Tim (McDonald): It finally happened, everyone! Grand Theft Auto 5 appeared on PC! It wasn’t delayed again! It exists! It’s out! I’ve played it!
I’ve only played it for a couple of hours, admittedly, and I spent quite a lot of that time faffing about with benchmarking and graphical options and so on, but it’s definitely there.
It’s also definitely huge. A 60 GB preload, followed by me needing another 60GB just to unpack and decrypt the original download? Do you know what I had to do to get this monster installed? It wasn’t pretty.
I’m not alone in my GTA 5-playing, though. As we prefer to do with Port Impressions whenever we can, there are two of us playing it on our separate machines. I’m sat here running it on my i7-3820 with 16GB RAM and a 2GB GeForce GTX 670, while my long-standing colleague Peter Parrish is over on the other side of the world with a completely different machine. With a bit of luck, this means the two of us can figure out how well it scales and how it works on different hardware.
Peter (Parrish): Hello everyone. Welcome to this strange fever dream where GTA 5 exists on PC and can be played by actual human hands and stuff. Luckily I had 180GB of space just sitting around, so I didn’t need to go crazy and remove Dark Souls or anything. Phew.
Here are my specs, which are more rubbish and will therefore be representing the … ahem … ‘financially cautious’ PC user: i3-2100, 8GB RAM and a 2GB 7870. I also installed the new 15.4 beta AMD drivers, for what it’s worth.
Before we start sharing screencaps of the graphics options we’ve opted for and stuff, let me just mention how bizarre it is when you try to run the benchmarking tool before completing the prologue mission. You get a sort of prologue/benchmark montage, concluding with a big fat MISSION FAILED screen. Because the game tries to run both things at once, for some amusing reason.
Benchmarking after the first couple of missions turned out fine though. So hurrah for that.
Right, here are the graphics options I’ve settled on for the moment:
That should cover all the important stuff except resolution (1920×1080) and whether I used any of the advanced graphics options. Which I did not. I know what my PC can manage, and it’s not stuff like “hey, would you like to extend the draw distance to crazy amounts?” Kudos to Rockstar for letting people with Beast PCs do that, though.
I’m not totally married to that set of options, but for the purposes of this early impressions piece that’s what I used.
Both the benchmark tool and the driving-around-in-actual-GTA 5 tool had me sat between 30-40fps. Mostly towards the 30 end of that, to be honest. The Steam fps counter was showing 31-32 a fair bit of the time. Some of the busier city sections were taking me to rough places in the 20s though, which makes me think my poor CPU is struggling hard. Or something else is up that I haven’t figured out yet.
Edit 16 April: Killing the Rockstar Launcher as described in this method helped a lot with my frame-rate issues. I’d recommend anyone else who’s running this on an older i3 dual core with hyper-threading to give it a go.
I’ll ultimately be locking this to 30 (with the half v-sync option) and experimenting with how high I can push the prettiness, because 60 definitely isn’t going to happen for me with these specs. Except inside buildings, where 60fps is (for obvious reasons) very achievable. I’d be fine with that, given what I’m running this on.
How does your somewhat beefier card and much beefier everything else do, Tim?
Tim: Before we go on, then, here are screenshots of what my beefier everything is capable of doing. And I really, really had to try hard not to turn that into a sexual innuendo. And that. Really hard.
You may notice that I have an NVIDIA TXAA option which Peter doesn’t have, because he’s not on an Nvidia card. Interestingly, though, I did spot some AMD-specific options in there as well, which I’m guessing my GeForce would just brute-force if I opted for them. But I didn’t.
These are mostly the settings that the game recommended for me (or the settings that the game picks as default; I’m not quite sure), with a couple of them turned up. I bumped up Soft Shadows, turned up population variety, notched one or two options up an extra setting, and increased the extended draw distance in the Advanced Graphics menu. None of these made any noticeable changes to either the graphical fidelity or the framerate, though. According to the benchmark I’m getting a relatively solid 60FPS out of all of this, with the lowest I hit being about 57.
Bumping up certain options did cause a noticeable framerate degradation, though. Turning up the grass quality – which I’m assuming refers to the foliage, rather than the smokable – gave me a 5FPS hit, and turning on MSAA and Nvidia TXAA managed to halve my framerate.
Tim: At least, I think it was those. It did this pretty inconsistently though, which is a bit odd; the first time I turned that stuff on everything seemed fine, but trying it on later restarts had me playing at console speeds. Weird.
The quick takeaway from me would be that there are lots and lots (and lots) of options, and it seems to run really rather well. It’s definitely a resource hog (alt-tabbing to Skype and trying to type led to lagged keypresses), but in that somewhat clever way where the game appears to be running along completely effortlessly.
And yes, I’m also running at 1920×1080.
Peter: Sounds like it’s running quite a bit better for you, which kind of confirms my suspicions that GTA 5 is making my i3 quite unhappy.
Anyway, to take a broader view here, there are an awful lot of lovely options to screw around with. I’m delighted to see things like “population density” and even “population variety” bars in there. That’s a proper acknowledgement of the PC as a platform on which options should be able to scale with all sorts of different hardware set-ups. That said, altering them doesn’t appear to make much difference to my performance – so I think if you have a bottleneck, no amount of tweaking is going to save you.
While on the subject of PC extras though, the Self Radio is great. As soon as you figure out where the correct folder is (look for it in My DocumentsRockstar GamesGTA VUser Music) it’s straightforward to get up and running. I can cruise around the place listening to a strange mix of Hotline Miami 2 and the Sisters of Mercy. You can even tell it to insert some pretend DJ banter if you fancy.
I guess before we stray too far from looks and into things like controls, you wanted to say some things about textures.
Tim: For the record, it took me way too long to find that folder. I tried the GTA folder and the My Music folder and various others, and then finally remembered it’s not a Steam-only game and thus it would likely have a settings directory somewhere in My Documents. (And for my part, I pretty much just dumped a load of random stuff in there just to see if it worked, although The Prodigy’s “Smack My Bitch Up” and Daft Punk’s “Robot Rock/Oh Yeah” mix made for fantastic high-speed driving tracks.)
Yeeeah, I want to mention the texture quality. If you did more than just glance at those settings screens, you probably noticed that both Peter and I have the Texture Quality set to Normal. This is because raising it any higher than that immediately pushes the game into “chewing up more than 2GB of VRAM” mode, and while I could try switching off its limiter I don’t particularly want to crash the game and sit through that bloody Rockstar intro again. I saw that often enough when restarting the game because I slightly adjusted Grass Quality, thank you. You should be fine with anything above a 2GB card, but otherwise, you’re sitting on Normal.
(As an aside, the fact that it calculates how much VRAM you’re using – and even lets you disable that limiter if you want to – is fantastic. I’m really impressed with the tweakables, here, and the attention paid to not making them hopelessly confusing.)
But anyway, the texture quality. I think this screenshot illustrates the problem:
Tim: Part of me actually hopes that this is just some sort of minor bug, where it was still using the low-res “distance” texture, but I’ve seen this happen often enough (signs on doorways, for instance) that I really don’t think that’s the case. So that’s a bit sad. While GTA 5 generally looks really rather nice – even on lower details, the general effect is still pretty pleasing – low-res textures like that are really, really noticeable.
Peter: That kind of reminds me of an issue Dying Light had for a while where certain textures just weren’t loading in properly. That was, indeed, some sort of bug. So fingers crossed.
I’ve also read through enough people using 2GB cards and pushing textures to High to think that Rockstar’s flashing VRAM warning lights are a little on the conservative side there. It’s probably worth a try if you can stand more graphics tinkering. I briefly experimented with it myself and didn’t wind up with much cost to performance.
Peter: Right, controls. GTA 5 has a whole bunch of mouse input sensitivity options, and some mappable keys. The range of sliders and toggles impressed me again here, but I admit I was kind of cynically dismissing the idea of playing on anything other than a pad. Turns out that was pretty stupid of me, because I’ve tried mouse and keys and it’s actually pretty good. My driving has slightly improved and it almost goes without saying that any sort of aiming is hugely improved with a mouse. Pretty impressive stuff, there. It auto-detects what you’re using and shows the correct button prompts too.
I mean I haven’t tried flying a plane or anything yet, so that may turn out to be a nightmare. But there are separate control options for different vehicles, so even that could potentially be customised in a satisfactory way.
You do get some pretty nasty mouse lag on menus, though.
Tim: Yes, it actually works really well with mouse and keyboard! That’s not as big a surprise as it might seem, though; this sort of game has actually been pretty well suited to mouse/keyboard for awhile now. I can’t remember how GTA 4 handled it – I would probably guess “a bit badly”, because that’s largely how you describe most of the GTA 4 PC port – but Saints Row and the like have managed pretty well for awhile. So, no real surprises that GTA 5, which appears to have had a lot of work put into the PC port, has mouse/keyboard controls that absolutely work. I don’t know that I’d say choosing the control scheme is an easy decision to make, because both gamepad and mouse/keyboard have advantages, but the fact that they’re both totally viable options is really rather nice.
There are a few quirks, but they’re pretty minor. Stuff like a few actions being mapped to the same button, like “R” being Reload on foot, but Toggle Cinematic Camera in vehicles, which has tripped me up a few times when shooting out of a car window. That’s how it controlled on gamepad, but there’s no real reason for that to be the case on the keyboard. But maybe that can be reconfigured! I think helicopter/plane controls will be the real test, but unfortunately, I’m not there yet.
Tim: Before we close up, I’d like to say that I’m really impressed by the fact that it actually works. Now, this is a somewhat nebulous “fact” as this article clearly indicates, but barring a brief moment where the Steam servers shat themselves (and I do mean a brief moment; that seemed to resolve within 60 seconds), I actually didn’t have any problems unpacking or starting the game. Rockstar Social Club worked fine. I got into GTA Online about an hour after the game officially launched, without problems. This is a hell of a lot better than the initial console launch, where GTA Online was so broken by the number of people trying to get on that it should probably have been described as “Coming soon.”
Steam held up to a lot of people unpacking and installing during a single-moment global launch. Rockstar Social Club held up to a lot of people creating accounts and logging in, and transferring over GTA Online characters. And even GTA Online worked. Kudos, Rockstar.
Peter: Right, I don’t want to dismiss the “game won’t even start” problems some are having because obviously that’s unacceptable. Assuming you can dodge that particular problem, though, GTA 5’s PC version is a good ‘un.
Given my specs (well, the outdated CPU mostly,) I’m not too surprised that my best option looks to be locking at 30fps. This is also the first pass for the game so things should theoretically only improve from here. If it ends up like Dying Light (to bring that up again,) patches and newer drivers will only squeeze out more performance in future.
Peter: There are some other lovely PC aspects we’ve not mentioned here as well, like the separate Director Mode/Editor, which I plan to have a look at in another piece. Hopefully we’ll be seeing some art-house classics emerging from that tool.
But yes, this is better than the initial console launch, much better than the nightmare that was GTA 4, and frankly seems like it’s one of the few PC multiplatform releases to belie the ‘port’ moniker. I suspect reports that this was developed as a genuine, stand-alone PC version are actually accurate. A fine range of options, decent mouse and keyboard controls, apparently robust optimisation if you’re not pushing your luck on specs (like me.) I’m not sure whether this topples the Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes release as my favourite PC version of recent times, but it’s pretty close.