Masterfully-crafted sandbox experience.
PC version trumps all others.
Way better than GTA IV's PC build.
Some frustrating missions.
Ocassional performance dips.
GTA V Review
Grand Theft Auto V is large game. Actually, large doesn’t really describe the immense size of this sandbox properly. It’s a game in which you can ride around in a bus, checking out the city at a normal pace all the while experiencing the wholly realistic arrival schedules and other people getting in on the same ride. You can spend your days at a local strip club, throwing dosh at the women working there while gasping at their performances from first person view. Perhaps you’d prefer to go out hunting? Scuba diving or parachuting? Hmmmm… maybe joining the underground car racing community sounds better, eh? Or if you’re really into criminal activities, robbing stores is always a good adrenaline rush. These are all completely viable ventures in this game, and they don’t even underline the core gameplay and what it’s all about. See, GTA V is not about its storyline, as good as it might be, nor is it a game that wants to tell you a story, no. Instead, it’s an experience in which immersion is most important, for better or worse, and where emergent storytelling has an unnervingly crucial function. You create your own stories here, and that’s what it’s all about.
A distinction is to be made between the three versions of the game currently available. The X360/PS3 version is obviously the ‘worst’ of the lot, what with it being very much a last-gen game and all that. You get low-end textures with few post-processing effects there, and most of the fluff that makes the next-gen versions so much more enjoyable is missing. The Xbox One and PS4 build is light-years ahead, with first-person view, lots of additional stuff to enjoy (such as animals) and better frame-rate stability. Finally, there’s the version I’m taking a gander at now – the long-awaited PC release of Grand Theft Auto V has happened, and much can be said about it now that we have it in our paws. It’s obviously visually the most jaw-dropping build of the game you’ll see, easily trumping the current-gen versions with post-processing alone, and that’s without considering the beautiful renders of the game running at 4K resolutions. The truly large textures add a lot to the level of visual fidelity too, making the game feel much more photo-realistic than it ever was, and the fact that this was originally a last-gen title makes Rockstar’s accomplishment that much more impressive.
Should you be able to max this game out at 4K resolutions (which will require no less than 6GB of VRAM, mind you), you’ll witness a real marvel. Of course, you don’t enjoy this game due to its looks but because of gameplay, but seeing GTA V run at its absolute best makes virtually everything else pale in comparison. The introductory sequence doesn’t show you what the engine is truly capable of, so I suggest holding out on forming a proper opinion until you’ve kickstarted the actual sandbox half an hour later. Every pedestrian’s clothes, should the be of the baggier variation, ripple as the wind sweeps through the crowds, the textures of tarmac display each painstakingly detailed crack on the road, and as the sun rises you’ll get to see beautiful lighting effects as you run amok in San Andreas. Each rendered wall feels cold and rough, just like an actual wall, while the foliage all over the game world makes you want to come close and check out the details on each leaf it grew. Furry animals will make you want to pet them (sadly not an option) and swimming in the vast ocean makes for some truly impressive sights that I wish not to spoil. Words cannot truly describe this experience though, and seeing it all run on 60 FPS is a real eye-opener. This has very little to do with the pointless discussion over whether the master race wins out again, but with the fact that being able to play with unlocked framerate means that there’s no barrier between the player and the game. There’s no ‘cinematic’ filter that makes the console versions feel like highly interactive movies you’re merely watching at your own behest. Indeed, playing at 60 FPS and in first person serves for some horrifyingly personal moments when it comes to acts of violence, but I’ll divulge on that a bit later. Steering vehicles, too, becomes a much more gratifying experience as you’re able to drive much more precisely, and don’t even get me started on the mouse/keyboard combat controls, because playing on a gamepad simply doesn’t cut it when it comes to precision aiming here. However, I do suggest keeping a controller close by even though you’re focusing on your PC-gaming peripherals, because what mouse does for aiming here, controller is doing the same thing for driving. As you might have guessed, lack of analog controls makes keyboards less sufficient for steering and speed management, but we’ve all seen this coming. As far as optimization goes, most will be pleasantly surprised, but don’t expect to be running the game on a week-old slice of pizza. The highest settings will require lots and lots of juice, but the medium-high will be attainable by most easily, and it’s a real relief to see that framerate indeed does hold up at virtually all situations, as long as your machine isn’t a truly horrible piece of work. There will be an ocassional framerate dip though, especially when you get into a really fast car and speed through the Los Santos centre as quickly as you can – the framerate chugs along and breaks immersion, sadly.
With all of that in mind, you might wonder how does gameplay hold up on PC, and the answer is – brilliantly. As I said, firing a weapon feels heavier and intense than it did before, while players have much better control over what’s going on at all times. It goes to show just how much better the game plays when you remove all restraints and allow all control schemes to be fiddled with. Every player will be able to fully customize what’s going around at any given moment, going as far as to offer the option for the game to play out in first person fully, switching out only when the player enters a vehicle or takes cover. Grand Theft Auto V’s PC version is an extremely malleable piece of software, and that makes for a world of difference for us PC gamers. In a sentence, you’ll be able to play GTA V just the way you want it to play, and this combined with the fact that Rockstar did a really good job at porting the game to the new platform hopefully means that more developers will take note of how it’s done. This is a rather large sandbox game after all, and one can only imagine how well a linear shooter might be optimized should the same effort be made.
Gameplay-wise, I believe everything’s already been told by the numerous reviews of previous versions you’ve surely read by now. This platform gets it all, naturally, and with the added bonus of all the improvements I’ve described above. One fairly important detail, however, is the fact that violence has become very disturbing at this point. Seriously, this won’t be as obvious while playing below 30 FPS and/or on lower graphical settings, but max the game out and play in first person and killing NPCs suddenly becomes a mortifying task. No longer are you simply controlling a character who’s a psychopath. Instead, you can now easily relate to how it is to be that psychopath, and for the first time in a GTA game I find myself avoiding unnecessary violence. I won’t be ramming random pedestrians with my car much, nor will I be going on shooting sprees for no reason whatsoever. Your kills resonate and even though you know it’s just a bunch of pixels you’ve killed now, shaking off the feeling that you’ve done something wrong is not as easy a task as one might imagine. I’d argue this is a good thing, though, because it goes to show that even a silly sandbox such as this can make a hardcore gamer think twice about killing a random NPC, and this might in turn eventually lead to games rewarding non-violence equally, or perhaps even more than violence. This notion is perhaps further elaborated on by the abundance of activities included in GTA V that don’t require any sort of violence to enjoy, and with the game world being as vibrant as it is, taking it in at a slower pace and doing away with the unnecessary shootouts might be a good idea for a lot of players. There’s also the newly added Director mode in which you can fiddle with just about any setting you might think of: want to be a cat? Be a cat. Want to play as one of the supporting characters from the singleplayer game? Sure, why not? Hey, how about you create a scene in which said supporting character dies from the cat attack while a lightning strikes in the background? It’s all viable, really. The Director mode allows you to create your own stories, and combined with the Rockstar Editor – a well-built and well-implemented video editor – you’ll be able to record it all in real time, upload the videos to Youtube immediately and share them so that all of your friends and family see the glorious cat-attack video you’ve just made. While this has been hyped as the PC platform’s killer feature, I see it as just one more tool for the more creative gamers out there to use in creation of content that was already awesome. Truth be told, I won’t be doing much with the Editor, while I may play a bit in the Director mode just to toy with the engine.
The focal point of my experience with this game, however, hasn’t been Grand Theft Auto V. Instead, I’ve been spending most of my time on GTA Online, which is what you too will want to focus on when you’re done with the story of GTA V. Here you’ll have the chance to go to great detail when it comes to creation of your own character, and will have to work from the bottom to try and become a master criminal. Beginning with robbing stores and stealing money from other players at the ATM machines, you’ll soon have access to your own apartment and garage, which is when you’ll probably be able to focus on organized crime more. Assaulting drug trades, hunting down thieves and such quickly becomes natural, and you’ll soon be testing your metal against other players on the streets of Los Santos. The game world is virtually the same as it is in the single player portion, but with the highly disappointing lack of animals. The reasoning behind their removal is beyond me, so here’s hoping Rockstar includes the fuzzy critters at a later time via a patch. The allure here lies in the fact that you’ll be able to fully personalize your in-game avatar and fiddle with his/her growth instead of controlling Michael, Trevor or Franklin, who will remain limited to their own adventure in single player.
I could easily go on and on about my experiences with the game, but I feel as if the review is long enough as it is. Do I recommend this game? Yes, absolutely. Unless you’ve perhaps played it on a current-gen console, in which case I suggest thinking about whether you want to experience the ultimate version of GTA or not. What you get in the package is a brilliant, sometimes cringe-worthy story of three psychos as they approach their inevitable downfall, lots of gameplay hours with no repetition in sight, bucket-loads of content and amazing graphics and just so much more. With all the issues GTA Online had in its inclusion to the market gone, you can easily join the multiplayer fray at any given time. The only downsides of the game lie in its last-gen roots and manifest themselves mostly in the lengthy (and often-appearing) loading times, somewhat blocky models of unimportant scenery and similar. Also, some gamers have had significant issues when it came to getting the bugger to run, but seeing as I couldn’t experience any of them decided to simply give the issue a mention towards the end. Now, go on and get a pass for the best iteration of San Andreas we’ve been given the chance to play until now.
GTA V Review
14th April 2015