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Why GTA 5 PC is the definitive version of Rockstar's epic

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Heists represent the most thrilling of GTA 5’s many superb set pieces and this is probably the best one. Teams of police surround Michael and Franklin as they maneuver out of the bank, and helicopters pelt them with fire from above. The next-gen console versions brought in new, fanciful weapons for returning players like the experimental railgun (I’m familiar with them as the big electric guns from Metal Gear, but apparently they exist—at an experimental level—and are able to pick off a helicopter from miles away in GTA). Rockstar properly embraces the silly in GTA 5.

Rockstar let me choose what to do next. So, I did all the things I love doing in GTA 5 on consoles. Playing as Franklin, I took his frequently-pooping dog Chop for a drive through downtown Los Santos and to the airport, where I attempted to steal an airplane while being chased by loads of cops. I got to the airport okay, but then made a truly pitiful attempt to escape the law, crashing my plane into a barrier on the runway and busting it. I tried to find another vehicle to make a getaway, but I was trapped and shot dead. Don’t worry, dog lovers: Franklin sends Chop home when you steal an aircraft, although I’d seriously lobby to have him be a co-pilot, complete with a uniform. Make it happen, modders.

Next, I flew a military aircraft, which is almost always the most fun you can have in GTA. I blew up the giant Atomic Blimp over the Los Santos skyline with the plane’s machine guns and flew through the debris. I then piloted it to the Fort Zancudo military base—a hornet’s nest of trigger-happy guards—and pissed off the very powerful armed forces there with a few rockets and machine guns, only to have the back of my craft severely damaged by homing missiles. Forced into ejecting and parachuting back to land, I took out an incoming helicopter with the railgun. The army found me on foot and correctly shot me dead for being a dick.

Next, I went on a melee rampage outside a hospital for vague revenge reasons—something I did all the time in the console version. It's very different doing it in first-person, with the new animations and upgraded visual effects. No doubt you've seen footage of the game in first-person already on PS4, and plenty of people have commented on how bad it made them feel to see the violence play out with so much grim detail. I’d like to pretend that was me, too, but after attacking a fair number of victims with the hatchet and other deadly objects in first-person, I can’t deny that I was having fun. Hey, they’re NPCs, not people. Every time I did something terrible in first-person in GTA 5, I reacted by saying something like “Jesus!”. And then I did it again immediately. The cops again arrived and sorted me out.

I then played the game’s opening mission (I don’t want to spoil it for new players) with mouse and keyboard controls. Landing a headshot with mouse and keyboard in first-person feels fantastic, and I can see a lot of players favouring it in GTA 5's online mode. You can configure these controls to your liking, as well, and it feels like anything but an afterthought. Compared to playing third-person with a controller, it feels like a totally different way of interacting with GTA.

Combine this first-person mode with the upgraded visuals, and Los Santos feels like it’s finally reached its full potential on PC. This is GTA 5 as I've always wanted to see it. The rich weather and day/night effects make this approximation of Los Angeles feel far nicer than the real thing. The only small visual issue I noticed was right at the start of the demo, where to my eye there was a tiny bit of environmental pop-in with trees as Franklin was parachuting down the mountain. I didn't notice anything else in about two hours of playing it. I was blown away by everything from purple sunsets to the glowing outline of downtown Los Santos, and even the realistic way the waves move in the sea. This looks insanely good. I'm keen to know how the game runs on a more modest setup, and in a week, we'll find out. That feels like the last unknown to me.

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Then there’s a PC-exclusive feature, the upgraded Rockstar Editor, which I got a brief look at. You can record footage at any time in-game through the character select pause screen, even if you’re using a controller, and then videos will be saved in chunks to your hard-drive. Later, you can open up the videos then customise them: change the camera angles completely, add filters and even add music from different tunes on the radio and the original score. You can share the end result. The community is going to go crazy for this, and the streamlined interface is self-explanatory.

If you've never played GTA 5 and have been waiting all this time for the PC version, what a genuine pleasure you're in for: a sprawling yet detailed world that benefits from every game Rockstar has created in the last decade, the most exciting, varied and least frustrating single-player campaign of the series and a brilliant soundtrack that's significantly freshened up my pathetic iTunes library. It's all ahead of you. If, like me, you're going back to Los Santos, it looks like it'll be more than worth the return journey on PC.

For more, here's everything you need to know about GTA 5. If you can't wait a week, you can always mod GTA 4 into GTA 5, or get an alternative fix from collection of 10 games.

Former PC Gamer EIC Samuel has been writing about games since he was 18. He's a generalist, because life is surely about playing as many games as possible before you're put in the cold ground.