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'Grand Theft' sales to resume in October

Two months after being forced to pull blockbuster, Take-Two says the game will be back on shelves.

Take-Two Interactive Software on Friday said it would resume sales of "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" in October, two months after the violent game was pulled from store shelves because of hidden sex scenes.

Take-Two's Rockstar Games publishing house said that starting Oct. 18, it would sell a special edition of "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" for Sony's PlayStation 2 console system. It will include a DVD with a backstory to the game and a documentary film called "Sunday Driver."

Take-Two also will release a bundle of "Grand Theft Auto 3," "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City" and "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" for Microsoft's Xbox console.

Take-Two was forced to pull the blockbuster "San Andreas" off retail shelves this summer after people tinkering with the game's code found a hidden segment that let a player's character simulate sex with a female character.

Take-Two did not disclose the segment, dubbed "Hot Coffee," to the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, which revoked the game's "mature" classification and termed it "adults only" due to the newly found material.

The reissued games are again rated M for mature.

In light of the bundle, other new releases and a recent advertising agreement with Nike, Janco Partners analyst Mike Hickey reiterated his "buy" rating for Take-Two shares.

"The company has strengthened their ability to meet guided projections and continues to offer the most upside in the group," he said in a note to clients.

U.S. retailers as a general rule do not carry AO-rated games, and so Take-Two had to withdraw the title until it could reissue a new version that complied with the standards of the original rating.

The company posted a net loss of nearly $30 million for the quarter ended on July 31 on reserves taken for costs associated with the "San Andreas" withdrawal.

"Grand Theft Auto 3" was the best-selling game of 2001, and its successor, "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City," topped the charts in 2002. After a one-year hiatus, "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" was No. 1 in 2004.

The success of the franchise propelled Take-Two to top-three status in the industry, but lately its other key games, like "Max Payne 2" and "Manhunt," have either underperformed or just met expectations, rather than coming out as the blockbusters some had hoped.

The compilation pack for the Xbox is not the first time Take-Two has bundled GTA for that platform, having previously released GTA 3 and GTA: Vice City as a double-pack.

While the last three GTA games were initially released exclusively for the PlayStation 2, Xbox versions of all of them followed months later.

Take-Two shares were down 2 cents at $22 in morning trading on the Nasdaq.

Story Copyright © 2005 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.