Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

It's a "Blowout!" - yes, our tyres have exploded and apparently this means we have lots of new information. Trailers (yes, plural), new shots, co-op details, voice cast exposed, big guns, pedestrian interactions, soundtrack line-up, and on it goes...

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Judging by the first reviews of GTA: San Andreas that sprang up overnight, US critics are sparing no superlatives in their search for weighty recommendations. We've already seen one review that proclaims it's one-hundredth short of perfection (which is bound to elicit a call from Rockstar complaining that it didn't get top marks, if our experience with Vice City was anything to go by), and the others have decided that the game's minor flaws - including slowdown, a bit of AI oddness and some camera concerns - simply can't do enough to detract from the game's epic brilliance.

Lights, camera, two-player action

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Naturally we'll let you know if we agree with that assessment in due course, but in the meantime Rockstar has been piling on the pre-release fanfare, adding another couple of excitable passages to its growing Book Of San Andreas, revealing details of the high grade weapons and how CJ never shuts the hell up, and has also revealed who's been in the recording booth this time around - for voice acting and musical performances - as well as releasing a 'Homecoming' trailer, and a host of smaller movies showing off jumps, helicopter crashes and more besides.

You'll obviously want to see all that. The first thing we mentioned, the Homecoming trailer, was released last week and you can get hold of it from Eurofiles here (10MB). However the various other movies are direct-feed snippets from a number of different sections of the game designed to have you salivating a bit more. We've taken the liberty of zipping those up for you and putting them up here (23MB in total), and we'd recommend giving them a watch because, let's face it, you want to do the things they do. So do we.

We've also learnt about the game's two-player co-operative options. Having rescued and befriended a young lady at a particular point in the story, it then becomes possible to play co-operatively - one of you handling CJ, and the other tackling the bonny lass. When you go to her house you can plug in another pad and the two of you can roam around relatively freely, switching between perspectives, and one of you can even ride shotgun when you go out for a drive, which certainly adds something to drive-by shootings as one of you handles the wheel, and the other has a targeting reticule to wave around. A great way to make use of the eager friend who'll inevitably be parked admiringly at your side when San Andreas gets home from the shops this Friday...

The main players

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Fortunately you won't need a friend at your side to enjoy the music or the voice cast. The full soundtrack is remarkably vast - needless to say really, given that we already know that November 23rd will see the release of an eight-disc soundtrack set. In fact, it's so vast that if we tried to include it all on this page it would probably break the entire Internet. Formatting it already broke our fingers. So, you'll have to head here for the full listing. The voice cast, however, we can happily slot into place. We already know that central protagonist Carl "CJ" Johnson will be voiced by LA rapper Young Maylay, but anybody expecting a selection of unknowns to fill out the rest of the cast is going to be, well, pleasantly surprised at the names Rockstar's managed to lure into the booth.

The first familiar voice you'll pick out from the crowd is none other than Samuel L. Jackson, as corrupt Los Santos policeman Officer Tenpenny, who along with his partner (voiced by Sean Penn's brother Chris) introduces himself by dragging CJ under his thumb the minute he lands in Los Santos. We won't spoil the introduction, but suffice to say Officer Tenpenny is very much drawn from the Jules Winnfield school of hard man. Other cast members include James Woods, William Fichtner (yes, the return of Ken Rosenberg), Peter Fonda, David Cross and even drug addled former Happy Mondays 24-hour party person Shaun Ryder, who plays a character called 'Maccer' - someone we're very much looking forward to freaky dancin' with in due course...

Eagle, um, 'eared' gamers may also be able to pick out the likes of Bijou Phillips, Ice-T, The Game, Yo-Yo, Kid Frost, Big Boy and other rappers and musicians. Oh, and keep an ear on the DJs marshalling the game's numerous radio stations; amongst their ranks are George Clinton, Chuck D, Andy Dick, and even Guns 'N Roses frontman Axl Rose...

Guns, lots of guns

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Obviously we've all come to expect pistols, shotguns, Uzis, AK-47s and plenty of other hardware from Grand Theft Auto games, so this time Rockstar North has had to be a bit more inventive with its top-end gunnery. For a start there's the Tec-9, a cheap sub-machinegun, which admittedly doesn't sound that exciting until you consider that CJ can actually wield a pair of them. Up the man's weapons skill level to Hitman level and he'll be able to walk around and target at the same time and later automatically make use of two at a time, sharing ammo between them and effectively doubling his rate of fire. You'll also need to up his weapons skill if you want to make the most of the Desert Eagle - a proficient gunner will find it's more accurate and reloads quickly as well as packing a .50 calibre punch.

Moving further up the chain you'll soon get your hands on the M4. The M4 is a modified M-16 with a shortened stock and barrel, and it's particularly good at things like targeting gas tanks. One of the things you can do with San Andreas' rejigged aiming system is to strafe, roll, auto target proficiently and even manually adjust targeting with the right analogue stick, and unsurprisingly there are plenty of explosives waiting to react to the lead of the M4; you can even roll left and right while using it. Watch out for it when you start to gain access to everyone's favourite purveyor of weaponry, Ammu-Nation.

And if that's still a bit too conventional for you, keep your eyes open for a heat-seeking rocket-propelled grenade. The Stinger. A wonderful way to deal with pesky road users, but also a perfect way to shoot down helicopters, jets and prop planes. And if that doesn't suit your purpose, how about a Vulcan Mini-Gun? This one's so ridiculously big and powerful that the police in San Andreas won't even bother showing up; they'll just send SWAT in to take the bullets. Spinning it up alone with R1 is bound to give people a wobbly moment, and all hell breaks loose when you start to tug on L1 and the bullets start to spray.

Crowd control

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With the game now just days away from release in Europe, one of Rockstar's final tactics in boosting awareness has been to badmouth Tommy Vercetti. Eh? Well, no, they're not saying that Ray Liotta's memorable turn as Vice City's up-and-coming mafioso was anything less than razor sharp, but the folks at Rockstar are eager to point out that Carl Johnson has a lot more to say for himself. Around 4,200 different things, actually, not including 3,500 scripted comments and the lines that make up the game's two-hours-plus of cut sequences. CJ's voice actor Young Maylay was understandably rather busy with that lot.

But he does a good job. Or a bad job. It all depends on your reaction. The residents of San Andreas have a lot to say for themselves as it is - regularly lapsing into conversations amongst themselves which the player can eavesdrop on just by walking past - but if they happen to lock our little anti-hero in conversation it's no longer just a question of sitting around and waiting to hear about it. By pressing left or right on the D-pad CJ can respond negatively or positively, and this can be as useful or as dangerous as it sounds. To give you an example, at one point fairly early on CJ is tasked with pinching a sound system from a Los Santos beach party; he does this by first sweet-talking the young lady minding the sound truck, before being invited inside and then making off with it as soon as he's had a chance to kick her out of the side door...

CJ's mood also plays a part in how he talks. It all depends on how you go about developing his character. If you eat too much and he turns into a bit of a porky pie, he'll sound one way, whereas if he's trying to sweet-talk a young lady he'll sound completely different. He can also be pissed off, wisecracking, and plenty of other variations. We're not sure what happens if you start manually shooting young men in the backside, but knowing Rockstar it won't be without appropriate punctuation...

Not long now...

Of course, with the game already on store shelves in the States, CJ and his friends won't be the only ones talking about what happens in San Andreas. You will be too. We haven't played it for that long yet - relative to the size of the game anyway - but even now it's hard to see how the game won't be essential to everybody with a PlayStation 2 under their television. It does everything its predecessors did, and, despite our initial concerns, it does do a stupendous amount of other, new things too. There are rhythm-action low-riders, gang wars, camper van jumps, bike chases, street races, burglaries and even a fairly well developed stealth system that has CJ creeping around slitting throats and making use of a silenced pistol. If GTA III was a sandbox full of toys, San Andreas is the Sahara desert with the contents of every major toy store in the world dumped on top of it. Polish your bandanas, chaps; it's just around the corner...

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is due out in Europe this Friday, October 29th. Expect a full review in due course, and don't forget to check out our new screenshots, the 'Homecoming' trailer and a host of other smaller movies focusing on jumps and other antics hosted on Eurofiles today.

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