My First Night In San Andreas: One 'GTA' Addict's Account

It's amazing how drive-bys, gangsta rap and tagging can keep you up at night.

My thoughts were solely fixed on "Grand Theft Auto" as I made my way to my local game store Monday night. What new surprises did the notoriously closeted developers at Rockstar Games have in store for me and the thousands of others who preordered the game and were able to get our hands on it the evening before the game became available to everyone else? We were the lucky ones.

The first shock came a little after 7 p.m. as I rounded the corner and approached the store that kept what will undoubtedly be my obsession for the next several weeks, if not months. The line was huge! Still, I dutifully took my place at the end of it. I was determined to be the 151st person in Union City, New Jersey, to walk home and play "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas."

There were all types of people, young and old alike, ahead of me. I figured the kids as young as 9 years old hoping to score their copy were going to be out of luck, since the game carried an "M" (mature) rating, but when I tried to warn them, they just laughed it off. The joke was on them, however, when one minor after another was sent home empty-handed.

And rightly so. The slang slung in San Andreas is almost enough to make a member of 2 Live Crew blush. The game drops more F-bombs than even the similarly "M"-rated "Vice City," and the cuss words explode even more powerfully when dropped from the famously foulmouthed Samuel L. Jackson, who plays a corrupt cop in the game (see "Axl Rose, Game, Charlie Murphy Lend Voices To 'San Andreas' ").

There are tons of new elements in "San Andreas," most noticeably the way a player must maintain the main character's health, "Sims"-style. CJ has to eat to gain energy and exercise to keep in shape.

But perhaps the coolest part was the ability to pimp your own ride, from changing the paint job to putting in hydraulics. I spent about a half-hour tweaking my wheels, and it feels mighty good to drive out of that garage with "Nuthin' But a 'G' Thang" playing and hopping up and down in my '64.

Time flies by when you're playing, and as my bedtime approached, I kept telling myself, "One last mission." But one mission eventually became two, and two became a drive-by. I wish it would have ended there.

Around 1 a.m. I thought, "Hey, I'll get six hours of sleep, I'm good." But before I'd tagged enough walls to sufficiently mark my territory, it was 2 a.m., and I still had to save Sweets from a shootout.

At 3 a.m. the fatigue set in. I'd just finished learning a few new combos at the gym and was on my way to the local clothing store to purchase my "colors." For whatever reason, I decided that the Tupac look was in order, so I got a bald cut at the barbershop. If that isn't gangsta, I don't know what is. I also knew that I couldn't go to bed without taking my newly shaved CJ out for a spin.

The low-rider competition turned out to be my favorite, and it's one of the more innovative mini-games I've seen in any "GTA." Your goal is to make your low rider bounce better than your competitor's. "Dance Dance Revolution" must have been the inspiration here, because you basically have to tap the controller in sequence to the arrows presented onscreen. It was quite challenging, and before I knew it, it was 3:45 a.m.

I forced myself to shut off the PlayStation2 just before 4 a.m., and immediately I wanted to play more. Dreams of "San Andreas" danced through my head in the scant three hours of shuteye I stole before coming to work, which, come to think of it, is almost over. A couple of hours and I'll be back on the streets of "San Andreas," extremely tired but happy just the same.