We've had yet another chance to visit Rockstar to see Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas in action - and this time around we grabbed an eyeful of the game's rural locales.
As previously mentioned, between the game's three major cities are miles of desert and countryside. While we were initially concerned that they would be little more than empty dirtscapes, they're as much a living, breathing part of San Andreas as the traditional urban areas are.
The demo kicked off with CJ tearing around in a monster truck in an area called Leafy Hollow. As well as offering four-wheel drive, the outsize truck features four-wheel steering (which you can make use of via clever manipulation of the handbrake). So, despite its size, the vehicle boasts an incredibly tight turning circle - which can come in handy for getting yourself out of scrapes.
We passed an assortment of truck and tractor-driving yokels on one of the game's many backroads and also passed a river (which, visually, wasn't actually that good looking) before then embarking on our first countryside mission.
Entitled Lure, the Midnight Club-inspired escapade features CJ being chased through dense woodland in Flint County by a pair of dirtbike-riding thugs. You simply have to make it through all the checkpoints before your truck is shot to bits. You'll eventually enter a tunnel underneath Mount Chiliad and, after a total of about four minutes of frantic racing, you'll clear the final checkpoint and garner an $8000 reward in the process.
It's not a hugely sophisticated task by any means but it looks to offer a great visceral thrill, no doubt aided by the fact that, as you'd expect from GTA, you're free to take any route you like between each checkpoint. Indeed, Rockstar are eager to highlight the fact that anywhere you can see in the game you can actually get to - providing you have the right vehicle, of course.
We then saw CJ jacking a car - showing off one of the charming new animations in which the hapless driver's face is smashed into the steering wheel - before he drove off to Angel Pine, one of the 12 small towns that populate the game's rural areas. Here, he heads straight for the local trailer park (no town's complete without one) where he picks up another mini-mission.
This one involves the troubled Los Santos native assassinating an informer and having to take photos as evidence (any pics you take during the game can be viewed as an in-game gallery). The victim is hiding out in a shack on the side of the huge Mount Chiliad - the largest object in the game. This section gives the chance to ride a quadbike - on which you can pull off assorted tricks and wheelies, once your skill level is sufficiently developed.
We were then shown single-propeller plane the Dodo, which made its debut in GTA III. The brief flight gave us some idea of the sheer size of the game - its overall area is around four to five time larger than Vice City - and proved that the Dodo could well end up being an invaluable way to quickly transport yourself across the sprawling state.
Finally, we got to see CJ jump aboard a Harley Davidson-alike and ride from just outside a small town called Dillimore to Richman to the Vinewood Hills and via Mullholland all the way back into Los Santos itself, where he finally pulled up outside his house in the east side of the city.
Rockstar claim that the progression from Vice City to San Andreas is a "bigger leap than when we went from 2D to 3D". While that may be overstating the case somewhat, the game continues to look hugely impressive in almost every regard. Bring on the end of October.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is released for PS2 on 29 October, with a PC version to follow in mid-2005