Hands on with GTA V on PC: the “ultimate” port

GTA V

Rockstar have sold 41 million copies of Grand Theft Auto V. 41 million. That’s an unbelievable number. It also makes talking about the upcoming PC version of the game somewhat difficult. 

The game has been rinsed: every car, every mission, every location, every little detail has been examined and dissected at length on YouTube, on forums, and on sites all over the web. 

All that’s left to say is this: Rockstar repeatedly call the PC version the “ultimate” or “definitive” version of the game. 

And after playing it on a truly monstrous PC – an i7 with 16 Gb RAM running dual GeForce 980s, driving a 4K monitor at 60 frames-per-second, I think they’ve got a point. 

There’s a line within the demonstration that Rockstar keep pressing: that the PC version is the most “configurable” version of the game. The trick, and something they’ve realised, is that PC gamers are not all alike: that we like playing in different ways.

So: imported and refined from the current generation of consoles is a set of menus to determine what controls and viewpoints you use at any point of the game. If you’re on foot, do you want to default to be in first-person camera, and use the mouse and keyboard? If you’re in a car, where do you want to place the camera, and how would you like the joypad sensitivity? It’s strange, to be genuinely excited by options screens, but Rockstar’s approach really is quite the thing: give players, not just a city to explore, but a choice in how they view it.

GTA V

It’s a microcosm of their approach to the PC build, which, at launch, will include everything released thus far for the consoles, including the multiplayer, GTA Online and the online heists. But there’s more: the port has been put together by Rockstar Toronto: the same team who worked on the widely praised PC version of Max Payne 3, and their attention to detail is remarkable. The game supports multi-monitors out of the gate: up to three running at any one time. If you’re using an Nvidia card, those monitors can be displaying in 3D. A new radio station has been added that will import your local music and insert DJ stings and adverts, or you can just play your tracks sequentially.

The port is equally flexible when it comes to system requirements – bending to fit relatively low minimum and recommended specs.

“We wanted people with older or less powerful hardware to still be able to play V, rather than requiring the latest greatest hardware,” a team of senior staff from Rockstar North told us – director of technology Phil Hooker, director of engineering Klaas Schilstra and technical director Adam Fowler.

Machines at minimum spec are expected to handle GTA V at 800×600 and 20 to 30 frames-per-second – while recommended spec systems should manage 1080p and meet 60fps on medium settings.

Taking advantage of the 4K support will be a different matter: you’ll need an AMD HD 7870 or NVidia GTX 760 with 2GB of VRAM, at least, to reach 30fps – and a high-end SLI or Crossfire setup to top 60fps.

GTA V

GTA IV eventually hit 4K thanks to the unending efforts of its mod community. Asked whether there were any measures in place that would prevent GTA V players from producing similar kinds of mods, Rockstar said they were determined to “preserve the integrity of the GTA Online experience”.

“We will be working to prevent anything that detracts from that experience or has a negative impact on the community of players overall,” they said. “But we are excited for PC players to get their hands on the game and experience it for themselves.”

Elsewhere, the port introduces a new (and alarmingly comprehensive) video editor, the Rockstar Editor, that takes 30 second excerpts of your footage (longer videos can be created by stringing together consecutive clips). You can reposition the camera and apply instagram filters, do slow motion effects, and export the results to YouTube. Or, you can create your own machinima shorts in a director’s mode that gives you permission to stage scenes using any characters or animals from the game.

You will need to sign up to the Rockstar Social Club app to install and activate the game, and the game will periodically check in with the service for verification – but it’s “not an always-on system”. And crucially, we’ll get future updates alongside the consoles, rather than on a separate timetable. Now that we’ve got GTA V, we’ve got it.

Speaking of which – why has it taken a year and a half for the game to finally land on PC?

GTA V

“The simple answer is bandwidth of the team involved,” said Rockstar. “We wanted to make each version the best possible game we could make, so we have kept the core GTA team on the game from version to version and we have given each 100% focus and attention, while adding new features to each version and constantly adding to and improving GTA Online.”

Only once Rockstar had pushed the limits of what they could do on the PS3 and Xbox 360 did they turn to new generation consoles and the PC, which share similar architecture. The best PC developers across Rockstar’s studios pitched in – people who’d worked to port Max Payne 3, LA Noire and GTA IV.

“Choosing to do things this way takes additional time but we think the results are worth it,” said Rockstar. “The PC game builds on each prior version, giving PC players the ultimate version of the game.”