Why GTA 5 on PC took so long to get here - and why it was worth the wait

The PC Master Race plays hard to get

In the relatively short history of video games, we guarantee that at no point has anyone said, "You know what was the best thing about that game? It shipped on time." Still, if you delay something three times - and that something happens to be the first Grand Theft Auto on PC since 2008 - expect a fiery backlash.

But at several months overdue, GTA 5 will launch on April 14. For real this time. And we don't know what else to tell you - it was worth the wait.

This is the no-holds-barred, maxxed-out, stop-and-stare-at-the-puddles-because-you-can't-believe-how-good-they-look edition. This is the definitive version of the biggest game Rockstar has ever made. It's playable in 4K. It supports a buttery smooth 60fps. It's customisable up to the eyeballs. Did we mention how good the puddles look?

If that praise sounds like shameless gushing, that's because it is - but why are you surprised? Rockstar has defined itself on building worlds that not only push hardware, but feel so conscious that they might exist in spite of you. Los Santos on the Xbox 360 and PS3 impressed us at the time, but arriving late in the console's lifespan was a double-edged sword; GTA V unfurled even further on the PS4 and Xbox One, making us wonder how we ever submitted our poor eyes to the "inferior" last-gen version.

On the PC, GTA 5's technological ambitions have fully flowered: draw distances now give you clarity for miles; just about everything is scalable; grass and other granular details like waves look more distinguishable than ever. This is a world unto itself.

Open borders

GTA 5

"We made a commitment to having the core GTA team work alongside our specialist PC leads on every version of the game," Phil Hooker, Director of Technology at Rockstar North told us, speaking on the delayed release. "Since the PS4 and Xbox One share similar architecture to the PC, we were using the same team for both new console and PC versions. So while PC development was happening more or less alongside the console versions from the very beginning, carefully managing each version in this way took a lot more time than if we had a completely separate team working on the game."

The other benefit of launching late is that GTA 5 hit the PC with everything else ready in position. Heists will be live from day one, while all the DLC from the last 18 months will come part and parcel - as will GTA Online, which, like the latest consoles, supports up to 30 active players at a time on PC. The story mode has been preserved, but there are additional features including a new radio station, the Rockstar Editor, and, erm, Sam Herring of Future Islands.

'Dragging someone from their car seat in 4K first-person view is just delightful'

For our short stint with the game we played in 4K with two GTX 980s in SLI, 32GB RAM and an i7-5930k processor at 3.50Ghz. That's beefy - higher than the average machine will run at - but the minimum specs are much less demanding. In fact, they're lower than you'd probably expect. The aim, says Rockstar, was to make GTA 5 malleable to a vast number of different setups so that most, if not all players, should feel as if they're getting the definitive GTA experience. The true performance of GTA 5 on lower-spec rigs remains to be seen.

GTA 5

But because this is the PC, the parameters for customisation are larger; you'll have full control over mouse sensitivity and camera controls, which can be adjusted for every vehicle type in the game. The field of view is customisable (dragging someone from their car seat in 4K first-person view is just delightful) while city density can be adjusted with a simple slider. It's a far more responsive game than it is on the consoles, with a huge range of advance graphics settings to play with. Like us, you'll spend hours toggling with the options.

GTA 5

For our preview session we had most settings at either "High" or "Very high", the latter being the utmost option (PC Gamer has knocked up a full list of the game's graphics options here). Even without things like shadows and reflections knocked up to maximum, the game looked pretty stunning in 4K.

"We have made an effort to bring new features to each version," Klaas Schilstra, Director of Engineering at Rockstar North, told us. "For the PC version, using that additional time [from the delay] to implement all of the new configurable options so that players can really maximize the potential of their hardware."

GTA 5

That also includes supporting high-end setups such as triple-monitor configurations, 3D and 4K resolution support - another first for Rockstar. "While 4K is not widely used right now, we will likely see more people adopting 4K monitors over time," added Schilstra. "And it can really highlight minor graphical details that you might otherwise miss, both good and bad, so we spent a lot of time making sure the game looked amazing at 4K."

But nothing is limitless, so naturally the first thing we did was max out the specs in the hope of crashing the game. Grass quality, water, shadows, reflections, motion blur strength… we pushed everything up to the top. The game tells you how much video memory your configuration is eating and how much you have left to play with. The machine we were using gave us leeway to push almost everything to the highest possible setting, tipping us slightly over the max capacity and "into the red".

GTA 5

But even once we were up and running with the new settings, the game only began to crawl when we were tearing down the freeway at night in the pouring rain, and even then the frame rate drop was barely noticeable. Everything is obviously dependent on the machine, but the potential here is huge.

Which, when you consider the massive community of PC gamers still toying with GTA 4, begs the next question: what the hell are the modders going to do when they get their hands on this game?

"The priority for us is maintaining the integrity of GTA Online and making sure that nothing detracts from that experience. We will be working to protect that environment and making sure nothing has a negative effect on the overall community, but we look forward to seeing and hearing about the experiences PC gamers have once the game is in their hands."

'Just imagine what the modders will do when they get their hands on this'

That was the response from Adam Fowler, Rockstar North's Technical Director, when we probed about mod support for the game. It's an answer that suggests Rockstar might not be clamping down on modders for the offline experience, but will strive to keep Online a hallowed ground.

GTA 5