Also available on Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360 and PS3
The long wait has been worth it. If you’re a PC gamer who’s spent the last eighteen months envying the console crowd while they all got stuck into the latest, greatest GTA, then rest assured that you can now play the definitive version. Sure, the Xbox One and PS4 versions were amazing, delivering GTA 5 at higher resolutions with more detailed textures, smoother surfaces, better lighting and cool depth of field effects (see our full review below), but the PC version offers even more enhancements plus a couple of additional features that play to the PC’s strengths. In doing so, it adds a few more metres to one of gaming’s towering achievements.
Having covered the game twice already, we won’t go too far into the detail of what makes GTA 5 so good. Partly, it’s a question of experience. With four previous 3D GTAs under its belt plus Red Dead Redemption, Bully and assorted DLC packs, Rockstar has had time to refine its vision for open world gameplay and its systems, and GTA 5 has the best driving, the best shooting and some of the best mission design of the series.
It’s also a question of structure. Dividing the action amongst three protagonists with three interlocking storylines and three distinctive flavours means you nearly always have the option to flick from Michael’s ageing career criminal saga to Franklin’s ambitious hoodlum story to Trevor’s crazed, amoral brand of mayhem, where the dumb, cathartic slapstick violence we all – deep down – love GTA for finds its natural home. With repeated play, it only becomes clearer how well all three tales mesh thematically with Rockstar’s savage satirical take on the Californian dream.
See also: Red Dead Redemption 2 rumoursAnd the budget definitely helps. The more time you put into GTA 5, the more you come to appreciate what a large and intensely detailed creation Los Santos is, and just how much is packed into the surrounding Blaine County. That’s because Rockstar had the ambition and the money to put in all the golf and tennis mini-games, all the stunt challenges, all the bizarre side missions and all the weird, hidden stuff that probably 90% of players will never see. The amazing thing about GTA 5 is that you can spend hour after hour playing it yet still be struck by all the stuff you haven’t done yet. No other open world feels this coherent. No other open world has so much to do.
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So, what does playing on PC bring to the experience? Well, for a start there’s the most visually impressive and immersive version yet. Those lucky enough to have a 1440p or 4K monitor and the rig to run it will have ample cause for amazement, and the rest of us who have to struggle along at 1080p won’t go short. GTA 5 PC benefits from the new lighting model, post-processing effects, day-to-night cycle and added vegetation of the next-gen console versions, but also additional levels for textures, shader effects, reflections and shadow detail that affect everything from the way characters’ faces look close-up to depth-of-field effects, water and grass.
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It’s open to a huge amount of tinkering, but then it needs to be. Basic gaming systems, like a budget Core i3 with an old GTX 660, will struggle to run GTA 5 at a decent frame rate unless you reduce the resolution and start pulling settings down from high. Our test system, with a Core i5 and a Radeon R9 285, still wouldn’t run smoothly with settings above high at 1080p.
What’s more, GTA 5 is really tough on video memory. Try to set Texture Quality to High with a 2GB graphics card and you’ll be warned that you’re exceeding the limits. Ignore the warnings, and you may be gobsmacked by the detail on skin, background textures and – particularly clothing – but the frame rate will stutter all the time. It might just about be bearable when you’re walking around, but get in a car and try a driving-heavy mission and you’re in for a nasty shock.
GTA 5 scales up beautifully if you’re rocking a Core i7/GTX 970 or Radeon R9 290, but if you have a lesser system then you’re going to have to make some compromises. It’s also worth noting that we’ve experienced the odd collision-detection bug and some weird texture drop-outs, occasionally affecting whole scenes at a time. It’s early days with early GPU drivers, though, so we suspect these issues will be nailed down with time.
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Beyond this, we get support for mouse and keyboard gameplay – a definite plus if you play in first-person view – and some new options for background music. Not only is there a new radio station to listen to – The Lab FM – but a rather ingenious way of adding custom soundtracks to the game. Drag your own music files into a subfolder called User Music, and they’ll play through a new Self Radio station while you’re in the game. It’s a shame that Rockstar didn’t make this a little more obvious or accessible, but playing GTA 5 with your own background tunes is a blast.
GTA Online comes bundled in, of course, bringing Rockstar’s online multiplayer crime sim to the PC for the first time. It’s due a reappraisal now that the new Heist missions have been dropped in, but it’s still a slightly odd combination of open-world exploration and ad-hoc PvP larceny and murder (all good) and more straightforward shooter and racer events, which don’t really play to GTA’s strengths. It’s fun, but not Battlefield: Hardline.
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No, if we had to say that the PC version had a killer feature, it would be the new Rockstar Editor and its accompanying Director Mode. At any point, you can start recording the action, the game recording clips of up to 90 seconds in length. You can also use an instant replay function to grab footage from an always-on buffer after you do something cool or crazy. You can then use the Rockstar Editor to edit and montage these clips, trimming them down, adding markers and changing camera angles, so that you can switch from a behind the character view to a front view, then a custom view and back again within one clip. On top of this you can add a range of colour, vintage movie and TV effects, and also add and edit soundtracks, with a solid selection of songs from all the radio stations available for use.
Credit to Rockstar here; it has created an editing tool that’s both fairly sophisticated and surprisingly easy-to-use. Sure, serious video editors will bemoan the lack of multiple video and audio tracks and the limitations on transitions, but this isn’t that kind of tool. We can see a lot of players using the Rockstar Editor to create their own cool scenes – and that’s good enough for us.
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With Director Mode you can take this one stage further. Switch out of Story Mode to Director Mode and a caravan appears, from which you can summon one of a range of weirdos, freaks and background extras, plus any principal story characters and heist recruits that you’ve unlocked. You can then teleport your start to a range of locations, kit them out with any vehicles you’ve unlocked, then get up to whatever you fancy in Los Santos, Blaine County and their environs. You can even throw in dialogue, if your star has any, and a range of actions. Most importantly, you can record what happens, edit it, and turn it into your own mini movie, which you can then upload to YouTube if you fancy.
It’s a whole new way to enjoy GTA. Want to see Michael’s wife, Amanda, going loco stealing golf carts in the sticks? Now’s your chance. Want to see LiveInvader’s Rickie Luken pulling outrageous stunts in the mountains? Be our guest. You could even create multiple clips starring multiple characters and stitch them all together into one weird little drama.
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Since GTA 3, Rockstar has created games which feel like movies, and worlds where players can play out their own slapstick scenes or blockbuster set-pieces. Now it’s given us a way to record, refine and share our funniest, stupidest, boldest, most spectacular moments, and a way to make new ones that Rockstar might never have conceived. This isn’t just another clip editor. It’s closer in spirit to Lionhead’s The Movies or the old LucasArts classic, Stunt Island. In-game movie-makers should rejoice.
Maybe Rockstar Editor and Director’s Mode won’t be for everyone, but they and the other enhancements are enough to elevate GTAV on PC above its console brethren. We’d still hesitate to recommend a double or triple-dip if you’ve already played the existing versions to death, but if any game would make such a thing worthwhile, this is it.
We called the next-gen console versions definitive, but this one is just that little bit more so. GTAV is as tweakable as it is replayable, and owners of high-end hardware and high-resolution screens are in for a treat. Owners of less stellar gaming rigs can expect a game that matches the PS4 and Xbox One versions, and potentially exceeds them. Throw in the new music options and the superb video capture and editing tools, and GTAV on PC is a major win for PC gamers.
Reworked and enhanced for next-gen consoles, GTA 5 might have been our game of the year this year if it hadn’t been last year’s already. After twelve months in which so many games have settled for slightly better or almost great, this PS4 and Xbox One remaster is a welcome reminder that giants still walk the Earth, producing games as bold and ambitious as this. Playing GTA 5 again after Watch Dogs, it isn’t Ubisoft’s mildly disappointing Chicago hack-a-thon that feels like the future of open-world games, but Rockstar’s masterpiece. Watch Dogs promised to change the gaming world, but GTA 5 did more with last-gen hardware and half the fuss.
The enhancements for Xbox One and PS4 are mostly cosmetic, and might initially seem not as profound as you would hope. Everything looks that bit crisper and clearer in full 1080p HD, with higher-resolution textures, improved tessellation to provide smoother surfaces with more detail, a more complex, realistic lighting system and a fantastic depth-of-field blur. It looks fantastic, but perhaps not as startling as what we’ve seen in the latest next-gen landmarks; the likes of Assassin’s Creed: Unity, Forza Horizon 2, Destiny and Far Cry 4.
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Luckily, it isn’t long before you appreciate what Rockstar has done here. The combination of the enhanced lighting engine and a tweaked night/daylight cycle radically improves how Los Santos looks at different times of day or night. New weather systems leave the streets slick with waterm while the sea has never looked so good, either above it or below. Head out into the hills or drive up into Blaine County, and there’s denser vegetation and a lot more wildlife. Meanwhile the city gets more people, more traffic and more wandering cats and dogs.
Most importantly, the whole shebang now updates at a steady, locked 30fps, and while we’ve had one or two brief moments of barely noticeable judder in the PS4 version, the action rarely skips a beat. Draw distances are unbelievable, particularly from a high vantage point or from the air, while texture pop-in is barely noticeable in all but the flying sequences – and even then not much. The result of all this isn’t so much tastier eye candy as an even more convincing, detailed and solid-feeling virtual world.
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In a way, this simply adds to all the good work Rockstar had already put in. What elevates Los Santos above gaming’s other cities isn’t so much how it looks as the whole experience; the snippets of chatter you hear as you pass by, the way drivers react when you prang their vehicle, or your fellow citizens seem to be doing something, going somewhere. Sure, we know it’s all just smoke and mirrors, but Los Santos feels alive in ways that Watch Dog’s Chicago or even the superb Sleeping Dog’s Hong Kong can’t match.
The new first-person view is an interesting addition, and you can switch to it at almost any time with just a few clicks of the Dual Shock 4’s touchpad. It’s a more direct, immersive way to play the game – and sometimes a little too immersive when Trevor’s indulging his more violent tendencies – but it’s impressive that Rockstar has implemented it to the extent that it’s perfectly possible to play the whole game from a first-person view.
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We wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for two reasons. Firstly, while it’s beneficial in gunfights, which now play out much like a conventional FPS, it’s not so beneficial when trying to drive around the city, nor much cop in missions where you need to be aware of everything that’s going on around you. Secondly, the first-person view creates a weird disconnect between the action and the cinematics, as you flick from ‘being’ Franklin, Michael or Trevor to watching them. Personally, I think GTA 5 works better from the old third-person view, but if you don’t agree, Rockstar has you covered. There are enough options here for movement and auto-aim that you can easily customize the game to match your preferences.
Playing GTA 5 again, it becomes clearer how smart its narrative structure is. Each of the three protagonists brings a different feel to the action, with the stories of retired career criminal Michael and the young, ambitious Franklin showing different sides of a corrupt capitalist dream, while Trevor brings the mayhem that is – if we’re honest – the twisted, comic heart of GTA.
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Our heroes aren’t always likable or sympathetic, with Trevor possibly the most deeply unpleasant, vile individual to ever take a central role in a video game. Yet the meshing of the three storylines works brilliantly to keep you hooked, and it’s not hard to see the themes building up. Meanwhile, Rockstar’s brutal, black-hearted satire hits more often than it misses, with something to offend, well, just about everyone, no matter what your politics or personal creed.
Play lesser open-world games, and you’re often left thinking that there’s a lot to do, but most of it feels the same. Play GTA 5 and you’re hit with a bewildering range of choices, not just in terms of the three characters’ story missions, but in terms of all the side-content out there to explore. From assassinations to paparazzo capers to Trevor’s rampage and arms trafficking, there’s no end to the ways to explore Los Santos and Blaine County, while simply getting in a car or on a bike and roaming around can feel like an activity in itself.
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The Xbox One and PS4 versions only add a handful of side-missions, including wildlife photography and a murder mystery to solve. Still, it’s unlikely that you played all the existing ones on your first run-through, which means there’s plenty to get your teeth stuck into if you’re playing for the second time around.
GTA Online also benefits from enhancements, the biggest being a rise of the player cap from 16 players to 30. This makes it much, much easier to get multiplayer jobs going – we’ve consistently had better turnouts than we did last year – but also means there’s more chance of getting involved in some ad-hoc mayhem on the streets of Los Santos. What’s more, the PS4 and Xbox One versions benefit from all the improvements Rockstar has made to GTA Online over the last twelve months or so. Sure, the basic deathmatch and team deathmatch jobs remain a little underwhelming, but there’s more variety in the jobs, more to do out on the streets and who knows? We might eventually get multiplayer heists.
It’s possible to pick holes in Rockstar’s handywork, or to argue that San Andreas had more activities, or that Vice City and GTA 4 had stronger protagonists. You could say that the characters and situations are crime movie cliches, or that the writing is too indebted to the movies of Quentin Tarantino, Michael Mann and Martin Scorcese. Yet the more I play GTA 5, the less these things seem to matter. It’s not a product defined by checkbox features or competition with other games, but a work made by people trying to push the frontiers of gaming. Their reach sometimes outstrips their grasp, but at least they’re reaching for something.
Remasters are always an awkward thing to review. Even with the best – Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD or The Last of Us: Remastered – there’s a real question whether you can recommend them to people who’ve already played the original, or just those who are new to the game.
This still holds true for GTA 5 to some degree, but it’s an easier choice. There was so much packed into Los Santos and Blaine County – a real smorgasbord of people to see, places to visit and violence and depravity to (almost) shamelessly indulge in – that a double dip feels like its worth the cash, particularly when it looks and feels even better now. The result? One of the defining games of the last generation is now a defining game on this one too.
The enhanced visuals look fantastic, but that impresses most about Rockstar’s remaster is how every little addition builds up to make Los Santos an even more immersive open world than it was last year. GTA 5 can be depraved, amoral, sickeningly violent and childishly desperate to shock, yet it’s also one of the richest and deepest games ever made, with an ambitious three-stranded storyline that holds so many disparate parts together. The last-gen version was a masterpiece. This next-gen version is better.
If you want to read the full last-gen review of GTA 5, click onto page 2 of this review. It originally scored 9/10 when it was reviewed in September 2013.