Note: Below are impressions of the technical improvements and additions found in the PC version of GTA 5. For an insight into the characters and missions of GTA 5, which are essentially unchanged since its original 2013 release, Simon's original review can be found here.
Yes, of course GTA 5 PC looks good. You already know that, what with the endless trailers and edited videos and 4K screenshots and breathless 'IT LOOKS BETTER THAN REALITY' previews and everything else. It had to look that good. That's The Point. That aside, however, the real question surrounding GTA's launch concerned how it would hold up technically: will my graphics card have a breakdown without a certain set of drivers? Does it need a so-called supercomputer? Will it even run without a litre of tears being shed and at least one family member terminally affronted?
Having messed around in both its world and its graphics settings for a day or so, it's clear that Rockstar meant what it said when it declared it would be putting serious time and effort into the PC build. This is the definitive version, replacing the PS4 equivalent, and it goes some way to expunging the memory of the rather botched launch of PC GTA4. Not all the way, as some people are still unable to launch it, with either their hardware/software conking out or their, uh, names failing to be recognised. Neither of these issues (and undoubtedly the boatload of others) are ideal, of course. But get it working, as we did with ease, and GTA 5 is superb out of the gate.
The setup we used to test the game is just a little north of the recommended specs, with 8GB of RAM, a quad-core i7 3770 at 3.40GHz, and an AMD Radeon 7970. We hadn't even upgraded the drivers to the latest ones, despite much prodding (new-driver-at-launch related horror stories being too much to bear). In all honesty there were fears it would fall over, but it played remarkably well at 1080 and at or near 60, with almost everything on high or very high. And with VSync on. (Without it, screen tearing is frequent and noticeable, although your mileage may vary).
GTA 5 is, frankly, stacked with graphics options, with the ability to twiddle with everything from grass density to water reflections to the amount of contempt in Michael's heart. As with other Rockstar PC titles like GTA 4 and Max Payne 3, there's a bar at the top of the options menu representing how full your graphics card's video memory is: dialing the presets up or down gives you an indication of how close you are to maxing out your setup. It's a handy real-time guide that removes some of the frustration of flicking in and out of the game to test the results. Seeing as GTA 5 PC has to restart after certain changes, this is more than welcome.
More impressive than all of this however is that as well as adding in all the settings you'd want, Rockstar has also given thought on how to tailor them to the GTA experience. So under 'advanced' graphics options you'll not find stuff like tessellation, ambient occlusion, soft shadows etc (that's in the main section), but instead specific bumps to the game's main selling points. So you can extend the draw distance, but also the detail of streaming while in a plane, mitigating pop-in and LOD issues.
It's one example of many, and underlines Rockstar's commitment to the PC version as something other than an afterthought. Lessons have been learned, especially considering how basic GTA 4 was when it launched. In around five hours of playing the single-player game we had very few issues, only creaking when we turned almost everything up to very high.
But what about machines that aren't over the recommended specs? Well, it appears that GTA 5 scales nicely. One of our office machines, running a modest AMD 7700, 6GB of RAM, and a quad-core i5, obviously couldn't get anywhere near the performance of the previous build. Instead it defaulted most settings to medium (and turned population density to 0, oddly), but with a few tweaks it was possible to get it running at a decent lick and with texture detail turned to high. As a comparison, it resembled a kind-of inbetween version of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 4 builds of the game. Certainly playable, quite nice in places, but still an (understandably) drastic step down.
The short version is if you've got the hardware it looks fantastic, and even if you haven't with some creative tinkering you'll get something out of it. But what about GTA Online? Well, that had more issues than the single-player, mostly relating to hanging (although not fatally) when exiting jobs. It crashed out twice, but on the whole handled the load pretty well. We were able to enter games with other players smoothly, without getting dropped. Character transfer went without a hitch, and there was no noticeable lag when running around the world or on-mission. We even played some golf. It was rubbish.
Outside of the visual and technical plus points, there's also the option to add your own music and the game will craft a radio station out of it. And, of course, there's the new Rockstar Editor, a fairly flexible tool for making your own short movies. Simply hold the down button on the dpad and you'll be given the option to record, or back things up for an action replay. It works well, splitting 'scenes' into short rolling bursts of recording time (which is shown on screen) and enabling you to keep track of what you've been filming. In edit there's the opportunity to mess around with everything from camera angles to saturation to SFX/BGM split, as well as choosing specific radio stations for your movie. There are some disappointments - different camera angles can't be used if you've filmed any of the short clip in first person - but it should suffice for most, and is a fairly intuitive way of filming that bit where you killed a bus full of people for fun.
So, it's GTA 5 (again), but better (again). Throw in out-of-the-box Heist support as part of a stable version of GTA Online and you've got the complete version of the game, and one that - despite its aesthetic and technical achievements - isn't actually that demanding to run.