Grand Theft Auto V PC Review

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My previous experience with Grand Theft Auto V? I played it near release on the 360, I enjoyed it but didn’t get massively into; call it wrong timing or maybe too much to play at the time? But I didn’t give it much time, I did enjoy the story part of what I played.

I’m predominantly a PC gamer, also PS4 and an Xbox One owner, but I was holding for the PC release just because I know it will look amazing running on my rig and the possibility of modding and other community made content was enough to make me hold out. Touted as the definitive version of the game.

I was right to wait.

It can look amazing if your system can handle it. Even running 4K if you’ve got a big boy gaming rig. Just make sure you free some room on your HDD for the beefy 65 GB download space it requires.

I’m running it on an i7 4770k @ 3.50 Ghz 4 cores with 16Gb. Not that it’s very CPU intensive, even though the recommended spec is an Intel quad core.

Your real payoff is in your GPU; if you’re running a 4 GB graphics card you’ve got plenty to play with.

I’m running a Gigabyte GTX 770 4 GB Windforce and with plenty of settings to choose from the limits can soon be reached to 4096Mb of video memory in the graphics settings.

I’ve pushed the settings on everything on high/very high and water reflection on ultra and getting a good 1080p output, which is a steady 45ish FPS, not bad but some sacrificing will get you towards the 50-60 FPS mark.

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First off the hype is real, it looks amazing if you can run it at a decent stable rate.

I found myself just stopping and trying to get perfect screen shots, as some of the scenery and places looked amazing; rain on the roads during a neon lit highway to panoramic views of Los Santos from a cliff edge. The links below might help some of you comparing the various options and how to get it looking the best for you:

Gamer Nexus Benchmark

Digital Trends Guide

Geforce Performance Guide

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You can see the incredible production values and the money that went into this game as well as the small attention to detail. Damaged roads which look like the ones I drive to work on, the most notable is the detail of the first person mode, at first I thought this was a gimmick to justify buying it again.

With additional animations and responses to certain actions you really feel it when you come off the handlebars of your bike or roll a car. My girlfriend was watching me play for a time and had to leave the room as she started getting travelsick!

Even wearing sunglasses in first person changes the colour balance of your view. Carjackings and fist fights look incredibly realistic from this point of view and you can tell from the actions and reactions the developers really did their homework on beating the crap out of people and going over handle bars in first person. The water looks amazingly clear and flows incredibly well. Wildlife looks great and no longer flat.

This is the first game in possibly the couple of years, which made me go “wow” visually. (Vanilla of course). I cannot wait for the mods and to see what the community can do; judging on how good Skyrim can look after modding 3 years later, GTA V should hold up for years to come.

Grand Theft Auto V is set in Los Santos

You’re thrown into a bank heist at the start of the game, which is basically the tutorial.

For the first 5 hours you switch between Michael and Franklin, the beginning of what appears to be the story and the reason for you “coming out of retirement”. Switching to and from characters is a nice touch and offers something different to the usual template of newcomer with nothing to San Andreas/Liberty City etc.

My only slight gripe with this is I didn’t feel as connected to the characters as I did in GTA IV with Niko. You start feeling immersed then you’re off flying like a weird carjacking, gun toting ghost to another character on the other side of town. I found myself rarely switching characters on the fly as I wanted to do everything I was supposed/could do with that character before I had to change. That could just be me though.

The first missions do feel slightly linear with the main feel of each mission drive here, kill that, then drive back lose cops. It wasn’t until you start planning your first heist that you can put some thought in and have repercussions for how you go about the job in hand..

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Until you start the Trevor missions and carry on from there is when you really start seeing the narrative and story opening and becoming more of a bigger picture. The one thing that is certain with the GTA games is not only do they get bigger (and this is definitely bigger), but also the story most certainly improves each sequel.

The controls allow you to switch from gamepad to keyboard and mouse as you please and on the fly. I found myself struggling to get decent aim with the 360 gamepad so was able to switch to keyboard and mouse instantly. No need to go to the settings or have the onscreen prompts look out of place with incorrect keys. Then jump in the getaway car and straight back on to the gamepad. A great balance of traditional PC gaming and practicality. The cover system is still there and works and I found the car handling a lot better than it was in GTA IV. All the cars handle each in their own way, but the driving is far more enjoyable this time around in my opinion. The AI is actually quite good and assists you, this might be a small thing but I’ve played far too many games in which the AI either stand around doing nothing or just get in the way, I always appreciate good AI!

There are hours of entertainment in Los Santos and some of its legit!

Play a round of golf, play tennis, go to the cinema or just watch TV at home. Just in case you need to take a break away from the killing and carjacking!

Los Santos really does feel like a different world from Liberty city on GTA IV. The lush beaches and waterfronts generally seems like a much nicer place than the dreary downtrodden streets of Liberty City, the developers have really done it again with setting the tone of GTA V and its location.

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I’m ready for online, put me in!

Firstly, I will say I’m not a fan of the Rockstar Social club; it made LA Noire unplayable on the PC and it’s still a pain in the arse to work with. You can create a crew and get your mates involved, which works OK, just don’t count on it to work for everyone at the same time. We at Frugal had a game night on GTA V and getting everyone on together in the same map was a real faff. With the features that Social club offer I’m sure they could have made that work in game rather than using a shoehorned in external feature.

I didn’t see much in the form of glitches. Driving with your mates can give you some interesting frame rates but overall the graphics still hold up well and the FPS otherwise was fine. It’s a big old world in GTA Online and with the PC community involved I can see it sticking around for a while, rather than the 6 months or so on consoles which people will most likely get bored of.

GTA Online is a great world with loads to do, The Frugal Gaming crew were online for a couple of hours and didn’t really do anything, blow some stuff up and F%$& the police. It’s a place where you can make your own fun, from bike races, jet plane races or making up your own. “Helicopter Jousting” was an interesting one! Heists have been introduced into GTA V Online. A team of 4 can pull off raids and robberies over Los Santos.

During the game you can record your own clips without the requirement of 3rd party software or hardware. In the age of the current gen consoles on which it’s as easy as pressing a button to stream, record and share your gaming victories, triumphs, or massive fails. With the Rockstar editor you can do just that. You can instantly start recording small clips during your game and when you’re finished you can touch them up and stitch them together using different effects/filters/depth of field etc. You can then export them to YouTube.

Exclusive to the PC game is director mode, which allows you to explore the world of Los Santos as any character. you can change the mood, weather and generally get as creative as you want.

It matched the hype and personally I say it was worth the wait. The PC is the definitive version of GTA V which looks fantastic, delivers with the brutality and humour with missions that start ramping up to keep you going back to the story mode. Online and the potential of modding will keep this as part of your gaming time for quite a while. Social club still bugs me and the online isn’t as flawless as I would like and can be downright frustrating. Overall it’s the blockbuster you’ve heard it was and duly delivers. Truly the best and definitive version of the game.

 

Grand Theft Auto 5 Review

1280x720_gameplay_bannerA little confession – I played approximately 4 hours of GTA 5 when it was first released in 2013. In the course of this review I picked up a second hand copy and merrily went through comparing the two copies. Any reference to previous generation titles was recent experience and not representative of playing upon first release.

When Grand Theft Auto 5 was released last year the world rejoiced; GTA5 was an excellent open world adventure that followed three characters, each of whom encompassed their own satirical caricature, on a grandiose adventure in the most vibrant and populated city ever realised in a Grand Theft Auto game.

As an avid Grand Theft Auto fan I was keen to discover what changes could have truly improved an already solid experience, and was happy to find this wasn’t a simple slap and dash effort where Rockstar are looking to capitalize upon a whole new market (Star Wars remasters – I’m looking at you)! But it is, from the ground up, a completely overhauled experience.

RSG_GTAV_NG_Screenshot_011The enhanced textures coupled with a jaw dropping draw distance truly allows you to appreciate the San Andreas region, with new lighting that adds an additional level of depth to the game that runs at a solid and appreciable 1080p. The bar set for open world games almost feels like a challenge to competitors, as Rockstar creates quite simply the most beautiful open world region to date. When the rain fell in the dimming evening light I couldn’t help but stop and be astonished at the level of detail that has gone in to this edition of the game – a truly stunning and stand out performance. I noticed very few slowdowns from the 30 frames a second put out by GTA 5 and then only momentary shudders rather than complete stoppages that were a game changer.

The use of the PS4 controller is an absolute revelation; the players phone call now plays through the PS4 controller’s speaker while the controller will flash red and blue when the player is being pursued by the police. While these are minor in the grand scheme of things it’s the best implementation of the PS4 controller features I have experienced to date. They’re not so vital that they become a requirement but also add a nice bit of flair to the experience.

RSG_GTAV_NG_Screenshot_004The big new gameplay feature is the addition of a first person view, which literally brings a new angle to everything you do. Rockstar makes it simple to go in and out of first person, but also allows you to set defaults for driving, flying and walking; to stop you consistently fiddling with the controls. In first person mode you’ll move around the world in an entirely different way – this isn’t something you’ll want to take for granted and discard because the dimension it adds also provides a sense of immersion. You’ll watch you character sip away at a coffee or check his phone while walking down the street. Or, of course, if you’re anything like me you’ll drive up to a street gang slam you brakes on and do a quick drive by and then pause, flip them the bird and ride off into the sunset. Although I think the first person mode is excellent, I did struggle with the lacklustre shooting (And just coming off the latest COD made that tougher) therefore played most of the on-foot game back in third person but loved being able to pop into first person for all my driving antics.

The online portion of the game is OK – and something I feel hasn’t seen much development over the past 12 months unfortunately. Although it’s fantastic to get a small crew of friends around and create havoc across the world, however  you’ll struggle to get the large scale games that promised 30 players and will spend a lot of your time stuck in lobbies while you try to find a game.

RSG_GTAV_NG_Screenshot_091There’s no doubt in my mind that everyone should experience Grand Theft Auto 5 like it is now, however the base game simply hasn’t changed, therefore a buying decision will be down to the individual on whether they’re ready to go back. The story still goes to that questionable place in the second act and the heists remain the standout portion of the game – although there is still far too few to really get in and enjoy. It’s a shame the online section hasn’t seen any vast improvements to the previous generation or that the promise of online heists hasn’t yet come to bare. All being said, Grand Theft Auto 5 is a ‘must play’ game for all gamers, and is a truly unforgettable and epic experience.

Score: 10/10

A Frugal Gaming Review – Watch_Dogs

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Chicago Hope

Ubisoft’s new AAA IP is indeed an open world affair.  Set in a near future Chicago where everything and everyone is connected to ctOS, a city wide WIFI big brother style automated system.  The game pits you as an underground Hacker, out for revenge against a shadowy antagonist who had a hand in your nieces untimely death.  Whilst it might sound like a rather generic action hero saga, the story is strong and yet it sometimes feels like it takes a backseat to the plethora of optional content the game has to offer. I’m not going to get into the specifics of the storyline in this review, but the story itself is solid and took me about 15 hours to complete. It offers a few genuinely surprising twists, leads to some absolutely cracking missions and also a really satisfying conclusion, which rather obviously leaves the door wide open for the inevitable sequel.

Aiden Pierce- the lead character is undoubtedly the most one dimensional aspect of the game.  Whilst it could be argued that by leaving him devoid of real personality, Ubisoft are allowing you to create your own character it just doesn’t come off that way.  At times you are forced to take actions where a different decision would have been much better suited.  A character of your own creation would have been much better suited, and to be honest the story is so genderless I’m surprised that at a bare minimum, you don’t have the option to be male or female.

The rest of the cast couldn’t be more different, and whilst some of the characters do fall into cookie cutter stereotypes, enough of them do genuinely stand out. Voice acting all-round is fantastic and not just from the leading cast. The everyday Joe and the street at times seem to have more personality than Pierce.  It’s a shame that Ubisoft didn’t put as much effort into the leading man, after the ego that was Edward Kenway the developers really have missed a trick with Aiden.

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Chaos in the Windy City

In any open world game the environment is as much a character as any NPC you will meet or protagonist you control.  In this aspect Watch_Dogs shines, Chicago is beautiful, but more importantly at times it can truly feel alive.

Clearly smaller than the vast landscapes of GTA5, Ubisoft Montreal’s meticulously created version of Chicago definitely feels much fuller.  From people hanging out on street corners, musicians jamming in parks, protesters, drunks, hobo’s, lovers stealing a quick smooch down an alley, it has everything apart from dogs, or cats for that matter and definitely no next gen fish with AI.  The hundreds if not thousands of citizens of Chicago really are the heart and soul of the city and they do a great job of making it all feel so alive, and that’s before you start hacking into their private lives.

During the neon glow of the evening or in the dazzling sunlight, I would find myself stumbling across some interesting landmark or building that deserved closer inspection.  Watch_Dogs offers up several distinct areas.  Rural mountains rise from the shores of Lake Pawnee.  Rundown housing projects that wouldn’t look out of place in The Wire, play host to some of the more criminal elements of the population.  Sprawling, dirty industrial districts offer great shortcuts and a really interesting skyline.  High-rise office blocks and apartment buildings fill out the uptown district and parks and recreation areas are spread across the map.  Whilst most sandbox games seem to use cut and paste buildings it just doesn’t feel this way in Chicago, everything appears to be unique and it really adds to the immersion of the game.

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The Monkey Hustle

Running, jumping, sliding, shooting, driving, bashing, hacking, ‘slowmoing’.  Watch_Dogs plays very much like you would expect it to.  Driver, Assassins Creed, GTA, Max Payne and a myriad of other games DNA can all be seen in the way the game handles.

Shooting is tight and responsive, and a slow motion focus perk is right out of Remedy’s play-book. The guns all have a weighty feel to them and feel suitably lethal.  Aiden himself is a rather nimble fellow.  Vaulting over fences, sliding over car bonnets, he’s very much like a toned down Etzio and it works really well. Getting behind the wheel for the first time is rather daunting, after GTA5 the cars all feel lightweight and rather flighty. However, after half an hour or so everything clicks into place and you’ll soon be sliding around corners like a pro.

Hacking in general is fun; its strength comes from turning a straight up fire fight into an altogether more tactical affair.  You will always be heavily outnumbered. Hack a camera to get the scoop on where the bad guys are positioning, turn a radio on to district them, blow up electrical conduits to take them down.  By using the skills you have it also opens up the option of taking the stealth way through certain missions and side missions.  It really is a well thought out and executed mechanic, very much in the vain of Sam Fisher.  Aside from the actual combat uses of hacking you’ll find yourself using it a lot in car chases, whether to take down your target by causing a pile up in his path, or activating blockers and raising bridges to deter your pursuers.

All of these abilities are tied together by a surprisingly full featured levelling and perks system.  Completing anything in the game gives you experience points, get enough of these points and you level up, earning yourself a skill point.  These points can be spent in any of the skills trees four branches.  Combat, Driving, Hacking and Crafting all contain various perks waiting to be unlocked. From less recoil and faster reloading of you weapons, cars taking less damage and dealing more to hacking certain elements of city infrastructure.  It lets you develop Aiden in a way that suits your play style, it’s a really nice addition to the game and with 50 perks to unlock it will take you a good while to unlock everything.

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Windy City Boogie Woogie

Whilst the main campaign in itself is pretty good, it’s all the optional side quests and missions that are without a doubt where this games strength truly lies.  To be quite honest all these extra probably deserve a review of their own.  The two augmented reality games, NVZN and Cash Run are both great time wasters.

Cash run is exactly what it says, an AR overlay is projected onto the city streets of Chicago and you must race against time collecting the floating $ signs whilst avoiding the Pac Man like ghostly blobs.  Multiple courses are found all across the city and it’s great fun trying to complete them with enough time left on the clock to get the gold medals.  NVZN is a take on a 3rd person Space Invaders with pink aliens appearing through portals begging to be exploded with your VR blaster.

Digital Trips are mind altering experiences along the lines of Total Recall.  Sonically induced, there are 4 mini games on offer.  Spidertank sees you controlling… well a Spidertank, causing mayhem and destroying loads of stuff.  You’re up against the clock with the aim of destroying targets whilst trying to survive the hail of bullets from law enforcement.  I’ve lost hours to this particular trip, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this one, if not a couple of the other trips get their own beefed up release- like Blood Dragon did.

Alone finds you in a bleak dystopian future, trying to light beacons to lift the darkness whilst being hunted by cyborg robots type things.  This Trip is all about stealth and it’s an extremely intense experience that really keeps you on the edge of your seat.

Add to those two: Madness which sees you driving through the city streets like Ghost Rider collecting souls against the clock, and last and definitely least is: Psychedelic- which finds you bouncing from trippy flower to trippy flower.  These four combined offer hours and hours of content and the first two mentioned are a whole lot of fun, it gives the game a little bit of the craziness found in games like Saints Row while keeping the main game a bit more grounded.

The extra content doesn’t end there.  From criminal convoys to take down, arms shipments to track, missing persons to find, ctOS compounds to assault and much, much more.  Ubisoft has clearly learned its lessons from when it released the rather sparse Assassin’s Creed way back in 2007.

Online multiplayer features heavily in Watch_Dogs and whilst the ever present and rather annoying prompts continuously remind you than an online game is  a d-pad press away, the intrusion of these reminders is the worst thing in the entire game.  Like most players who have a brain cell, if I want to play online multiplayer I will do.  I don’t need reminding every two minutes that I can do it.  Whilst the prompts are annoying, the multiplayer modes themselves are a lot of fun.

Hacking works two ways, you can either be invaded or be the invader.  Invading entails finding the target, and starting a hack which alerts your opponents that you are in the area.  It’s then a case of cat and mouse, staying close enough to continue hacking whilst remaining undetected.  Reverse that and you are trying to find who’s hacking you before they steal or your data, it’s a fun game mode made even better when you’re hacking friends.

Decryption pits 8 players, either free for all or in teams, to locate a stash of data and remain in possession of it whilst it decrypts.  Your opponents get too close and they start to steal the data.  Again this mode is also a lot of fun and when working as a team it can get really tactical.

Online races are rather straight forward, either laps of a circuit and point to point. It’s a straight up race with a few opportunities to hack traffic light or bridges and ruin your opponent’s day.  Racing works well and although it doesn’t offer anything new that cannot be found elsewhere, it is a competent addition to the multiplayer aspect of the game.

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Then We Came To The End

When added all together you start to get an idea of the amount of content on offer, whilst not all of it is great, the worst parts are at least good.  I’ve played over 40 hours since launch, and as far as completion goes I’m just over 50% there.  In huge sprawling games, a lot of the content can simply feel like filler, this is not the case with Watch_Dogs.  Everything on offer is both really interesting and just plain outright fun.

There are people who will bemoan that fact that it doesn’t look as nice as the original E3 reveal or that it’s been hamstrung by the cross-gen release.  This simply isn’t the case.  The game looks great on both the Xbox One and PC that I tested it on.  Everyone nowadays seems to know what makes a game next-gen, I haven’t really got a clue, and to be honest the only limiting factor seems to be the developers themselves.  Like I’ve mentioned, all the content in Watch_Dogs is good if not entirely ground breaking.  The only thing I could come up with to make it more ‘next-geny’ would be to actually incorporate a music streaming app into Aidan’s virtual phone and tie it to a service like Spotify.  Short of that I’m not sure what else they could do.  Watch_Dogs is a brilliant first step for a new IP, and whilst maybe not as ambitious as it could have been it’s still a great game that should not be overlooked.

After 40+ hours of gameplay I’m ready to dive back in for another 40 and the content is there to do that.  Playing Watch_Dogs leaves me excited for the next game, and if Ubisoft can pull off the same sort of transformation they achieved from Assassins 1 to 2 then the next Watch_Dogs could be truly exceptional.

Published by Ubisoft

Formats:  PS4, WiiU, PC, PS3, X360.

Xbox One Reviewed.

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