Like NWA told us in the early '90s, "You are now about to witness the strength of street knowledge."

Grand Theft Auto San Andreas, the latest outing in the dangerously popular series, offers an addictive appreciation of Southern California gang culture. Crips and Bloods not included.

At the start of the game, players roam the streets of a city loosely based on L.A. as thug Carl Johnson, who has come back to his old 'hood, Grove Street, to find out who killed his mother.

If the last GTA incarnation — the monster hit Vice City — was inspired by 1980s pop culture touchstones like "Scarface" and "Miami Vice," this one is all about "Boyz N the Hood" and "Menace II Society": gangs, drugs and drive-bys.

While the subject matter isn't for everyone — like kids — the gameplay is at the extremely high level we've come to expect from the series. Sure, the cut screen graphics could be better, but being able to explore three vastly constructed areas makes this an absolute must-own for any Angeleno over 30. Welcome back, 1992; we missed you.

Details: PlayStation 2 platform; $49.99; rated: mature (blood and gore, intense violence, language, sexual content, drugs).


Engaging gameplay

Mortal Kombat: Deception delivers all the gory, spine-removing fun that fans of this button-mashing fighting series love.

In this installation, new modes of gameplay break the monotony of a simple one-on-one fight to the (gruesome) death. In Chess Kombat, for instance, to capture an opponent's piece a player must first win a bloody battle over the contested square. Likewise, in Puzzle Kombat, your skills at a Tetris-like game with falling colored blocks help your cute, animated doppelgänger defeat his foe.

Details: Xbox and PlayStation 2 platforms; $49.99; rated mature (blood and gore, intense violence).


Game gets lost in translation

Who translated Katamari Damacy from its original Japanese, a first-year English student? A sample: "First time on earth means no worrying about time." Huh?

The King of all Cosmos has broken the sky, causing the stars to burn out. It's up to his son to push a sticky ball around, collecting all sorts of items like candies and pushpins. The bigger the ball, the brighter the star that returns to the sky. What?

Even worse, after pushing that dumb ball around for only 90 minutes, I felt physically ill. How do you say "I'm going to be sick" in Japanese?

Details: PlayStation 2 platform; $19.99; rated everyone.


A bloody good vampire slayer