The Most Graphically Demanding PC Games
By Jimmy Thang on
If you’ve got a beastly gaming PC, chances are you know how awesome it feels to crank up all the graphics settings in your games to the max. It’s also fun to show off your rig's graphical prowess to your console-only gaming friends. But what games do you show them? What titles will really put your monstrous PC to work?
We’ve rounded up some of the most graphically-demanding games that we could find and ranked them in order of how much it made our computer struggle. What game will potentially give your PC the hardest time? The answer will most likely surprise you!
We ranked each game based on frame rates; the lower the frame rate, the higher the ranking. We did this using FRAPS’ average frame rate capturing feature to record several minutes of gameplay from each title on our list. As we wanted this to be as authentic as possible, we avoided pre-built benchmarks. Furthermore, all games were played in their respective single-player modes as to not let Internet connectivity be a potential hindrance on performance. While random levels within different games may be more taxing than others, our data should provide you a good snapshot of each game’s relative performance (your mileage with your own personal setup may vary).
All games were set to the maximum settings at 4K resolution (3840x2160) on our 4K monitor. No third party graphics mods of any sort were used. We also made sure to disable VSync as to not limit our frame rates to our monitor’s 60Hz refresh rate. All of our testing was done on an Alienware Area 51 gaming PC, which is equipped with an Intel Core i7 5930K CPU clocked at 3.5GHz, 16GB of RAM, and three stock GeForce GTX 980 GPUs using Nvidia’s 364.72 drivers.
While that sounds like an ungodly gaming rig, you’ll quickly realize that it’s no match for many of these games running maxed out at 4K.
It is worth noting that there are numerous variables to our tests. Because we’re running these games at 4K, the super high resolution is really going to tax our GPU’s VRAM. While a 980 is a really good card (with three of them being even better), VRAM doesn’t stack. So instead of getting access to 12GB of VRAM (4GB from each card), we only have access to one card's 4GB allotment.
The second thing to consider is port quality. How well is the game optimized for PC? How well is it optimized for PCs at 4K with max settings on our setup?
The third main thing to look at is SLI scaling. Does the game effectively take advantage of three GPUs in SLI?
The answer to these questions is going to vary on an individual basis, but if you had any preconceived notions that PC games wouldn’t be able to push the most powerful systems to their limits, you’d be greatly mistaken.
Note: If you see an *asterisk by a game's title, that means we encountered a technical issue during our testing.
15. Star Wars Battlefront*
Developer: EA DICE
Game Engine: Frostbite 3
Release Date: November 2015
Average FPS: 78.0
Star Wars Battlefront is one of the most beautiful-looking games today. Whether it’s the frozen tundras of Hoth or the dusty sand dunes of Tatooine, the game’s impressive use of photogrammetry, which uses real-life photography to map out virtual environments, realistically encapsulate the look of the iconic film series. Using the Frostbite 3 engine and developed by DICE, the game is surprisingly well-optimized. You don’t need a top-tier PC to get this game looking respectable at medium settings. While we were able to crank up almost all the graphical bells and whistles, we couldn’t get the game to run at 200% resolution scaling, which is an option in the game to double your resolution and then have it downscale to your monitor’s display. We tried to get it working many times and many Bothans lost their lives trying to get us the data, but sadly we couldn't prevail. With everything else turned up, however, the game ran smoothly with a 78 average FPS. Battlefront never dipped below 60fps, and as a result, earns a 15th-place spot on our list.
Game Engine: CryEngine 2
Release Date: November 2007
Average FPS: 65.7
Yes, this game is quite old, but it’s still pretty graphically demanding (and just straight up pretty). When Crysis came out in 2007, it was so taxing on PC hardware that it spawned the infamous “But can it run Crysis?” meme. It arguably held the title for most graphically-demanding game until Metro 2033 came out three years later. To be fair, Crytek designed the game to be “future proof” and we can safely say that nine years later, it still holds up beautifully. The foliage, god rays, and lighting still are a sight to behold. What made the game so taxing? Its barrage of particle effects, extreme physics, and realistic water rendered in a dynamic jungle environment melted graphics cards in its heyday. Thankfully, GPU advancements have come along ways since the game’s release, as our monstrous rig with three GTX 980s was able to garner a 65.7fps average, giving it 14th place on our list.
13. Battlefield 4*
Game Engine: Frostbite 3
Release Date: October 2013
Average FPS: 59.5
For a long time, the Battlefield franchise has been revered for its graphical prowess and Battlefield 4 is no different. Like Star Wars Battlefront, the DICE-developed shooter uses the gorgeous Frostbite 3 engine and offers a ton of graphical features. Like ambient occlusion? The game offers that. Want J.J. Abrams style lens flares? The game has that, too. Like Battlefront, the game also allows you to scale up the resolution to 200 percent, but again, we couldn’t get the scaling to work here as it would simply lock up our PC. We cranked everything else to the max, though, and got an average FPS of 59.5. It dipped down to as low as 39fps, but it was still playable overall and looked fantastic.
12.Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
Developer: Monolith Productions
Release Date: September 2014
Average FPS: 59.4
Monolith Production’s Shadow of Mordor is already a good-looking game on consoles, but with the HD texture pack on PC, it looks much sharper. It’s the high-resolution textures here that really give this game its graphical edge. When you add in the dynamic weather effects coupled with the large open landscapes and great character models, you get one beautiful-looking game when everything is cranked up. This takes its toll on frame rate, though. While its average 59.4fps looks okay on paper, the game occasionally stuttered to zero and became unplayable.
11. Far Cry Primal
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Game Engine: Dunia Engine 2
Release Date: March 2016
Average FPS: 46.1
Far Cry Primal is the latest in the famed first-person shooter series, and in this iteration, the game takes us to 10,000 BC. One aspect of the game that remains true to the series is that it tells its tale using large, expansive environments. In the beginning segment of the game that we played, we got to take down a mammoth with spears and confront a sabertooth tiger. From an aesthetic perspective, Primal looks beautiful, but the game’s frame rate detracted from the visual experience with a 46.1fps average.
10. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Developer: CD Projekt RED
Game Engine: REDengine 3
Release Date: May 2015
Average FPS: 33.7
The Witcher 2 was already a great-looking game, but the Witcher 3 takes it to a whole new level with its revamped REDengine 3. Not only is the game graphically-intense with a bevy of advanced graphical features such as Nvidia HairWorks, ambient occlusion, and depth of field, but it's artistically a very beautiful game. Roaming the lush countryside on horseback as Geralt of Rivia and seeing the light shafts trickle through tree branches is quite the majestic experience. Artistry aside, The Witcher 3 has the technical chops to bring your PC to its knees. Even our beefy rig felt the wrath of the game with its 33.7 average FPS.
9. Crysis 3
Game Engine: CryEngine 3
Release Date: February 2013
Average FPS: 32.4
While the original Crysis was revered for how graphically taxing it was, many felt like Crysis 2 was too much of a console port. Going back to its roots, Crytek beefed up its CryEngine 3 in an attempt to melt the beefiest of GPUs. Unlike the first game, which took place predominantly in the jungle, Crysis 3 takes place in the urban jungle of New York City. What it does have in common with the original game is the heavy amount of particle effects and crazy physics it offers. Crysis 3 also added a lot of tessellation. For the uninitiated, tessellation adds a lot of geometric complexity to environments. The game also serves up some super high-resolution textures as well. In our playthrough of the game, which had us killing soldiers on an ocean tanker, we garnered an average FPS of 32.4. We’re confident the amazing lighting effects and great character models contributed to the sluggish frame rate, but the exploding barrels were the biggest culprit to our frame rate dips. Here, we saw it completely tank down to zero. Crysis 3 may not be as beloved as the original, but it is more graphically demanding, and one of the most taxing games on hardware today.
8. Just Cause 3
Developer: Avalanche Studios
Engine: Avalanche Engine
Release Date: November 2015
Average FPS: 27.0
Just Cause 3 is a crazy game. This is in large part due to its wacky Avalanche Engine, which adds all sorts of insane physics. The first thing you’ll likely notice is that it features lush vistas. The game’s tropical environment makes you feel like you’re in paradise, that is, until you realize almost everybody on the island seems to want to kill you. Luckily, you’re allowed to kill them back, and you’ll do so with the help of the game’s crazy physics system, which allows you to blow up and destroy the world around you. When you add in the fact that the game has tons of sophisticated fire, explosion, and smoke effects, you get a recipe for a very taxing PC game. With everything maxed out, we got a 27 average FPS, which makes the game too choppy to play at those settings in our eyes.
7. ARMA 3
Developer: Bohemia Interactive
Game Engine: Real Virtuality 4
Release Date: September 2013
Average FPS: 19.9
ARMA 3 may not be the prettiest game on this list, but it’s still really taxing on hardware. Yes, it might not be very well optimized, but it also features large open worlds. We know a lot of games claim that, but ARMA 3’s Real Virtuality 4 engine is able to render levels with 270 square kilometers of terrain. The environments are also destructible, which adds physics chaos to the madness. Cranking all the settings to the max and going for a helicopter ride and seeing the vast detailed landscape, we got a 19.9 average FPS. The game brings new meaning to the phrase, “Get to the chopper.”
6. Batman: Arkham Knight
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Game Engine: Unreal Engine 3 coupled with Apex physics engine
Release Date: June 2015
Average FPS: 18.0
Perhaps the PC version of Arkham Knight shouldn’t be on this list, because while it’s known to be a taxing game, Arkham Knight is also known to be a poorly optimized PC port. Still, the game does look much better than the average Unreal Engine 3 game with its added Apex physics system, and we were curious about how well it performs today given modern patches and driver updates. The results? Not good. The frame rate was on the borderline of okay while we were walking around (were talking around 30fps here), but as soon as we got in the Batmobile, the game would tank (no pun intended). The game even locked up on us at one point. Overall, we got a poor 18fps average from our playthrough. It looks like the Joker got the last laugh on this one.
5. Metro Last Light Redux
Developer: 4A Games
Game Engine: 4A
Release Date: August 2014
Average FPS: 15.2
The original Crysis reigned supreme as the most graphically-demanding PC game for years, and it wasn’t until Metro 2033 came out was there arguably a new performance king. Metro Last Light Redux is the latest installment in the series and continues the franchise’s heavy use of geometric tessellation and PhysX. The game also incorporates tons of volumetric fog, bokeh, real-time lighting, sharp textures, and sophisticated smoke effects. Playing through the beginning portion of the game, we saw the game’s 4A Engine running on all cylinders as it made our beefy rig tap out with a mediocre 15.2 average FPS.
4. Assassin’s Creed Syndicate*
Developer: Ubisoft Quebec
Game Engine: AnvilNext
Release Date: November 2015
Average FPS: 4.7/12.3
In a way, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is the most graphically-demanding game under our parameters, which is surprising. Another shocking fact that we discovered is that not only does the game not work well with SLI, it actually runs much worse on three 980s as opposed to one. In SLI, we garnered a 4.7 average FPS. As soon as the menus started chugging after we tweaked the graphics, we knew things were going to be bad. After disabling SLI, however, the frame rate went up to 12.3 average FPS. That’s still not great and is completely unplayable, but it’s at least an improvement. With three 980s, it was simply a headache-inducing struggle just to walk down a hallway.
3. Rise of the Tomb Raider
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Game Engine: Foundation
Release Date: January 2016
Average FPS: 12.0
2013’s PC version of Tomb Raider was a surprisingly graphically-demanding game. Rise of the Tomb Raider ups the ante by not only looking better, but is also more taxing on hardware as well. This is evident in our 12fps average. To be fair, playing through the game’s opening icy scene made us feel like we were hiking up Mt. Everest alongside Lara herself. Granted, it was a very choppy Everest, but it was still beautiful. To be fair to the game, it does offer a plethora of texture, shadow, and geometry effects. When you’re playing the game, the snow particles, sun shaft shadows, and ambient occlusion will freeze you in your tracks, but so will the frame rate.
2. ARK: Survival Evolved
Developer: Studio Wildcard, Instinct Games, Efecto Studios, Virtual Basement LLC
Game Engine: Unreal Engine 4
Release Date: June 2015 (early access)
Average FPS: 6.7
Powered by Epic’s shiny new Unreal Engine 4, ARK: Survival Evolved is a survival game that takes place in an open world. Did we mention that it has dinosaurs? If not, it has dinosaurs. In its early access state, the game is very taxing maxed out. This is partially due to the game's large and lush landscapes, which provides great draw distances. Sprinkle in realistic water effects, crisp textures, and lush vegetation with lots of geometry, and you have a recipe for a really taxing game. How taxing? Try 6.7 average fps. To be fair, the game could potentially run more smoothly after it's out of early access with future patches and driver updates, but until then, this game will give your PC a prehistoric workout.
1. Grand Theft Auto V
Developer: Rockstar North
Game Engine: RAGE
Release Date: April 2015
Average FPS: 6.2
While the port of GTA IV was taxing on hardware when it initially came to the PC in 2008, it was demanding for the wrong reasons. The port wasn’t very well optimized and you needed a super beefy PC then just to run it at medium settings. The game’s successor, GTA V, is much more graphically demanding on PC, but at least you get some nice visual bells and whistles with it this time around. It also happens to be more forgiving on the lower settings. From a graphics setting perspective, there’s a dizzying array of options here that allow you to tweak texture quality, shaders, tessellation, and more. The PC version also allows you to increase population density, which affects both the amount of cars and pedestrians you see on the street. We couldn’t get past the game’s first heist mission, however, as we encountered an unplayable 6.2 average FPS. It was so unplayable that the AI would always kill us before we had a chance to aim and fire back. It got so bad that we tons of issues even trying to get the game to load. GTA V is a game that’s heavily VRAM-intensive, and while we have three GeForce GTX 980s, as we mentioned before, VRAM doesn't stack and we’re relegated to a single 980’s 4GB allocation.
Of course, you can get the game running smoothly at a lower resolution with settings turned down, but in case you’re wondering, this game is more like “Grand Theft Frame Rate” maxed out at 4K.
Before we began any testing, we couldn’t help but have rough preconceived notions of how these games would rank on our hardware. It came as a huge surprise to us then to see that games like GTA V and Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, both available on console, gave our rig some of its most troubling issues.