Can Los Santos look any better on PC? Yes. Yes, it can.
Grand Theft Auto 5 is finally available on PC. When you consider the amount of analysis done on one open world game over the past two years, it’s intriguing that Rockstar’s crime epic has managed to evolve so much. From a technically solid but still very limited release on PS3 and Xbox 360 – which saw numerous frame drops – to the excellent remastered edition which balanced a tighter 30 FPS frame rate with native 1080p resolutions, Grand Theft Auto 5 will arguably be undergoing its second graphical revamp with the PC version.
It’s interesting when you consider that the base for Grand Theft Auto since it arrived on Xbox 360 and PS3 has been the RAGE Engine with Euphoria and Bullet. The RAGE Engine has always shown itself to be incredible scalable – as both Red Dead Redemption and Max Payne 3 impressively demonstrated – but it had a relatively stunted start in Grand Theft Auto 4. When you go back and compare Grand Theft Auto 5 with its predecessor, it’s amazing to witness the difference in progress and it will be even more intriguing to see how Rockstar builds on RAGE in the coming years.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at what the PC version of Grand Theft Auto 5 has to offer.
You can go back and read our analysis for the PS4 and Xbox One versions but in short, they were both incredibly solid. Both saw average frame rates of 27 to 28 frames per second, despite tons of action on screen, and they benefitted from ambient occlusion and anti-aliasing. Dynamic lighting and volumetric effects, weather effects, a large number of cars to demolish and stunning water physics that compete very well with the likes of Watch Dogs cemented the current gen console versions as the definitive experience. Despite the texture filtering being relatively similar to the PS3 and Xbox 360, Grand Theft Auto 5 on current gen represented a significant leap forward.
Head to Head video comparison between PS4, Xbox One and PC versions of Grand Theft Auto 5. Please select 1080p and 60fps for best possible video quality.
That is, until we saw it on PC. Grand Theft Auto 5 on PC further removes any instances of shadow dithering and provides excellent texture filtering and streaming. The anti-aliasing is even better than before thanks to the benefits of multi-sample anti-aliasing (MSAA), and the shadow quality is extremely high quality. Draw distance is phenomenal and despite some low resolution textures in a few places, Rockstar has seamlessly translated the experience to PC in superbly rich detail.
Even the volumetric and alpha effects, which were already impressive on the PS4 and Xbox One, have been improved. There are more NPCs and vehicles (which you can customize in the settings) and motion blur – which was lacking on the current gen remasters – is implemented here. We recommended the PS4 version of the game earlier due to its reflections, better rendered foliage, depth of field and shader quality. However, the PC version pretty much trumps it in all respects. The shaders and quality of reflections is especially a tier above what the PS4 version was capable of.
For all the improvements made though, it’s odd that the dynamic lighting and screen space reflections are more or less the same as on current-gen. Thankfully, when seen in tandem with the premium shadow quality and texture filtering, it results in night-time scenarios and rainy streets that look nothing short of amazing.
Head to Head screenshot comparison between Xbox One [left], PS4 [middle] and PC [right] versions of Grand Theft Auto 5.
A quick look at the graphical options shows a choice between different resolutions from 1920 x 1080 to 3840 x 2160 aka the vaunted 4K resolution option; refresh rate options; multiple anti-aliasing solutions including Nvidia TXAA and MSAA; support for two output monitors; up to 8x reflection MSAA; 16x anisotropic filtering; and much, much more. You can customize the quality of water, particles, ambient occlusion, shaders, shadows, soft shadows and even post process FX. Population density and variety can be adjusted allowing for a larger amount of pedestrians and more unique individuals in the process, lending to the realism of Los Santos all the more. If you’re not satisfied with the suggested limits, you can choose to ignore said limits and max out everything. Really, it’s just insane how much customization Rockstar has offered with the PC version.
Customization means nothing without optimization though. How well does Grand Theft Auto 5 PC perform across various configurations? We tested the game on an Intel Core i7-5960X to remove every possible bottleneck that could result from having a weaker CPU and ignored the game’s internal benchmarking software. Settings included MSAA 2X and 1920 x 1080 resolution with everything dialed up. We did switch off High Resolution Shadows, Huge Detail Streaming While Flying, Extended Distance Scaling and Long Shadows though.
The missions chosen include Franklin and Lamar; the Ludendorff, North Yankton Prologue mission; and Repossession. Here are the average frame rates with each card tested:
Not only is Grand Theft Auto 5 highly scalable in terms of its options but it’s optimized to run on a variety of different graphics cards as well while still maintaining strong frame rates. Both AMD and Nvidia cards were capable of displaying the massive detail inherent in Los Santos while keeping up with the fast paced scenarios (including Franklin and Lamar, which sees you zipping through a significant portion of the city in a high speed sports car).
There are some slight concerns though. When running the game, we noticed the game’s launcher significantly stressing the CPU. Thankfully, the latest patch from Rockstar indicated zero CPU consumption afterwards. Even if you’re on a fairly low-tier CPU, you won’t have much problem running Grand Theft Auto 5 on PC.
The PC graphical options of GTA 5 are very scaleable.
The chromatic aberration seen in-game is a different wild-card though since it can’t be disabled. It doesn’t affect image quality and it looks far better than what we’ve seen in Bloodborne or Dying Light so there aren’t many concerns there.
Make no mistake – this is the definitive version of Grand Theft Auto 5. You probably already knew that. After all, the graphical options for a PC game are only limited by (a) your hardware, (b) the hardware supported out of the box, and (c) the game’s graphical options. Over the past several months, we’ve been similarly impressed and disappointed with what many games have offered in their options. However, we’ve never seen a game with as scalable graphics as Grand Theft Auto 5 on PC.
However, Rockstar have taken the visuals to a completely new level that only highlights the limitations of current gen hardware all the more. It further impressed us by offering optimization across a wealth of systems so that no one would be denied of open world mayhem in Los Santos. In closing, this is the definitive version of Grand Theft Auto 5 to own, especially if you have a great set-up that you’ve been waiting to push to the limit.
Note: Analysis conducted by Bill Smith.