Grand Theft Auto V: The fivequel drops on the PC... it’s the best version yet

For a Franchise that’s coming up to its 18th  birthday, it’s amazing how little GTA has changed. GTA V may have the most fully realised city and well-drawn characters to date, but it’s fundamentally about the gratification of being able to walk down the street and break into any car. This is also the savviest entry in the series the company has released it for two generations of consoles and now on the PC, essentially milking the same content a total of five times. Kerching.

That’s not to diminish the PC version in any way. Rockstar may have a lackadaisical approach to our beloved platform, but the company has poured its efforts into making the Windows version as seriously bling as possible hence that 18-month delay between its console release and its arrival on Steam. But aside from a whopping graphical boost, GTA V is fundamentally the same game.

It initially focuses on two characters. Michael de Santo is a middle-aged man living a  crime-fuelled lifestyle in the opulent Rockford Hills. He meets the impoverished Franklin Clinton by chance, leading to an oddball paternal relationship between the two Michael sees Franklin as a substitute for his wayward son, while Franklin sees Michael as the man he aspires to become.

The game’s unique twist is that it allows you to switch between the two protagonists, with a third the Kane & Lynch two-in-one Trevor Philips rolling up later. Watching the narrative unfold and the characters’ stories intersect is one of the game’s greatest pleasures. It’s as smartly written as influential TV series The Wire, and it deals with similar themes of social and economic inequality.

Mission Mayhem
This fiendish threesome works really well. Each character is properly fleshed-out with proper backstories and motivation, and it’s helped by a charismatic supporting cast. But almost every other aspect of the game was perfected  10  years ago with Vice City, which achieved exactly  the right balance of satire, violence and nostalgia. Every GTA has a redemptive story  arc, with a now straight character reluctantly dragged back into a life of crime.

Missions take the same structure as the game as a whole. Everything’s going well, then something goes wrong and there’s an enormous gunfight or a velocious car chase. It makes you wonder how the characters run a bath or fill out mortgage application forms without the process turning into an enormous gunfight or a velocious  car chase, but it’s as much a part of the GTA experience as the simple pleasure of running someone over.

Grand Theft Auto Online extends the action into the online arena, with up to 30 players battling through the enormous gun fights and velocious car chases. Heists, especially, becoming particularly thrilling when you plan and execute them with friends. It’s treated as a separate game by Rockstar rather than a drop-in extension of the single player portion, an approach we prefer because nothing breaks the tense atmosphere of a solitary mission like Brad asking if you’re up for a bank job.

Los Santos a kind of broken facsimile of Los Angeles forms the setting for both single and multiplayer portions of the game, and a GTA city has never looked better.  There are times when the sun’s setting and the golden hour light twinkles off the ocean, or when you’re meditatively firing your tank in the forest, and you feel a sense of this being a real place. It’s a huge, unbroken area and one that’s fully accessible  from the word go, but it feels better to let the story introduce you to its more intimate regions.

It looks even better thanks to the sheer number of options that PC gamers are able to tweak. As well as the usual anti-aliasing, tessellation and shader sliders, you can alter the density of the traffic and pedestrians (as in how many of them there are, rather than how stupid they are). It’s well-optimised so you won’t need high-end hardware to run it, while, if you do get that craving to make an Xbox One or PS4 owner break down and weep, it’s also an awesome excuse to grab a 4K monitor and a Titan X.

Rockstar, however, hasn’t just put its efforts into the graphics. It integrates a PC-specific first-person view, something which has been sorely missed in previous GTA adventures. The cars handle magnificently, with a tangible sense of shifting mass eliminating the usual problems of controlling cars with your WASD claw. Gun fights are made a hell of a lot easier by switching to first-person, even if the reticule gets a bit lost in brighter scenery. And having just finished 12 years of therapy thanks to the Vice City remote control helicopter mission, there’s thankfully no such fiddliness here. There’s even an option to skip missions if you’re stuck.

There are a couple of cracks in the whole experience. If you don’t have an SSD, loading times can become an issue it takes over a minute for the game to appear. It’s forgivable because the entire city is loading at once, and besides, it’s always been a problem with the series’s vast metropolitan areas. Also, the characters’ model hair looks like it’s made of Play-Doh. So the only problems with GTA V are that you might have to wait for a little bit, and the hair occasionally looks a bit wrong. We feel petty for bringing them up. Sorry.

Exhilarating Action
There have been many challengers to GTA’s wipe-clean leather throne Just Cause and Saints Row both added their own ridiculous twists to the formula, while even generically diverse games such as Fallout and Skyrim owe a little to GTA it is, after all, fundamentally an open-world RPG. But there’s something in GTA’s DNA (should that be DMA?) that stretches back to those first adventures in Liberty City in the late 90s. It may have become more three dimensional in every sense of the term, but the feeling of exhilaration and acceleration as you speed down the road followed by the worrying rasp of the nonchalant dispatcher on the radio remains the same. And  long may it continue.

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