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The ability to take cover in Grand Theft Auto, known henceforth as the "cover system", has long been a feature since the first game, primarily intended to protect the player from gunfire and injury. Development of the feature was initially slow as functionality of the cover system had only been improved gradually in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Grand Theft Auto IV and Grand Theft Auto V, however, feature a significantly overhauled cover system, serving as a crucial gameplay element.
In GTA games prior to GTA IV, including top-down games, the player is limited to running behind cars and structures in order to cover from gunfire.
With the introduction of crouching in GTA Vice City, the player can also take cover behind shorter objects (eg. cars, boxes, garbage, desks and benches) that are otherwise useless in GTA III so the player's body is less exposed to gunfire. This is especially advantageous on the PC version where the bullets travel straight to the crosshair and not obstructed by barriers usually experienced when using the console or classic controls. Powerful weapons that can only be targeted in first-person view in the console or classic controls are extremely useful in the PC version, being able to target in third person view. GTA San Andreas added the additional ability to move, roll and dodge while crouching.
Cops also take cover in all 3D Universe games, even GTA III, because there is an animation which only 8-Ball (in the mission Bomb Da Base: Act II, to hide from the cartel while planting the bomb) and the cops, SWAT, FBI and Army use.
GTA Liberty City Stories, GTA Vice City Stories, and GTA Chinatown Wars follow GTA III's cover system, as the player cannot crouch. Similarly, GTA Advance follows the even older cover system employed in early top-down games.
Grand Theft Auto IV
Grand Theft Auto IV and its respective episodes dramatically improved the cover system by allowing the player to hide behind nearly any sufficiently large solid object in a single command and attack while behind cover. Because players will receive more severe injuries from gunfire, and gunfights are made more realistic than previous games, cover is far more necessary when in firefights in GTA IV than in prior games.
When the command to take cover is issued, the player will automatically seek the nearest solid surface for cover, running, rolling, sliding, diving and going from cover to cover; depending on the height of the object, the player will either take cover standing or crouching. Once behind cover, the player can strafe left or right if there is room, hugging close to the cover. At the edge of a cover, the player can fire around, either emerging in plain sight of hostiles to open fire (allowing the player to zoom in on their target) before automatically hiding behind cover, or blind fire (by blindly shooting around or over the source of cover); the former tends to be risky if the player poorly times their attack, as most of their body will be exposed to gunfire; likewise, accuracy is significantly reduced when the player chooses to blind fire, unless they player is able to effectively target weak spots on hostiles (as it is still possible to perform headshots using single blind shots with proper aiming).
Virtually any firearm can be utilized while covering; players can even throw or fire/blind fire projectile weapons and explosives (including the Rocket Launcher and Grenade Launcher) while in cover, protecting themselves from splash damage. It is also important to note that the player will not be able to blind fire using a scoped weapon like the Sniper Rifle, although the player can still fire the weapon while emerging from cover; additionally, the usage of scoped weapons while emerging from cover does not employ scoped first person aiming, allowing the player to use the weapon like any other regular firearm, but renders it less useful when it is necessary to deal with long-range targets. The only weapons that are ineffective while the player is in cover is when the player is unarmed or wielding a melee weapon; in these instances, the player will only be able to perform basic covering moves and will not be able to attack in any way.
It is still possible to resort to the traditional crouch-and-shoot tactic effective in GTA Vice City and GTA San Andreas. Similar to GTA San Andreas, the ability to roll dodge is possible in GTA IV when the player aims their weapon (standing or crouching) by moving left or right and issuing the jump command.
Grand Theft Auto V
Grand Theft Auto V utilizes similar cover mechanics to those in GTA IV. With the press of a button, the player will automatically find the nearest solid object to take cover behind. The player can also blind fire around corners although he exposes himself to gunfire, yet less so than when aiming, and at the cost of reduced shooting accuracy. In contrast to GTA IV, GTA V's cover animation is much smoother, with Michael, Trevor, or Franklin being able to get behind cover quickly and smoothly.
A big change in the new cover system is that a reticle isn't displayed while in cover even when blind-firing, but only when the player is shooting while aiming. However, the player can push the left thumbstick in the according direction to make the character peek out (e.g. push up to look over a car the player his hiding behind), which will display the reticle again. This way the player can aim the reticle while exposing himself only minimally to gunfire, and he will be shooting at that spot when blind-firing.
- If the player is blindfiring a shotgun of any type in GTA IV, regardless of the model, the player character will always pump it once before resuming firing.