its games' most memorable characters--Tommy Vercetti, 8-Ball, and all the rest--the biggest stars, both literally and figuratively, have been the cityscapes in which your criminal hijinks take place. Think back on your experience with previous games, and you'll first recall the New York-style back alleys of Liberty City or the multicultural flair of the Miami-like Vice City. The Grand Theft Auto games are defined by style, and the urban landscape is a crucial element--perhaps the crucial element--that defines this style.
For its next installment in the vaunted crime drama series, Rockstar is thinking big--real big. As you may know, the developer isn't stopping at one city, because you'll be able to explore three of them (not to mention the countryside in between them) as you make your way through the fictionalized California that is San Andreas. All told, the gameworld is purported to be five times the size of Vice City, and we wanted to know all about it. So we've been fortunate to secure new information on the neighborhoods that will make up Los Santos, the Los Angeles-styled capital city of San Andreas and home to the game's lead character, Carl "CJ" Johnson. From the looks of what we've seen, Los Santos alone could make up an entire chapter in the series on its own, so the fact that there are two more cities yet to be revealed is frankly a little mind-boggling.
So what are the areas that compose Los Santos? In our previous look at the game, we've only seen a small sampling of what this bustling metropolis will offer, but let's take a look at what we know now...
Orange Grove, known affectionately by its residents as simply The Grove, is the neighborhood where CJ grew up, and naturally it will become his home base after he's escaped the mean streets of Liberty City. Not that Los Santos' streets are any less mean, mind you; after all, The Grove is home to the Orange Grove Families, the gang CJ will return to and will eventually take control of as he rises to power among the criminal underworld of the city, and, eventually, the state. CJ's experience in The Grove will be intensely personal, because he returns to a home that's minus one mother and one younger brother. As a result, CJ will have to reconcile the loss of his family while running the streets with his older brother Sweet.
Far from the crime-ridden neighborhood of The Grove is the glamorous, fast-paced lifestyle and the dirty sidewalks of Vinewood. On the Vinewood strip, you'll find tourists by the dozens eating up the rich history of this glitzy district. Keep an eye out for such landmarks as the Cathay Theater, the walk of fame, and the famous Vinewood sign, nestled high up in the Vinewood hills. And if you want to visit the real Vinewood aristocracy--and perhaps some prime robbery targets--you can head up into those hills to find the truly impressive mansions and estates of the area's elite. Vinewood's population runs the gamut from the poor and destitute to the rich and famous.
The preceding are just some of the districts of Los Santos. Keep reading to learn about the rest of them--as well as to learn about some brand-spanking-new rapid transit options for navigating between them. Plus, we've got the good word about CJ's inability to instantly drown when he touches water!
Getting Around Town
Vinewood may be the old seat of Los Santos' glitz and glamour, but the truly rich and snooty prefer to live and shop in Rodeo. This is the most affluent area of Los Santos, and it's where you'll find the most plastic surgery and designer clothing of any district in the city. If you're not thinking Beverly Hills yet--well, we just said it, so now you are. Think lots of trendy architecture and beautiful plastic people, and you're thinking the neighborhood of Rodeo.
Given CJ's way of life, downtown Los Santos may not seem worth visiting. It's the financial center of the city, with a skyline that can be seen from miles around. You'll find all manner of bankers, businessmen, and other people in high-powered suits milling around downtown, not to mention landmarks like the Los Santos Convention Center and the Doc G Records Building (inspired by the famous Capitol Records building).
You'll be able to zip in to and out of the downtown area with ease by riding the Brown Streak railroad, Los Santos' public transportation line. The Brown Streak travels to all parts of the city, making it a cinch to get from place to place. Just make sure you're on the train and not in front of it.
Previous Grand Theft Auto lead characters have had a famous aversion to water, so we can appreciate the delicious irony that the beaches of Los Santos will be a likely place for CJ to visit for a swim. And swimming won't just be a way for your virtual alter ego to cool off, because it'll serve as good exercise to keep him in shape too. The beach is also a great place to go if you're just looking to stir up trouble among the populace, because it'll always be crowded with tourists and sunbathers during the sweltering daytime. You'll even find attractions--like an amusement park on the pier and the Santa Maria boardwalk--that will make the beach worth a visit, in addition to the occasional beach party that may be going on well into the night. But if you attract the attention of the coppers, beware. Whether you're on foot or in a car, the sand will always slow down your getaway.
New to the Grand Theft Auto experience are the twisting freeways that will serve as your rapid conduit through and around the city, as well to San Andreas' other major cities of San Fierro and Las Venturas. If nothing else, the Los Santos freeway will be a welcome time-saver, because local street traffic can often delay your trip from one place to another. If you're trying to get somewhere in a hurry (and what street thug isn't), the freeways will be the way to go. In case you were wondering, Rockstar assures us the traffic on Los Santos' freeways will never be as bad as the standstills you see on those of the real Los Angeles.
Unlike in previous Grand Theft Auto games, if you do keep to the city streets, you'll get a little extra navigating help in the form of street signs that you can use to locate buildings by their actual addresses. Unlike in the cities Liberty and Vice, Los Santos' streets actually have names, and you'll need to pay close attention to names and intersections if you want to really learn your way around the place.
Clearly, Los Santos is a big place, and it's a seedy one as well. How will you blend in with the locals and find your place in the criminal hierarchy? Read on to find out one way you'll be able to carve out your own identity in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
We've already reported on some of the ways that you'll be able to alter and control San Andreas main character Carl "CJ" Johnson's appearance. For instance, you can head down to Reece's Hair Facial Studio to get that fade you always wanted, or you can concentrate on keeping CJ's tubby butt in shape by going to the gym and laying off the fast food. But how about getting a gang tat to show off your true colors? Tattooing was a central part of early '90s gang culture, so you'll be able to take CJ down to the local tattoo parlor to get him branded with his own stamp of allegiance.
Getting a new tattoo will be as easy as visiting a tattoo artist, browsing and selecting from the included assortment of designs, and then telling the artist where you want the artwork to appear. In keeping with the gangsta rap spirit of the storyline and your surroundings, the tattoos that will be available will be of the gangs-guns-and-girls variety.
With this degree of customization--from your fitness to your haircut and from your threads to your ink--you'll essentially be able to mold CJ into just about any character you can think of.
Count on Your Crew
You'll get a real sense of where you belong in Los Santos and the other areas of San Andreas, because rival gangs control various sections of the cities and surrounding areas. This can work both as a help and a hindrance. If you're being chased by the police or by enemy gang members, you can try to lure them on to your home turf to let members of your own gang come to your aid, bailing you out of what would otherwise be a rough situation. But beware: If you stray into the turf of a rival gang, whether in a car or on foot, you will be attacked--and not even all at once. Gangs will use varying tactics to take you out, by splitting up, sending ahead advance attackers, and using other wily maneuvers.
The communication between gang members in GTA: San Andreas will mark the most complex character interaction yet for the series. You can expect to see guys greeting each other, talking on street corners, and flashing gang symbols. These are key signs you'll need to watch for.
Protect Your Ride
Unlike in Liberty City and Vice City, where every car is apparently new, right off the lot, the cars of San Andreas aren't always in the best of shape. The rides you'll pick up, even new ones, will get dirty simply from constant use. As a result, you'll see dirt showing up around the wheel wells, on the windshield, near impact points after a fender bender, and in other common trouble spots. If you want to keep riding around in style, keep a look out for car washes that you can use to maintain the sleek look of your vehicle.
Some of the cars you jack will sport some pretty serious damage, too. Look for everything from broken windows to loose bumpers and even bullet-riddled doors. Apparently, some of these cars have already seen a good deal of action.
A New View on the Action
Rockstar's latest entry in the Grand Theft Auto series will feature a new "intelligent" camera system that will automatically tailor itself to the action but will also give you a great deal of manual control, both on foot and while driving. In the new game, you'll be able to freely control your aim with the right analog stick while using any ranged weapon and running or strafing with the left analog stick. Essentially, you'll be able to look in a direction other than straightforward while you're moving, which should help your control quite a bit while playing some of the game's tougher missions.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is still a couple of months away from release, and we continue to eat up every piece of new information on the game as ravenously as you do. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for more updates on the people, places, and gameplay in what will surely prove to be one of the biggest games of the year.