GTA San Andreas: Second city exposed

After having seen and the of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas in action, we've finally had a chance to take a look at San Fierro. In familiar Rockstar fashion, we were shown a number of missions from San Andreas' second city, replete with live commentary from a Rockstar representative.

The first thing that strikes you about the San Franciso-inspired city is just how different it looks and feels to Los Santos, with its hilly streets, bay, plethora of bridges and changeable micro-climate (look out for the fog). That said, it still has that classic GTA aesthetic that will be familiar from both Vice City and GTA III.

The demo kicked off with CJ - replete with khakis, hoodie and newly acquired muscles - in the Hashbury and Garzia district, loitering outside a (wait for it) Hippy Shopper. Yes, even the colours and font used on the store's signage mimic those of the peculiarly British Happy Shopper chain. Who comes up with this stuff?

Anyway, CJ jumps on a motorbike and we watch as he rides through San Fierro, past the expected array of retail outlets - from hotdog stalls to bong shops - until he finally reaches the local dojo. Its name? Cobra Marital Arts (sic). It's in such gyms that CJ is able to learn new fighting techniques in addition to his basic street fighting skills.

In each of the game's three cities, there is one additional set of scrapping abilities for CJ to learn - although he can only use one additional move-set at a time (so if you learn new moves in Las Venturas, for instance, they will supersede the new techniques you learnt in, say, Los Santos).

As for San Fierro, the speciality here is kung fu (or a vague approximation of it, at least). Wander into the red marker in the dojo and the ageing instructor will ask you, "So you want to become a warrior?" Beat the Mr Miyagi wannabe in a brief fight (stamping on his head appear to be particularly effective) and he'll reward you with new running attack, ground attack and roundhouse kick moves. ("Nothing clever here - just hit him when he's down," he explains.)

Back outside on the San Fierro streets and CJ shows off the potential for jumps and stunts in the city's hilly locale before he heads to the Doherty area to meet up with old pal Cesar, who has a masterplan to nick some import cars from a dealer called Otto's Autos.

The dastardly duo promptly jack a car and head through the Financial District over to Otto's, where CJ has to follow Cesar's lead of driving a motor through the first floor plate glass window on to the street below. Naturally, this soon rouses the attention of the local police department so, as well as having to keep up with Cesar's speeding car, CJ also has to worry about the local plod being on his tail. Which is the perfect set-up for yet another adrenaline fuelled Los Santos car chase - although this one didn't look quite as much fun as the checkpoint-based pursuit that we saw in the game's countryside area.

That said, by the time you get to San Fierro, you have the option to add nitrous oxide boosts to your cars (which are triggered simply by hitting Circle or L1) after a visit to the local mod garage. The inevitable - but pleasing - blur effect comes into play as you hurtle past the rest of the traffic. Most boosts last for around 15 seconds, during which time the additional speed can carry you through destructible objects that you wouldn't be able to crash through at normal speed. It then takes around a minute for the nitrous oxide to recharge.

There are also a slew of Midnight Club 3-style mods available that are purely for aesthetic purposes, including custom paint jobs, different roofs, spoilers, hydraulics, a selection of bumpers and exhaust as well as (yes!) new rims.

Of course, if you spend all that time (and money) on your motor, you're not going to be too happy if it disappears after you park it - as sometimes happened in Vice City. Luckily, this time round, you can actually head over to the local police impound, break into it and liberate your vehicle. Just make sure you don't get caught in the process.