GTA 5's PC-exclusive video editor is its killer feature

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After playing GTA 5 on PC, I’m not overly excited about playing in 4K resolution at 60 frames-per-second. Nor does the prospect of a prettier draw distance and foliage stand out as sufficient reason to replay Rockstar’s classic. These things help of course—GTA 5 on PC looks gorgeous—but something else, something intrinsically ‘PC’, has me more interested.

It’s the video editor. The creative element is what makes GTA 5 a truly native PC experience, and imagining what the community will do with this toolset—considering all we’ve achieved with the likes of Minecraft, Gary’s Mod, Arma 3 and much more—is staggering. YouTube is gonna buckle under the weight of this surge in creativity, and with tools as intuitive and powerful as GTA’s video editor, a lot of it is going to look really good, too.

Down and out in Los Santos

I don't realise I'm being recorded. The Rockstar rep tasked with chaperoning me through Los Santos had a heist in mind, but there I am, standing at a crossroads somewhere in upper Los Santos, blowing police helicopters out of the air with a grenade launcher. It’s really satisfying and funny, but as the minutes crawl past I realise it must be weird. I’m still here killing cops and the Rockstar rep is sitting there, in silence, watching me do it.

“I’m just testing the frame rate,” I say as six crumpled police cars go up in flames. The frame rate holds up very well—perfectly in fact—because, like Sam did for his impressions, I’m playing on a rig that can handle 4K at 60fps. The destruction is gorgeous. I want to stay there with my grenade launcher, but I don’t want the rep to think I am insane.

“Frame rate seems okay,” I say with a straight face. “Can I fly a jet now?”

The rep spawns a heavy duty Hydra jet. As I take to the skies above Vinewood on my way to Mount Chiliad, I’m hit with the first of many ‘wow’ moments during my two-hour hands on time with the PC build. GTA 5 looked amazing on last-gen consoles and incredible when it made the conversion to new-gen consoles, but now it kinda looks like real life. Flying about 500 metres above the Vinewood sign and looking west towards the ocean as the sun melts into the horizon, for a moment I feel like I don’t want to destroy something.

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The draw distance is noticeably better and crisper than in the current-gen console version, but what impresses most is the lighting. As I draw closer to Mount Chiliad the city behind me emits a glowering light pollution, while the plains over the Vinewood hills are still and eerie, save for scattered networks of highway and the pulsing of headlights. As for Chiliad itself, it’s a looming mass of black, with only the guiding lights at the peak providing shape.

Overwhelmed by the beauty, I nosedive my high speed jet into a nearby highway, killing myself and several carloads of commuters.

Vinewood Dreams

Little of what I’ve written above tells you more than you already know about GTA 5. The game’s been out for nearly 18 months on consoles, and if you want to see all the cool stuff that can happen in Los Santos there are thousands of videos to choose from on YouTube. On my way to the Sydney Rockstar offices last week, I wasn’t overly excited by the prospect of seeing a better looking version of a game I’ve played through twice, but when I left the office several hours later, I felt that electric sensation you get when you’ve seen something truly impressive.

The Rockstar rep takes me back to my embarrassing little standoff at the upper Los Santos crossroads. That whole sequence was recorded—all six gruelling minutes of it—and I’m free to turn it into a cinematic masterpiece. Using the editor is as simple as setting marks on the recorded footage, which determine separate sections in the film. These can be as long or short as you wish. Once a section is made you can choose from a series of preset camera angles which can be zoomed in and out, but free camera is the most powerful tool, allowing you to position the camera wherever you like within a certain range of the action.

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After five minutes of fiddling I’d turned my violent fracas into a shaky cam video nasty, replete with wobbly VHS filter and 'artistic' handcrafted camera angles. If I’d desired I could have sped up or slowed down the footage (from 5 to 200 per cent of the original speed), or applied some of the other filters I browsed including ‘gonzo’ (presumably named because it resembles the cinematography in Fear and Loathing in Los Vegas), ‘drunk’ (self-evident) and a number of noir-esque darkening effects that remove the last shred of evidence that this is, in fact, a video game.

It only took a matter of minutes tinkering to make my lazy helicopter target practice into a captivating (I thought) cinematic film. With the depth provided by the tools at hand (I didn't even touch the many audio options, which include mixers to adjust music and environmental sounds) and knowing that most people have better video editing prowess than I, it's only a matter of time before clever folk up the ante on projects like this.

There is a Director Mode also, which allows you to change weather effects, choose from an array of characters (human and animal) and even use built-in dialogue, but I didn’t get to see that. The standard video editor is likely to keep anyone with even a close-to-zero interest in filmmaking busy, and when applied to GTA Online and the type of shenanigans people get up to in that sandbox… let’s just say, you won’t need to buy GTA 5 to be entertained by it come April 14. If what I saw is anything to go by, GTA 5 isn’t just better on PC: it belongs there.

Shaun Prescott

Shaun Prescott is the Australian editor of PC Gamer. With over ten years experience covering the games industry, his work has appeared on GamesRadar+, TechRadar, The Guardian, PLAY Magazine, the Sydney Morning Herald, and more. Specific interests include indie games, obscure Metroidvanias, speedrunning, experimental games and FPSs. He thinks Lulu by Metallica and Lou Reed is an all-time classic that will receive its due critical reappraisal one day.