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Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas Weekend Update: Thug Life

We get an exclusive look at the gangs of San Andreas. Exclusive assets and information inside.


Gangs and the Grand Theft Auto franchise have been going together like gin and juice since they were first introduced in Grand Theft Auto 2. Their presence in the series has obviously changed over time as GTA has evolved from its humble top-down 2D days to the massive, fully 3D juggernaut we know and love today. With the game's release a mere 10 days away, we figured it was time to shed some light on the gangs in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.

While it's pretty much a given that a developer will do a hefty amount of research and development over the course of creating a game, we feel safe in saying that the "to do" list used by Rockstar North is probably fairly unique in its inclusion of "gang research." The development team's desire to offer a singular portrayal of gangs in San Andreas spurred it to conduct exhaustive research and consult a variety of people, including DJ Pooh, Mister Cartoon, Estevan Oriol, and hundreds of others. To add to the challenge, GTA: San Andreas' gang life is modeled after a very specific era, which means that clothes, tattoos, gang signs, and codes of ethics from the period had to be taken into account. The end result appears to be a unique and complex portrayal of gang life that you'll have to be keenly aware of if you'd like to get through the game. Los Santos, CJ's hometown, is home to four gangs: The Orange Grove Families, the Ballas, the Vagos, and the Varrios Los Aztecas. If you'd like to avoid getting on their bad side, we suggest you read on.

And You Are?

Gangs have come a long way since they were first introduced in GTA2.
Gangs have come a long way since they were first introduced in GTA2.

As you'd expect, Los Santos is full of gang activity--turf wars abound and drive-by shootings are a common occurrence. Several neighborhoods in the city are known for their gang presence. As a result, you'll want to keep an eye out for the local crew to make sure you're not about to get jacked. Fortunately, gang members are distinguishable in several ways, including clothing, tattoos, and hand signs. Clothes act as a distinct marker for a gang member's affiliation, as particular styles, types, and colors of clothing serve as their "uniform." Gang fashion ends up serving two very useful functions in the game. For one, it's a useful tool for the police when they need to identify a gang set or victim. For another, it also allows gang members to interact, whether it's just instantly recognizing and showing allegiance to one another or identifying rival gangs. The downside to the system is that citizens of Los Santos need to be careful not to wear the wrong colors or clothes, or they could end up being a target for a beat down, a shooting, or other unpleasantness.

Tattoos serve the same function as clothes, as gang culture in Los Santos has long used tattoos as identifiers. Tattoos are often symbols that the gang has adopted as something unique to identify their members, but, much like clothes, they can also be used by police to identify suspected gang members. Tattoos in the game are emblematic of early-'90s gang tattoos in California--heavy black inks and images such as guns, gang sets, and dice. The Los Santos Vagos, a Mexican gang, favors large tattoos with religious themes.

Finally, hand signs are another identifier for gangs in the game. You'll notice that the gang-member character models in GTA: San Andreas now have distinct fingers. Besides showing off Rockstar North's coding skills, the new feature is actually a gameplay element. Characters in the game will often need to use hand signs to communicate, to identify themselves as a member of a particular gang, and to disrespect rival gang members.


Besides sweating your appearance, you're also going to have to worry about where you are at any given time. Los Santos' four gangs have territory that's broken up throughout the city. As you'd expect, they don't exactly welcome rival gang members on their turf. Well, technically they do, but it's with a hail of gunfire--so if that's your thing, then by all means, go say hi.

You'll want to be careful about what you're wearing in certain parts of town.
You'll want to be careful about what you're wearing in certain parts of town.

If you'd like to avoid being beaten or shot at, you'll want to be keenly aware of your surroundings. Signs of a gang's influence are pretty much all over their turf. Gang graffiti is usually the first sign that you're on someone's turf. Tags mark the territorial boundaries for the gangs in Los Santos and are effective warnings to any other gangs in the area that they are not welcome. To keep things interesting, you'll often see plenty of action where gang territories border each other. Drive-bys, skirmishes with the cops, and a crew of Ballas jacking some pedestrian's car and going on a rampage through the city are all sights you can expect to see on the streets of Los Santos.

Who's Who

As we mentioned, you'll find four main gangs in Los Santos. However, within each gang you'll find various "sets." This is both good and bad news. On the good side, it's always nice to have a hefty amount of backup. On the bad side, not all the sets get along, which can lead to an extra layer of drama. Below you'll find a rundown of the gangs you'll be around while in Los Santos.

Orange Grove Families

CJ's crew is the once-mighty Orange Grove Families.
CJ's crew is the once-mighty Orange Grove Families.

Once one of the most powerful gangs in Los Santos, the Orange Grove Families are based primarily in Ganton and can be recognized by their green pants, green hoodies, and green bandanas. This once-proud gang, which CJ rolls with, has seen its influence slowly erode over the years as a result of increasing violence, internal fighting, and splits within the gang, as well as the growing influence of drugs on the culture. They're now in a precarious position, almost completely surrounded by Ballas territory.

Temple Drive Families

Another old Los Santos family gang that's aligned with the Orange Grove Families, the Temple Drive Families are based in Northern Los Santos. If CJ's stranded up near their territory and is having trouble with the cops or a rival gang, they'll come to CJ's aid.

Seville Blvd. Families

This family controls the southeast beaches of Los Santos, and have been almost completely squeezed out by the Aztecas and Vagos. They're holding on to a small patch of land just south of the Saints' stadium. Like the Temple Drive Families, they'll support CJ, but there is trouble brewing within the families.

Both the Temple Drive Families and the Seville Blvd. Families were originally part of the Orange Grove Families, but they split off from them during CJ's absence. While they will help CJ when he's up against the Ballas or the police, the warring between the sets means that CJ can't always rely on them to be on his side.

The Ballas

The Ballas are the Orange Grove Families' biggest rivals.
The Ballas are the Orange Grove Families' biggest rivals.

A rival gang that has steadily supplanted Orange Grove in Los Santos, the Ballas are made up of two sets and can be readily identified by their purple clothing.

Front Yard Ballas

The Grove's fiercest rival gang, the Front Yard Ballas control Jefferson. They can be tough, even brutal. They're Los Santos' most notorious drug dealers.

Rollin Heights Ballas

These thugs back up the Front Yard Ballas, and hold the ritzy Glen Park section of Los Santos. They've steadily been expanding south into Idlewood, currently one of the most hotly contested areas in the city.

Los Santos Vagos

Los Santos Vagos are a Latin gang based in Las Colinas and Los Flores.
Los Santos Vagos are a Latin gang based in Las Colinas and Los Flores.

This Latin gang is based in Northeast Los Santos, around Las Colinas and Los Flores, and is identified by the yellow that they wear. Like the Ballas, the Vagos have gotten into the drug-dealing game. They're currently fighting hard in the battle to control East Los Santos, which is squarely between Ganton, Jefferson, and Los Flores.

Varrios Los Aztecas

A Latin gang based in Little Mexico and El Corona in South Los Santos, near the docks, the Aztecas can be spotted by their light-blue clothing. Their main enemies are the Los Santos Vagos. Cesar, the boyfriend of CJ's sister, Kendl, is an original gangster who reps the Aztecas. They are the kings of lowrider customs, and drive some of the craziest rides in Los Santos.

As you can see, the gangs you'll encounter in GTA: San Andreas have come a long way from the simple 2D sprites from back in the day. Interacting with your crew and your rivals will be a significant part of the main game and add a great deal to the overall experience. With only 10 days left until the game's release, the wait for fans is nearly over. Until then, check back with us for a few more updates on the most anticipated game of the year for the PlayStation 2.

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