In these troubled times, it pays to take pause, reflect and,

I do not own a PlayStation 2. But I have become the willingbitch of anyone who does. Once you play “Grand Theft Auto: SanAndreas,” you will undoubtedly do the same.

This is, quite possibly, the most ambitious video game to date.Building on the foundation of the previous GTA games, and throwingin some excellent tricks from “The Sims,” this game has everythinga gamer could ask for: an entire virtual world at yourdisposal.

You play Carl Johnson, an ex-thug from the streets of LosSantos. You re-thug yourself at the start of the game; come home toavenge your mom’s murder, get your gang back into a position ofpower, kill unsuspecting pedestrians for loot and blow up lots ofcity property.

The greatest thing about this game is the level of reality itencompasses. Every five minutes or so you find yourself thinking,”I wonder if I could…?” And yes, chances are you can. Would youlike to carjack the police car over there? Fine, go do it. Howabout pulling off a wheelie on a bicycle? Sure. Stop at a randombasketball court and shoot some hoops, destroy a low-rider with achainsaw, take that tank for a joyride or maybe jump in thathelicopter, take a parachute and jump out again. You are in agangsta’s paradise.

Anything you want is ripe for the taking. But if youcarjack a police cruiser in front of a cop, he’ll call his buddiesand you’ll have one “star”. The cops are keeping an eye out foryou. Two stars mean that they are chasing you. Three stars bringout the helicopters and so on up to six stars, when the army iscalled in.

What will bring the army after you? Well, get a grenadelauncher, go to the roof of a tall building and destroy everythingfor six blocks around. They’ll be stopping by soon enough.

Wanton destruction, while a staple of the GTA series, is notnearly the whole of it. There are hundreds of missions toundertake, from racing low-riders, to killing rival gangs toknocking over a casino.

When you’ve accomplished a mission, you can go back toyour crib to save the game. If you’re low on energy, eat some pizzaat a fast-food joint. The cops, if they are chasing you, will waitpolitely outside until you are done. Or, go into a clothing storewhen you have two stars. Change clothes, shoot everyone inside andwhen you come out the cops won’t recognize you and will let yougo.

The RPG aspect of this game is great. It is more “Sims”-esquethan “Final Fantasy”-style. Your stamina goes up when you run, andyou can go to the gym to build Muscle. These affect how well yourun, fight and climb fences. Eat too much pizza and your Fat Levelgoes up. Your appearance changes, and all these things can affecthow much Respect and Sex Appeal you have. As you play, yourcharacter grows incrementally, investing you more into theexperience.

This game is not suitable AT ALL for anyone under 18. Formativebrains should not enjoy racing through the streets making thingsexplode before they are old enough to drive, and after a few hoursof playing, the idea “I need this, I’ll go take it” seems perfectlynormal. Adults can shake it off when they put the controller down,I hope. If not, expect to see some brand new, short-livedsuper-villains on our city streets.

I say short-lived because Carl Johnson wakes up in the hospitalafter ramming his flaming ambulance into the FBI. If anyone elsetries it, they won’t.