By – John Williamson

GTA V PC Review He

Prior to the PC release of GTA V, sales exceeded a staggering 45 million copies worldwide and became the fastest selling entertainment product in history. Rockstar’s hyperbolic representation of US culture and captivating sandbox environment is a magical formula that spawned an entire genre. The studio’s unapologetic use of exaggerated violence and exuberant characters resulted in media controversy which only added to the series’ appeal and provided a greater level of publicity.

It seems rather strange to be reviewing GTA V in 2015 as the PC version was originally “up for consideration” and delayed on various occasions. Rockstar’s reputation with PC gamers is best described as turbulent due to the GTA IV port which was an utter shambles with numerous performance issues alongside draconian DRM. However, Rockstar deserve credit for the superb Max Payne 3 PC version which was virtually faultless. After a long wait, GTA V has finally arrived on the PC and already a commercial success. According to SteamSpy – 1,628,080 copies sold on the Steam store at the time we went to print. The PC version is touted as the “definitive edition” with 4k support, enhanced visuals, uncapped framerate and other vital enhancements.

The narrative in GTA V revolves around three leading protagonists with contrasting personalities. Michael is an adept bank robber forced into early retirement and frustrated with his dysfunctional family. While he lives in a life of luxury, his mind is plagued by anger issues when reflecting on a heist with Trevor and Brad over 10 years ago.  Trevor is a psychopath who takes sadistic pleasure in killing and seems completely unstable. Despite this, there are undertones hinting at his emotional pain as he believes his best friend Michael is now deceased. Finally, Franklin is a stereotypical African-American living in the hood and trying to make a better life for himself predominantly through repossessions. When meeting Michael and Trevor, his life is transformed and becomes an integral member during lucrative missions.

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Throughout the plot, the main characters intertwine in a natural and seamless way which makes the participants more likable. There are tensions between Michael and Trevor but you can almost sense the camaraderie as they begin to rekindle their fractured relationship. Michael acts as a father figure to Franklin and see him as his protégé. Trevor and Franklin are a bizarre combination and it’s interesting to see how they work together in the partnership. Along the way you will encounter a wide array of colourful characters from corrupt government officials to voyeurs obsessed with celebrity lifestyle. GTA V’s story is crude, absurd, clichéd and hilarious providing you go into it with the correct mindset. Expecting something intellectual or diametrically opposed to the previous games will cause some disappointment.

From my own personal experience, the plot is thoroughly entertaining with impeccable cutscenes, wonderful acting and superb writing. It evokes a Hollywood feel and uses satire to great effect. However, one minor complaint is the lack of distinct choices as the story can appear to be overly linear at times. This was probably because Rockstar wanted to retain a cinematic method of storytelling. For example, the cutscenes immediately segue into the game engine in a smooth manner so it feels interconnected. In summary, GTA V’s story is the first game I’ve played in eons that made me laugh uncontrollably.

GTA V is set on a mammoth scale in the vibrant, diverse state of San Andreas. The open world features idyllic vistas in affluent areas with beautiful shrubbery and luxuries including swimming pools, large balconies and scenic views. In contrast to this, there are seedy, dark alleyways in poorer districts susceptible to gang crime. GTA V’s location contains a metropolis city based on Los Angeles known as Los Santos. This city is divided into a number of districts with a host of landmarks and tourist attractions.  Rockford Hills is home to a wide selection of exclusive shopping malls for the glitterati. Another intriguing region is Vespucci which features canals leading to the surrounding beaches.

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Rockstar’s strongest suit is the ability to create a city without making it appears lifeless. Los Santos is awash with people exercising, browsing shops, having arguments and even engaging in random petty crimes. There are also a number of activities to try including Tennis, Golf, Bike Riding, Hunting, Flying, Drinking and more! NPCs respond to your behaviour and even call the police on their smartphone if you begin to hassle them. Similarly, the smartphone culture has been parodied and anything outrageous can be captured by members of the public. Other interests include financial investments on the stock market, buying companies and partaking in missions to fend off any competition in your business.

In addition to the main city, there are rural areas of land to explore with caravans, rocky mountains and beautiful countryside. In terms of attractions, there isn’t a lot on offer due to the secluded and rather primitive environment. The contrast between the hustle and bustle of Los Santos and country outskirts is wonderful and adds a great deal of variety to the missions and personalities you encounter. As a whole, the setting is brimming with detail and a true work of art.

After a while, the sandbox formula can become overly repetitive as there is a distinct lack of mission variety. This is exemplified by GTA IV which relied on a driving phase before large shootouts. GTA V doesn’t necessarily offer anything new, but missions feel relatively fresh due to the superb cutscenes and voice work during gameplay. Furthermore, you can now alternate between the 3 main characters at your whim and approach missions from a different perspective.

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During one heist, Trevor is on higher ground and able to fend off snipers while Franklin and Michael focus on police within a close proximity. This mechanic is magnificent and long overdue as you appreciate how the characters work together and assess their role. In addition to working as a unit, you can complete solo missions specifically designed for each character. Rockstar found the correct balance here as focusing too much on the 3 characters working side-by-side would have made the gameplay quite monotonous.

There are an assortment of missions from drive-by shootings to illegal street races which contribute to the 100% competition rate. Each missions is graded on a percentage scale and a medal is awarded on your ability to pass certain criteria. Usually, this involves maintaining a certain level of accuracy or keeping your getaway car unscathed. Interestingly, these objectives are hidden until you have finished each mission during the story mode.

As such, it’s extremely challenging to gauge what a gold medal entails. I do think this is a genius move as it encourages you to replay the missions and achieve a 100% score. Thankfully, if you have attained 3/4 objectives, all you need to do is pass the final task. This also ties into Trevor, Michael and Franklin’s constantly evolving skill base as driving cars, flying planes and other activities improve their stats. Each character has a signature move that will become invaluable in the more difficult missions. For instance, Trevor can become enraged and take limited damage in a short spell as time is slowed down.

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Heists are a quintessential part of GTA V’s single player and online component containing a small amount of non-linear decision making. Before each heist, you select either an offensive or stealth-based strategy and accumulate the items required to complete immensely profitable missions. Heists are a team effort requiring you to select a crew based on their adeptness with driving, shooting and hacking. Choosing the best team out there with yield lower profit margins as they take a greater cut. The question is, do you dare to scrimp on key members to maximize your bank balance?

The gunplay is remarkably similar to Max Payne 3 and feels weighty and satisfying. Each weapon can be upgraded with scopes and other desirable features.  Cosmetic enhancements are an option which enabled me to purchase a very silly pink Sniper Rifle. In theory, I would strongly recommend using the keyboard and mouse for shooting sections as perfecting headshots will be significantly easier.

In GTA IV, the driving sections were an area of of contention as some users found the slow turning circle to be in contradiction with the series’ arcade-like theme. The physics model has become more accessible in GTA V as avoiding collisions and recovering after a heavy smash is fairly easy to do. It doesn’t feel as sluggish as GTA IV and has a fantastic sense of speed. Rockstar have managed to find the right balance as the steering isn’t too sensitive and behaves in a more realistic manner than games like Watch_Dogs. If you are using the keyboard, it does take some time to adjust because the steering reacts quickly to your commands.

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GTA V includes a first-person perspective inspired by the modding efforts in GTA IV. Throughout the single player, I used the first person camera sporadically and compared it to the traditional viewpoint. The onboard camera when driving is superb when careering into pedestrians and attempting stunts. Shooting sections are horrific using the default FOV due to absurdly large gun models. This isn’t a huge issue as there is an FOV slider to accommodate those with motion sickness and large monitors. Once fixed, the action is intense and feels excellent but I still prefer the 3rd person camera for gunfire. Overall, this extra viewpoint is a wonderful addition especially during free roam, but didn’t seem the optimal way to complete each mission.

GTA Online is touted as an MMO set in the Grand Theft Auto universe and supports 30 concurrent players per session on PC. You begin this mode by creating a character and choosing from a wide array of faces, attires and accessories. My final creation resembled the lovechild of Michael Jackson and Vito Scaletta from Mafia II. I could easily produce a piece over 3000 words on GTA Online alone so providing a succinct description of the experience is quite difficult. The online aspect is a sea of creativity as you can commence impromptu races, raid armoured vehicles, attack rival gangs and simply cause utter carnage by interacting with other players. During missions, you can be killed by other users which heightens the tension and records a score between two rivals. There are also approximately 500 Jobs which resemble traditional multiplayer game modes through a more directed experience.

Money and Reputation points are granted for completing objectives and provide access to housing, weaponry, and unique clothing. Crews are another essential element of GTA Online and designed to match players of similar interests who enjoy particular types of gameplay modes. During the review, I played GTA Online for around 6 hours and the experience was flawless with no connection problems or latency. The option to become involved in a bustling open world with real players is marvelous and highly addicting. From intense races to risky heists, GTA Online has it all!

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Rockstar have included a comprehensive video editor with the ability to capture footage in-game so you can create theatrical sequences. Simply press the F1 key to toggle the recording feature and enter the editor to change effects, filters, text, music and more! Obviously, the footage must be via the 3rd-person perspective and after finalizing your creation it can be shared and uploaded directly to YouTube. The Director mode allows you to play as any of the 276 character models in a pre-defined map using free roam.

Moving onto the most important question, is the PC version any good? For the most part yes, barring issues with Rockstar Social Club. Throughout the testing procedure, I used an i7 4770K @ 4.5Ghz, 16GB 2400MHz RAM and Gigabyte G1 Gaming GTX 980 overclocked to 1385/8004 MHz. I decided to opt for minimum, maximum and average figures from actual gameplay since in-game benchmarks sometimes don’t represent real performance. Before we get into the numbers, it’s vital to analyse the options menu which I’m pleased to say is virtually flawless. There are over 25 configurable options including FXAA, MSAA, TXAA, Population Density, Population Variety, Distance Scaling, Texture Quality, Shadow Quality, Shader Quality, Reflection Quality, Water Quality, Particles Quality, Grass Quality, Depth-of-Field effects, Reflection MSAA, Post-FX, Soft Shadows, Anisotropic Filtering, Ambient Occlusion and Tessellation.

There is another tab with advanced options but I wouldn’t recommend altering these unless you have a powerful rig and tweaking to eke out every last inch of performance. These variables revolve around the Draw Distance and Shadow Resolution. In terms of overall graphical fidelity, a lot depends on the preset selected. There is a huge jump in texture quality when you move from medium to high settings and most modern PCs should be able to run at high details at 1920×1080. Even on modest settings, the game is simply beautiful with gorgeous water effects, stunning lighting and mesmerizing foliage detail. While it’s not perfect, and there are some intermittent ugly textures, this is excusable due to the game’s huge world.

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Another commendable inclusion is the support for a wide range of monitor aspect ratios. You can select between 3:2, 4:3, 5:3, 5:4, 16:9 and 16:10. The only missing component is 21:9 2560×1080 ultra wide panels. There is also a Windowed Mode, Uncapped Framerate, 5.1 Surround Support, Rebindable keys, Subtitles, Multi-Monitor support and you can even choose which DirectX version is used. The options menu contains a VRAM meter which is completely inaccurate from my testing so I recommend you simply ignore it.

The optimization is very impressive and scales beautiful across a wide range of hardware. On maximum settings at 4K, a GTX 980 SLI setup or R9 295×2 is recommend for decent framerates. On my setup, I ran the game at maximum settings using a 120hz 2560×1440 monitor. Using maximum settings barring MSAA, MSI Afterburner reported a maximum framerate of 84 fps, minimum of 34 fps and averaged out at 58 fps. To ensure the engine is well suited to x86 PCs, I monitored the GPU usage which I’m glad to say consistently hovered between 94-99% load. When you start to move from FXAA to MSAA x2, x4 and x8, the performance as you might expect takes a significant hit. Therefore, with MSAA x4 with a GTX 980, you can expect to get a solid 60fps at 2560×1440 on Very High settings instead of Ultra.  However, the latest build is still plagued by a bug which ties mouse acceleration to the framerate. This means, if you have a variable fps, the mouse movement is very inconsistent.

I was fairly impressed with the lack of stuttering and framedrops even when the traffic density became quite demanding. While the optimization is impeccable, Rockstar’s reliance on their horrendous Social Club DRM has prevented users from even starting the game. Apparently, this was due to incompatible naming on Windows User Accounts. I am pleading with Rockstar to get rid of this terrible system which requires you to register the game through an account, and launch Rockstar Social Club. In the terms, GTA has an “entitlement verification check” and this is the sort of nonsense I’ve been campaigning against for years.

If you want to become a PC-friendly developer, simply make the game Steamworks or DRM-free. Another point to make is every version outside of Steam uses Social Club and cannot be redeemed on Steam. This includes 3rd party vendors such as GreenManGaming and even retail copies. I also detected frame drops after the latest patch which was intended to fix the Social Club authentication mess. Weirdly, pressing ALT+Tab out of the game and returning to it seems to fix the problem. The Steam Cloud isn’t supported either and I cannot determine if Social Club has a similar feature.

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Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Money?

Grand Theft Auto V is a tour-de-force sandbox game set in the most detailed world ever conceived. The storytelling affectionately derides modern culture and the colourful characters while being quite stereotypical have a degree of charm. Rockstar have finally perfected the balance in both gunplay and driving mechanics which makes for an enthralling experience. GTA Online is a stupendous addition that offers almost unlimited replayability. The PC version is superbly optimized, visually stunning and destined to push PC Gaming rigs to their full potential.

GTA V PC Technical Summary:

GTA V PC Review Sum

  • Time Played – 42 Hours
  • Widescreen Support – Yes
  • Resolution Played – 2560×1440
  • Windowed Mode – Yes
  • 5.1 Audio Support – Yes
  • Control Scheme – Keyboard and Mouse, Xbox 360 Controller
  • System Specs – I7 4770K, 16GB RAM, 4GB Gigabyte GTX 980
  • Game Acquisition Method – Review Copy
  • Demo – No
  • Save Game Location – Documents\Rockstar Games\GTA V\Profiles\
  • Version Reviewed – 331
  • DRM – Rockstar Social Club or Steam
  • Availability – Steam, GreenManGaming, Local Retail Store
  • Bugs/Crashes – Minor stuttering after patches, Mouse acceleration tied to framerate

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  • St1ka

    This was an incredibly detailed review! I wish more websites went as in-depth as this.

    • John Williamson

      Thank you so much! That means the world to me, and I’m really thrilled that you enjoyed the article.

  • ColdCollect

    Perfectly written review, once again in depth and fully detailed.Thanks very much John, you’re the reason I come to this site.

    • John Williamson

      Thank you very much! Far too kind, and I really appreciate your comment.

  • trincetto

    Lovely, detailed and interesting review!
    Good to know that they made a good port this time, GTA IV ran badly and was plagued with GFWL (although we still have to suffer the useless Rockstar Social Club). I’m glad they went back to the series’ more arcade-y roots, I found driving a chore in IV, making exploration of the beautifully rendered city less fun.
    I’ll still wait to buy it until the game is fully patched and discounted (mostly because with the slow connections available in my country it’ll take ages to download) but I’ll probably waste hundred of hours once I have it — the game’s world looks gorgeous!

    • AdamAmes

      Thanks for the comment.

      Even with Social Club, which is highly annoying, the game is miles from what GTA IV was. That game was my worst PC gaming purchase.