Grand Theft Auto V PC Review
It’s been about 19 months since Grand Theft Auto V released on PS3 and Xbox 360 to critical and commercial success. It’s also been around five months since the current generation received an updated port of the game, but it’s only recently that the PC finally, after a couple of delays, gets to sample one of last generation’s truly great releases.
For the people who don’t know anything about Grand Theft Auto V, here is a quick introduction to what its story is about. The narrative follows three characters with intersecting storylines that builds towards bringing the characters together to form a crew. Michael is a retired crook, who has left the world of bank robbing to live a new life in Rockford Hills, Los Santos, with his dysfunctional family. His old friend, Trevor, is seen here too, but it’s not till around five or six hours into the game that you are able to control him. Trevor is a nutcase fuelled by speed that causes him to become an uncontrollable, psychopathic maniac. He’s also home to the queasiest moment in the game. Sure, he’s twisted, but for me, this makes him the most exciting guy out of the three. Being in the mind of a person who would be regarded as unpleasant and “evil” in video games is rather an unknown territory, and I enjoyed that perspective. His unpredictability is a cause for many of the game’s amusing moments, as he knows no bounds with his recklessness. Lastly, there is Franklin, a younger dude, whose only experience with criminal life is gang wars and weed selling. Franklin’s current job is as a repo-man for a luxury car dealer, but that changes when Franklin is introduced to the bigger world of crime when he meets up with Michael.
You can read what I thought about the game as a whole in our PS3 review, since I know a lot of hardcore PC players have been waiting for this release to arrive to gain the benefits of the platform, so I won’t fill this review with a repeat of what was said before. Everyone will be happy to know that this is great port of GTA V that includes all the extras that the PS4 and Xbox One title received, plus the option for 60 frames per second, special PC features and all the other fancy bell and whistles people expect from a well-crafted PC port. While it might not say those special words in the title that a lot of PS4/Xbox One ports are being called, this is clearly the definitive edition of Grand Theft Auto V and the one to get if you have a choice between all the versions available.
It’s best to start this review with the graphics, because most people are looking at this game on PC and are interested in just how it performs on the platform. I tested the game on a Windows 7 machine with 16GB DDR3 ram, an i7-2600k clocked at 4.2GHz and a Sapphire 290X as the graphics card, and I can say I came away mostly impressed with the performance. The first thing I did was crank everything up to maximum, because why wouldn’t you? You always want to see if your setup can run a game with everything maxed out, and so I tried.
With everything turned on to the highest settings apart from MSAA, since that’s a frame rate killer, GTA V was running between 35-80 frames per second in the city and stupidly high when in doors. We’re talking over 120 fps, since the game isn’t displaying its huge draw distance. When the game is cranked all the way up it looks beautiful. I played the game all the way through on PS3 and bits of it on PS4, but still, seeing it at maximum settings on the PC truly shows how much detail the artists at Rockstar have poured into the world.
For people who must have 60 frames per second in their games, then there is a ton of options to tinker with to achieve this. Using my machine as an example, to hit that target I had to reduce the extended draw distance down to nothing and set all settings to very high, which led to 60fps for 99% of the time, no matter what was going on. Even with these settings, the game still clearly looks better than the PS4 port, plus there is the added bonus of smooth 60fps gameplay, which helps to increase the responsiveness with driving or shooting.
Graphical options available covers areas like textures, shaders, shadows, reflections, water particles and grass qualities, soft shadows, motion blur, anisotropic filtering, MSAA and FXAA options, ambient occlusion, tessellation, the density and variety of population, and the distance scaling (general) and extended distance scaling, along with long shadows, high detail shadows and distance when in the sky. The game even comes with a video memory usage bar, showing you how much memory these settings will use with your graphics card. If you go over that then you will run into some issues with performance. With so much customisation on offer, one can find a setting for a system with decent power to get pretty graphics and solid performance from the game, which is completely the opposite from the initial performance problems that Grand Theft Auto IV had on its PC release.
Work from Rockstar didn’t stop with offering all those fancy graphical options. The company has thrown in some extras, such as being able to add your own MP3s to the “C:\Users\[user name]\Documents\Rockstar Games\GTA V\User Music” folder and have the game create its own “self-radio” station that features all your MP3s to listen to as you blast down the highway at ridiculous speeds, while mixing in some DJ banter and adverts to bring across that radio experience. I’ve seen reports that some people have had issues with too many MP3s causing problems with the game’s performance, but I only had around 20 in the folder and that was streaming fine in the game.
Director mode is the other major feature included for PC and it’s rather spectacular in what it lets the user do within the Rockstar Editor application. Director mode offers the world of Los Santos to you and you have the ability to use any none playable characters, included animals and aliens, change the weather, time of day, apply filters and change camera angles (if footage wasn’t recorded in the first-person mode) from footage captured and saved with the action replay feature that can be turned on by simply activating it when selecting a character. It basically allows you to make your own fancy video shorts with your own footage, even as far as applying the game’s soundtrack and sound effects on cue, giving you plenty of tools to have fun. I’m not the greatest creator of content, so I played around using an alien and blowing stuff up, then became a dog to bite people’s testicles and run from the cops.
You can also have continuous recording if you have the hard drive space, allowing you to look back on more than just the last 30 seconds. One issue I had with captured footage was that at the moment you can only dump it to the C drive, meaning my little SSD for the operating system can’t hold more than 10 GB (its free space). It’s very weird why Rockstar doesn’t let you use any other drive, but hopefully that will be patched in.
Grand Theft Auto V took its sweet time to arrive on PC, but this is clearly the version to own, thanks to Rockstar putting care into the port to supply not only a beautiful looking game that can run a butter smooth 60fps, but is also the most feature rich version, containing all the engaging story, refinements to the game mechanics and all new built-in applications to allow creators to make their own shorts within the world of Grand Theft Auto V. At the end of the day, this is still Grand Theft Auto V, an entry that I find is the best in the series, and a game that has been made that little bit better with the performance boost and graphical enhancements.