Making more money in its opening weekend of sales that Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban took in the cinema in its opening weekend the latest Grand Theft Auto game, GTA: San Andreas, is certainly turning some heads and rightly so.
Taking the genre even further, the ultra violent carjacking fest is back in more glory than ever. But it's not just more of the same and the game has started to grow in terms of depth and size over the original concept of merely stealing cars.
Now you can get haircuts, buy houses, eat far too much food and improve your skills the more you do something. In fact the game for all intents purposes is taking on a RPG feel to it.
Steal a bicycle and spend all day roaming around the city and your cycling skills will improve as will your stamina. Better cycling skills means more chance of getting away from the bad guys and better stamina means you can withstand running for longer periods of time. The same goes for most things in the game, the more you do something the more you get to build that skill and the more it might help you when it comes to completing missions.
Missions as in previous versions range from spraying over other gang's graffiti to popping a cap in someone's ass. Whether it's to allow you to build up skills or merely just showing to how large the game is, getting everything going seems very slow with multiple video clips outlining and building the story at the start. Once you get past all this, the game plays out in the same way as Vice City - if you want, you can merely drive around town beating people up and running away from the law and ignore the missions altogether, or you can chose the more structured game play option.
Get into trouble and you'll need to make sure you can run away. Running away can now also involve swimming away, useful if you crash into a lake or the sea, and Tomb Raider style you can even dive under the water to evade weapons fire. Staying under too long reduces your health (you will eventually die), but nothing a fried chicken at the local Dixie Fried Chicken can't solve, be warned however that eating too much will make you fat and therefore slower.
This series has changed a lot since its early incarnation of merely a game where you steal cars. Is this a good thing? We think so, and with such an expansive universe to explore and exploit this game will keep you going for months to come.