Say what you will about the cops of San Andreas, but you have to admit that they have a pretty tough job, even without a super badass, minigun-wielding, maniacal psycho roaming the streets. The cop population in SA has been increased over that of Vice City; its now fairly difficult to jack a vehicle in the cities without gaining at least a single star. There have been some other changes to the way cops work - youll now occasionally see them chasing down other criminals, for instance - but, for the most part, theyre still much the same as ever. In other words, youll probably have to fight your way through a bunch of them when they get wind of your crime sprees.
On the in-game HUD, youll note that there are six stars beneath your weapon and health displays; this indicates how aware the cops are of your deeds. You can have anything from zero stars to six stars, with increasing numbers indicating more fierce resistance from law enforcement professionals. You can increase the number of stars you have by committing random acts of violence, such as running people down, destroying cars, shooting cops, etc.
If you want to get rid of your stars, on the other hand, you have three options. The first is to find the hidden star pick-ups around the game world; walking over or driving through one of these will reduce your wanted level by one star.
The second method is to hit a Pay N Spray, indicated on your map with a can of spray-paint; entering one of these will let you repaint your car and eliminate all your stars at one go. The catch here is that you effectively have a probationary period after you exit the garage, during which you cant commit any crimes, lest you return to your full wanted level; if you accidentally run over someone, youll return right back to your former wantedness, in other words. You also cant take any police, military, or medical vehicles into a Pay N Spray.
Lastly, hitting a save spot and saving your game will fully eliminate all of your wanted stars.
You can earn a star in a few ways, but youll usually gain one by hitting a police car or bike, or by committing a crime, such as shooting someone or running someone over, within eyesight of a policeman. Since there are more cops than before, youll probably find yourself with a star if you do much of anything within the city limits.
At one star, the cops are on the lookout for you, but theyre not yet looking for you, if you follow our meaning. Any cop that sees you will attempt to chase you down and arrest you, but cops wont suddenly spawn in and hunt you down. One of the big changes from Vice City is that cops will start shooting at you when you have a single star, so try to avoid doing anything naughty if you want to avoid getting blasted.
The cops start getting a bit more serious when you have two stars to your credit, in that theyll start sending patrol cars out to bring you down, and will be a bit more aggressive in their pursuit. In most cases, killing a cop will jet you straight to two stars, but you can also get there by killing mobs of civilians or instigating massive property destruction.
Note that, when you only have one or two stars, theyll fade away naturally over time, so long as you avoid any criminal acts.
The three-star level is really what separates the men from the boys. The quickest way to get here is to kill a cop, then kill any of his fellow officers that come by to arrest you. When you reach this level of notoriety, the cops start displaying new kinds of behavior, designed to box you in and kill you, in addition to their markedly increased numbers and aggression.
First off, theyll set up roadblocks when you travel in a vehicle. You can bust through roadblocks fairly easily, but your carll take a beating from the collision, and from the gunfire of the cops arrayed nearby; its usually best to try and get up on the sidewalk and go around.
Secondly, cops will start to randomly spawn in on foot. Even if youre atop a building, youll start to run into sheriffs everywhere you turn. If youre in an enclosed space, youll probably be able to protect yourself from gunfire, as the cops arent very good at jumping fences and the like.
Thirdly, theyll send out SWAT teams to take you down. These guys arrive in large trucks, and pack a bit more firepower and armor than regular cops.
Lastly, the police will send helicopters to deal with you. The helicopters in San Andreas are much more difficult to take down than they were in Vice City, at least with rockets, due to the way that they bob and weave in the air. When youre on a building, they also have the annoying habit of flying at eye-level, making them even more problematic to hit. These guys are trouble, both because SWAT members will rappel in from them, and because theyll use their machineguns to blast you from above.
At four stars, you havent quite gotten to the level where the government feels the need to step in and take you down, but the local police force will have gotten well and truly sick of you, and will be sending in everything theyve got to kill you before you can do any more damage. Were talking massive numbers of cops, multiple helicopters, the works! Get to a Pay N Spray or save spot, or youll be dead before too long.
Although the sleek FBI coupes of the previous games are gone, the FBI themselves will still get involved when you hit five stars; this time around, theyll exclusively use their SUV-style vehicles to roll up on you. FBI agents pack SMGs, and arrive in groups of four, so if you let them get too close, youll be toast.
As a note, flying over restricted airspace will automatically bump you up to five stars. Luckily, the only restricted airspace in San Andreas is the Restricted Area in Bone County, to the west of Las Venturas. If you fly over this military installation, the surface-to-air missile sites will lock onto you and attempt to take you down, and the Air Force will have its own little surprise waiting for you... (In point of fact, entering the Restricted Area on foot will also bump you up to five stars, prompting the incongruous appearance of massive numbers of sheriffs in the middle of an Army base.)
Everyone likely remembers the first time they spotted a Rhino tank rolling down the street in GTA III, and while the surprise of seeing the Army arrive to take you out mightve dulled a bit by now, the coolness factor remains. The Army will, in fact, spawn two vehicles when you hit six stars; both the Rhino and the heavy troop truck return from previous games. Both pack grunts that wield M4s, so youll have to keep your distance if you want to retain your bodily health.
As with previous games, you can jack a Rhino, and its still the awesomest land vehicle in the game. Check the Extras section for tips on getting one of these beasts.