Grand Theft Auto: PC steals cars the best

Although it took them long enough, Rockstar have started to reveal some information about the PC version of GTA IV.

As has often been the case with the ‘next gen’ consoles, publishers seem oddly coy when it comes to discussing the inevitable PC versions, ambiguously referring to their games as ‘console exclusives’ before surprising absolutely nobody with the announcement of a PC release six months down the line. Gears of War, Mass Effect, Assassin’s Creed and now GTA IV. They’re all at it.

It’s a strange strategy, especially for games that fall short of their hype by a giant margin, as Ass Creed did so miserably. Ubisoft inevitably blamed Ass Creed‘s markedly lower PC sales on piracy (yawn), but it’s more likely that discerning PC gamers had already heard the grumblings from their console brethren about the game’s failings and decided to save their cash.

Which is one of the benefits of having to wait. Sure, it can be excruciating to sit idly twiddling your thumbs while consolites are happily thumb twiddling their gamepads but it does at least make PC gamers almost entirely immune to hype – at least in the case of these multi-platform releases. With GTA IV, we already know it isn’t the second coming. But we do know it is very, very good. Come November, most of us will have already played it a bit courtesy of friends (or the work lunch hour) and know what to expect. We can look forward to such games with sensible, rational expectations, safe in the knowledge that we will be entirely satisfied in our own, tempered excitement.

The best news, of course, is that GTA IV PC (the worldwide recession appears to be causing a vowel shortage) will be pleasantly enhanced, with expanded multiplayer modes and spiffy visuals that will allegedly be “polished well beyond what they were on the 360 and PS3”. Although god knows what kind of rig you’ll need to actually see them.

The only thing that really matters is mouse control. I had both Vice City and San Andreas on my PS2 and loved both of them, but both hit an inevitable difficulty curve as soon as any kind of manual aiming was required. The PS2’s pad simply wasn’t up to the job, not helped by shoddy implementation and an extremely wobbly framerate.

When San Andreas appeared for cheap on Steam I thought I’d give it another whirl, marking only the second time I’ve bought a game twice (the other one was Deus Ex – which I’d happily buy a third time, too). Remarkably, it is like playing a completely different game. The framerate runs at a consistent 100FPS-or-so, while at the same time having a much further view distance. And when I picked up my first gun…it was sheer glee. At last, I could aim. Weapons were genuinly fun once again, rather than a tedious chore. Even that damn rooftop mission for Zero was transformed into an entertaining mini-game.

So what of GTA IV? I’ve played it on a PS3 and it’s like San Andreas all over again: awkward and sluggish camera controls and aiming and an absolutely woeful framerate that occasionally borders on unplayable (I’ve heard the 360 version performs more smoothly – any truth to that?). Fingers crossed the PC version will perform a similar resurrection and present the game in its best possible light.

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