In keeping with its dripfeed approach to promoting Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Rockstar has this month detailed the intricacies of the game's firearms system, and given us a look at some of the many activities that CJ can get up to in the vast Californian countryside that separates the cities of Los Santos, San Feirro and Las Venturra.
Although Vice City made a small leap in terms of shoot-'em-up mechanics over its predecessor, San Andreas includes a further reworking that should help iron out any lingering doubts. R1 still locks onto the nearest target, and circle still fires, but this time the default lock-on will focus on the nearest hostile with a 90-degree arc only. R2 and L2 can then be used to cycle targets.
However, if there's nobody worth shooting in the vicinity, the game automatically switches into free aim mode, with a control scheme that then resembles the average third-person shooter: the left analogue stick has CJ move forwards and backwards and strafe, while the right analogue stick lets you target manually, and L1 becomes the fire button. And if that's not what you want, you can always snap to a target with R2/L2.
In-keeping with the persistent nature of the rest of CJ's world (the effect of his eating/exercise rituals and so on), his proficiency with weapons will also improve over time. When he first gets his hands on the new Desert Eagle, for example, apparently he'll barely be able to hold it while firing, but in time his skills will improve. Reloading, fire rate and accuracy will all improve as CJ handles more weapons, and as before crouching will improve accuracy in general.
With certain weapons, CJ will also start out barely able to move while holding them, but with time will be able to move, strafe faster, run backwards, and even wield a pair of firearms at a time. And if the guns fail him, cruder weapons like chainsaws and hammers may return, and there's definitely a shovel to make use of at some point - with a new block function on the square button to help keep CJ alive during tussles.
Moving away from the weapons, Rockstar has also been explaining what goes on in the countryside. Travelling around will take up quite a bit of time by the sound of it, but that doesn't mean it can't be fun - a newly winged Dodo will give players the chance to fly around, and, like the new crop-dusting biplane, will be highly manoeuvrable compared to previous planes, capable of barrel rolls, hammerheads and loops - with an altimeter in the bottom left of the screen to help you judge things in the air.
Then there's the prospect of lugging 18-wheel lorries around, picking up jobs from "RU Haul," which work in the same way as taxi missions and the other diversions - allowing you to make some extra cash by racing across the countryside against the clock with an expensive load in tow. The more interesting the load, the more cash it's worth (and the more cops you'll have to evade), and of course there'll be gas-filled tankers to play around with too. We doubt we need to draw a picture.
The countryside will also play host to various off-road pursuits. 4x4 races, motocross, and of course downhill mountain biking on "Mount Chiliad", complete with bunnyhopping and a whole mountain bike championship if you can beat the folks to the bottom without dying in the process.
Other distractions include a fully operational bull dozer, with a right analogue stick-operated front plough that can be used to flip cars and tear up highly destructible environments full of picket fences, plants, outdoor furniture (and of course hapless locals), and there's even a lawnmower to drive around drunkenly - as you admire things like the increased level of foliage detail (down to something called "procedural rendering") and a new moon in the sky that goes through a full 30-day lunar cycle. They really do seem to have thought of everything.
Heck, there are even forest fires to contend with. CJ can operate a fire extinguisher now, but we have a feeling the hot arid locations of San Andreas will prove quite popular with pyromaniac types who miss the original GTA's line-cars-up-then-blow-the-lot mechanics. And don't worry, we're not going to end on a "San Andreas is on fire" pun. Oh er. Damn.
We should have lots more on GTA: San Andreas very soon. In the meantime, check our screenshots section for evidence of most of the things Rockstar's been talking about this September. The full game is due out on PS2 on October 29th and PC in the middle of next year.