For the first UK online review of GTA San Andreas, check out gamesradar.com from first thing Friday morning (29 October): we've teamed up with PSM2 magazine to bring you the only online review you can trust!
With under three (three!) days to go until Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is released in the UK, we've got hold of an early copy of the game and have had chance to play through about the first 60 minutes of it. No massive revelations as yet. But it's the new GTA. What more could you ask for? (No doubt if you want to avoid any early spoilers, stop reading now.)
Whether you've played Vice City or not, the great thing about San Andreas is just how intuitive and eminently playable it is. There's a whopping great themed manual (designed in the style of a Local Business Advertiser's Guide) plus a poster-sized map that gives you some idea of the enormous scale of the game. But, to begin with at least, you just don't need them.
The fantastically sweary game kicks off with CJ arriving from Liberty City at the Los Santos International Airport (check out the cheeky Rockstar sticker on his leather suitcase), where he is promptly robbed, beaten up and then dumped by a posse of bent cops.
As the cutscene ends and your first chance to actually play the game begins, you'll immediately notice that just down the alleyway in which you've been left is, yes, a BMX. It's just like Mat Hoffman's Pro BMX but with a better haircut. Kind of. A quick fiddle with the pad reveals that tapping X, as opposed to just holding it down, makes you pedal faster; moving the left analogue stick up or down allows you to pull off wheelies; L1 instigates a bunny hop; and, best of all, hitting L3 results in the cycle's bell ringing. Ding-ding: homie approaching.
After CJ rides back to his old house, he's the victim of an attempted drive-by from which he must escape by, yes, pedalling like fury on his bike. The amount of cycling you do at the start of the game soon results in your endurance stat being upgraded (which you're notified of by a little icon popping up on screen). Pressing L1 when you're off the bike brings up your current levels of respect, stamina, muscle, fat and sex appeal. Erk.
The game then directs you to a local barbers where you can choose from a slew of massively overpriced haircuts. $150 for an afro?! After that, you can pop over the road to a pizza parlour and choose from a variety of greasy fare. Being the health-conscious types that we are, we went for the salad option though, which seemed like a bit of a cop out but we'll no doubt be thankful that CJ isn't a big sweaty fat man by the end of the game.
Your companion Ryder gets a bit over-excited at this point (this is the section of the game that we were ) and attempts to hold up the cashier, who promptly responds by whipping out a shotgun. Best plan at this point: run for it.
Once you've successfully escaped the pizza parlour cum firing range, and sat through a load of cutscenes, your first proper mission sees CJ having to find graffiti tags of rival gangs and spray over them with his own tag (just hit R1 to lock on to a tag and Circle to paint over it). After completing a couple of tags, it's a short drive to East Los Santos for some more painting fun. The more rival tags you cover up (there are 100 in all), the more respect your earn.
During such on-foot missions, the new ability to vault walls, fences and ledges becomes apparent and really gives the sensation of a much more open environment. Basically, anything you can grab, you can leap over and, for the graffiti mission, we even ended up on top of a flat roof, overlooking LS.