At Maximum PC we love pushing our PCs to their limits by testing high-end games at maximum settings. To reach these limits, you'll need to fire up the most über-demanding games. What are the most graphically-demanding games you ask? We’ve thrown together a list of the gnarliest PC games that will give your precious gaming rig a kick-ass workout.
We tested each game at maximum settings on a 1920x1080 display. Our modest mid-range test rig consisted of an i7-2700K CPU overclocked to 4.5GHz, a GTX 680 video card overclocked to 1140MHz, and 8GB of G.Skill DDR3 RAM. We first started out disabling motion blur, which is a frame rate crutch, and cranked up all of the other settings as high as they would go. Another setting that was crucial to disable was V-Sync, so that our frame rate was not capped with our 60Hz refresh rate. We played each game for 15 minutes, and recorded its average frame rate using FRAPS. Each frame rate listed below is that of our playthrough and may not be exactly repeatable because the frame rate averages were captured with real-world dynamic testing, which may vary from playthrough to playthrough, even on a rig with the exact same hardware. Still, our tests should provide an accurate measure of relative performance between titles. The rankings are listed from least taxing to most based on average frame rate count.
Call of Duty Ghosts: #11
Game Engine: IW Engine
The latest installment of Call of Duty isn’t too taxing to run as we experienced an average frame rate of 67.9 FPS. In our gameplay session we floated through space and ran around inside a few burning buildings during the game’s first mission. COD games aren’t very challenging to run because they still use the same game engine as COD 4, which came out over 6 years ago. To put it into perspective, the old engine is easy enough for last gen consoles to run at 60 FPS. Maybe the next installment in the series will finally change the game's outdated game engine so it can rival the graphical capabilities of other modern military shooters.
Game Engine: CryEngine 2
When Crytek made Crysis they wanted to make a “future proof” game and we can say that six years later, they have successfully done so by garnering the 10th spot on this list as we only garnered an average frame rate of 58.2 FPS. What’s to blame for the relatively low frame rate for such an old game? Particle effects are hot and heavy in Crysis and they caused our frame rate to dip while testing, throw in some extreme physics (not to be confused with PhysX), and some realistic water effects, and you get a six-year old game that’s even hard to run even on an overclocked GTX 680.
Hitman Absolution: #9
Game Engine: Glacier 2
We tested Hitman Absolution by sleuthing around the first level killing foes covertly snapping necks with our bare hands. We then got into a firefight with few of the security guards and killed several dozen more enemies before finishing our benchmark run. The end result was a frame rate that was 53.8 FPS and made Hitman our number nine game overall. Hitman is quite CPU heavy, so our relatively low frame rate could have been due to getting bottlenecked by our 2700K CPU not being able to muster physics calculations fast enough to keep up with our overclocked GTX 680 GPU.
GTA IV: #8
Game Engine: Rockstar Advanced Game Engine (RAGE)
Yes, we’re upset as anybody for the lack of a PC version of GTA V, but even the fourth game in the series (released in 2008) made our mid-range machine struggle. We only saw an average frame rate of 53.21 FPS, while driving around crazily through Liberty City, where we would eventually end up picking fights with random pedestrians. It’s hard to believe that this game came out almost five years ago! GTA IV, however, doesn’t look very impressive by today’s gaming standards and we blame the game’s demanding hardware performance on poor PC optimization. The engine behind the game's demanding performance uses an amalgamation of three different engines, including Rockstar's RAGE engine, Euphoria engine, and Bullet Physics Library. Hitman Absolution, by comparison, looks much better than GTA IV and has almost the same frame rate.
Click the next page for the top five most graphically demanding PC games!
Far Cry 3: #7
Game Engine: Dunia Engine 2
We started our playthrough in Far Cry 3 running through a tropical forest and then proceeded by stealing an abandoned dirt-splattered car. Once we were done joyriding around the island we went for a swim in the ocean and went to visit a neighboring island. We then got into an epic battle with some of the locals blowing up explosive barrels and stabbing our foes straight through the chest with our machete. Far Cry 3 lands at number seven on our list with its 41 FPS and this score is likely due to its large amount of particle effects when explosive barrels are, well, exploded, and also due to the fact that there’s tons of vegetation to be rendered as you walk around the various islands.
The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings: #6
Game Engine: REDengine with Havok Physics
The Witcher 2 gave us a heavy helping of medieval combat throwing us into a bloody gladiator arena where we faced hordes of enemies. We found one setting enabled which caused our frame rate to be cut down to a meager 32.62 FPS, which was the game’s Übersampling option. What’s Übersampling? It’s Super Sampling Anti Aliasing meaning that The Witcher 2 made our rig render the game at 4K, and then downsize that image to fit our 1920x1080 display. When we turned off Übersampling the game ran at a buttery smooth 60+ FPS.
Crysis 3: #5
Game Engine: CryEngine 3
Like other Crysis games, Crysis 3 does much of the same as its predecessors giving users a heavy dose of particle effects, high-resolution textures, and tons of crazy physics. We ran around the game’s first level, which had us going through a rainstorm, while quietly assassinating our foes with a silenced pistol and tactical bow. Exploding barrels of gasoline killed our frame rate in Crysis 3 just like in Far Cry 3 making it dip to an abysmal 13 FPS. In the end we were only able to get 28.08 FPS out of the title, putting it at number five on our graphically-intensive list.
ARMA 3: #4 (Added: 2-10-14)
Game Engine: Real Virtuality 4
In testing ARMA 3, we first disabled motion blur and cranked up depth of field as high as it would go. We then maxed out shadows, objects, and overall visibility. Finally, we put FSAA (Full Screen Anti-Aliasing) to 8X, and Anisotropic filtering to Ultra.
We started up ARMA 3’s first mission Drawdown 2035 for our test run. Yes, we understand our frame rate would have been lower if we had jumped into a multiplayer match, but we didn’t want connection issues to impact our frame rate score. Our playthrough consisted of a helicopter ride to a dusty-brown military base. From there, we grabbed a Humvee and drove down a grass covered gorge to find one of our fallen comrades. We then got into a firefight with some of the local militia and ended up with an average frame rate of 25.77 FPS, putting ARMA 3 at number four between Crysis 3 and Tomb Raider.
Tomb Raider (2013): #3
Game Engine: Modified Crystal Engine
Crystal Dynamics brought everyone a Tomb Raider game that rebooted the franchise, and gave gamers stunning hair effects with AMD’s TressFX setting. We tested Tomb Raider thinking that TressFX would be the reason behind its super low frame rate, as we barely were able to scrape together 24.8 FPS. We looked at the game’s settings to find that it uses Super Sampling just like The Witcher 2 which made our GPU work extra hard to render the game at 4K to have it then downscaled to 1920x1080.
Our benchmark run consisted of killing many rabid wolves with our bow and arrow, while running through a dark, dense green forest. We tested the game with 2xSSAA and found our frame rate was increased to 45 FPS. The lesson learned from our testing is that SSAA is very demanding and by disabling it, yes, you’ll get some jagged edges, but you can receive a massive performance boost by either disabling it or scaling it back just a bit.
Metro Last Light: #2
Game Engine: 4A Engine
When the first Metro game came out it was a difficult title for PCs to play and made frame rates drop hard and fast. The second title, Metro Last Light, isn’t very different, as it takes the second spot on our Most Demanding PC Game list.
The game’s extreme PhysX effects and vast amount of tessellation are the culprits behind our low frame rate, which was an unplayable 22.3 FPS. With PhysX turned up, we saw tons of particle and water effects, which made everything sluggish, as we ran through the Russian swampland of the first level in Metro Last Light. We maxed out AA to 4XAA on top of that, which amplified how many times PhysX was rendered and ultimately this led to the demise of our rig’s precious frame rate.
Battlefield 4: #1 (Updated: 2/12/14)
Game Engine: Frostbite 3
When we first tested Battlefield 4, we set the Resolution Scale to 100% incorrectly thinking that was the highest setting. However, as one of our readers, doomsaint, pointed out, the scale actually goes up to 200%. We have retested Battlefield 4 with this new 200% scaling to find that its average FPS dropped to a mere 17.27. This difference moves DICE’s game from 10th place all the way to first!
In testing, we played through the game’s first mission and saw our cover blown up by grenades, bullets, and mortars, causing our frame rate to dip to as low as 12 FPS. The highest it would go was 24 FPS. Ouch!
Here's a bar chart measuring average frame rate for each title.