From burning up the streets to shooting up the ghetto, games covering underground cultures are big these days. Playing out fantasies is a vital part of videogames, and games such as Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Midnight Club 3: Dub Edition are two of the best for pretending to experience lives that might otherwise be inaccessible.
GRAND THEFT AUTO: San Andreas (PC, PS2, XBox)
GTA is one of the hottest games on the market. With more than five major game system incarnations (GTA I, Vice City, etc...), one expansion, PSP and Gameboy Advance versions, it is one game that can claim critical and consumer success from version to version. Yet, the game itself is controversial because of its violence, and the latest version has created even more hubbub over whether Grand Theft Auto is appropriate for the masses.
By combining the best of shooting and hand-to-hand violence with some of the sweetest driving set-ups, all Grand Theft Auto titles are known for their versatility. You can choose specific missions to build your respect as a low-level gangsta, or you can just run amok, stealing cars and knifing pedestrians. Essentially, GTA is a role-play of a stereotyped street thug, and the entire game centers on money, ho's, drugs, felony crimes and cars. There's lots of gang-related material in the missions, and the game itself allows players to simulate being the badass some kids romanticize when watching a DMX movie or listening to Ludacris.
Speaking of music, GTA: San Andreas is especially notable for its soundtrack, which ranges from Guns N' Roses to AFI, Public Enemy to 2Pac to Skynyrd and Merle Haggard. And if you don't like the music already playing when you get into your car, you can change the station or turn it off. You can tune in stations playing hip-hop, house, funk rock and even country. Supplementing the music are funny talk shows and radio announcers, featuring the voices of comedians such as David Cross and Andy Dick. And the star-studded cast of character voices run from 60s hippie icon Peter Fonda to more contemporary actors such as Samuel L. Jackson and Ice T.
But while the game's ideas and execution are fun, GTA is not for everyone. Many players will find the violence and lack of values offensive. The world you explore as a player is hard and full of expletives. Women are marginalized as ho's or bitches and are killed more often than left alone.
If you can experience these scenarios without being offended, GTA offers a fascinating world for a gamer to explore. In this latest version, the city of San Andreas is mapped out with amazing accuracy, street by street and building by building. The scope is massive, and you can spend hours taking your characters to areas with names such as Mulholland and Beacon Hill. The freedom offered to players is unparalleled in any other game. Even if you don't follow the storyline, you can have a hell of a time jacking cars, picking up guns, working out at the gym and buying properties.
As violent as it is, the storyline is creative, too. Missions range from drive-by's to picking out new clothes, and each one is a blast the first time around. Occasionally they get a bit too challenging, and you find yourself groaning over the load-time pauses as you set out on a mission for the umpteenth time, but usually you can get the mission by the second or third try.
GTA: San Andreas recently hit the news with reports of a new patch, available by download, allowing PC players to have sex with the women in the game. I gave it a shot, but found the sex was limited and images weren't clear. (The game is rated M for mature.)
This version of GTA is great to either play or just watch as others take the controls. So grab some friends, some beer and tequila shots, and take a ride on the wild side of San Andreas.
Midnight club 3: Dub edition (PS2, psp, XBox)
After seeing The Fast and the Furious, a lot of kids wanted to pimp their rides and street race to fame. Fast cars and hot rides are in these days, and Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition allows the low-spenders to hook up a virtual ride without spending the actual cash. Not only do you get to customize your cars right down to the tiniest details (brakes, shocks, vinyls), but there are some sweet races set in Atlanta, San Diego and Detroit. While the maps aren't as accurate as those in GTA: San Andreas, MC3's hit the major landmarks and you can bash through some of them with a nitro charge and engine upgrade. The soundtrack is also primed for driving, with songs from Nine Inch Nails to Ying Yang Twins and more. Great music to kick back and drive to -- especially at breakneck speed. While you build street cred and gain cash for races, you also can opt to spring for luxury cars or just cruise for fun. But watch out for the cops. If you get those blue and red flashers in your rearview, it's likely they'll skew the race and you're gonna lose. Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition is a great race game that finally takes you off the track and gives you some control over your path to the finish line.