Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Some brief thoughts on the Grand Theft Auto V PC Port

After about 18 hours of messing around with the PC port of GTA 5, tweaking settings to match the current-gen console graphics on my machine and looking at frame rates, and reading Eurogamer's Digital Foundry's recently-released analysis of the PC port, here's are my thoughts.

Eurogamer's Digital Foundry has published a great and detailed article about the performance of the PC port of Grand Theft Auto V, talking about how the PC settings stack up with the PS4 and Xbox One in comparison, and what kind of graphical settings you can set on the PC to match the current-gen console versions, and the subsequent performance on different video cards. You can read the article here, it will go more in-depth about this kind of technical analysis that what I'm about to say here. I'm going to just talk about how it performs on my current machine with the PS4 equivalent settings, given that my machine is probably slightly more powerful than the PS4 in theory.

Let's start by talking about texture settings. According to Digital Foundry, the PS4 texture seem to be set at around Very High. However, from my experience, putting textures on Very High will exceed my 2GB frame buffer on my GeForce GTX 660 Ti. Do bear in mind though, that the PS4 has about 8GB of GDDR5 RAM which is shared by the CPU and GPU, which will give the PS4 a lot of legroom to store textures, even though the GPU may not be as powerful as my GTX 660 Ti.

As for other settings, the PS4's grass setting is at Very High, which means that the grass will cast shadows. Previously I set it to high, which is why on my last two comparison videos the grass does not cast shadows. Shadows are set to high on the PS4, and on the PC, if you have an Nvidia Card, you can set the soft shadow settings to Nvidia PCSS. Post Processing effects are at Ultra on PS4, this is a setting I previously set to just very high, I haven't noticed the difference between Very High and Ultra, probably its the lens flares. And finally, anisotropic filtering is 4x on PS4 as opposed to 16x by default on PC. More details about the settings can be found in the Digital Foundry Article.

With all that settings, the frame rate on my PC seems to be ok, but its also quite inconsistent. On outdoor areas the frame rate seem to be at a playable 30 fps. Indoors, it can go up to 60 fps, but I've encountered some dips to 20 fps for no apparent reason.

Speaking of 20 fps dips, one issue I've encountered, that no one seem to mention, is that when you first start the game, the first few seconds, the frame rate seem low at 20 fps, then few seconds later, it becomes more stable at 30 fps. I presume the frame rate is low at first because it's still loading some models and textures in the background. I'm not sure if anyone else has encountered this initial frame rate drop, but your mileage may vary. 

In conclusion, this shows that consoles have certain optimisations that allow it to have higher settings than on a PC with equivalent hardware, for example, the 8GB shared VRAM that allows Very High textures on PS4, whereas on PC, Very High Textures can exceed the 2GB frame buffer on an equally powerful, if not slightly more powerful GTX 660 Ti, which may cause some noticeable texture pop-in in my experience if you do not lower other settings. What's actually more disappointing, is that at Normal texture setting, which is the lowest texture settings (manageable for 2GB cards or less), some textures will look even worse than the last-gen PS3 version, as pointed out in my first comparison video.

But even with this minor nitpick, GTA 5 is still a very optimised PC port that will scale very well on a variety of machines. However, to truly experience what the PC version can offer, you will need a graphics card that is top of the line, and not just a graphics card that is equal or slightly more powerful than the PS4's GPU. My advice is that even if your budget only allows for a card like a GTX 760, get one with the most VRAM you can afford so that you can set the texture settings to as high as you can.

Here are the two previous comparison videos of the PC version against the last-gen PS3 version that I uploaded previously:

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