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Grand Theft Auto V is a 2013 action-adventure video game developed by Rockstar North and published by Rockstar Games. It is seventh main installment in the series and it is a successor of Grand Theft Auto IV released in April 2008. Grand Theft Auto V is so far visually best looking game in the series, and compared to its predecessors features a variety of graphics options that are supported by its Rockstar Advanced Game Engine (RAGE). In this article I will explore Grand Theft Auto V graphics settings and system performance on PC platform. I will also provide optimization guide for owners of AMD Radeon RX 580 graphics card.
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Like other Rockstar Games’ titles, Grand Theft Auto V is powered by RAGE graphics and physics engine, which among many features is able to randomly generate a large number of NPCs, produce a high drawing distance without significant performance impact, and render various weather effects. Compared to console versions, GTA V looks and performs best on PC platform. Featuring a large number of adjustable graphics options, this game provides a high degree of graphical customization. In order to examine game’s performance, I have used my standard PC rig with the following components:
Testing Rig Specifications
In order to measure how many frames per second can my system achieve according to specific settings, I have used game’s built-in benchmark that runs a scene through Blaine County and northern part of city of Los Santos. Although a bit long, this benchmark seemed as a reliable method of measuring average performance since it features a wide array of graphically intensive situations – from flying and driving to rendering traffic cars, vegetation and explosions. Each time I finished running the benchmark, I would write down my average FPS results and later compare them to results from other runs.
Since Grand Theft Auto V surprisingly doesn’t offer any easily applicable graphics settings presets, I was forced to make my own default graphics configuration which I would later use as a baseline to compare with other results. My baseline maximum settings configuration consisted of cranking up all settings to maximum level, except for MSAA which I set to 2x. Throughout my benchmarking I used DirectX 11 API, and didn’t bother with testing DirectX 10 and 10.1 since all of the graphics card in 2019 now support DirectX 11 API, and lower versions now seem obsolete. Here are my results with maximum settings applied at 1080P, 1440P and 2160P resolutions:
As you can see, Radeon RX 580 easily achieves more than 60 frames per second with maximum settings and 2x MSAA on 1080P resolution. Only 3% of time while running the benchmark was frame rate lower than 56 FPS, which means that this game is very well optimized and is not too much CPU dependent. On higher resolutions, however, RX 580 isn’t capable to deliver same performance. Average frame rate at 1440P resolution was 45 FPS, while on 4K was miserable 22 FPS. Although relatively old, Grand Theft Auto V is still graphically intense title on higher resolutions and will force you to consider upgrading your graphics card to AMD RX 5700 or Nvidia RTX 2060 if you want to run it at 4K with stable 60 frames per second. Mainstream cards such as AMD RX 580 or Nvidia GTX 1060 might deliver 60 FPS at maximum settings on 1440P resolution provided you have more powerful CPU such as Intel Core i9-9900K or AMD Ryzen 9 3900X. My Intel Core i7-4770 Haswell CPU seems to be showing its age now, and is most certainly bottlenecking my graphics card at higher resolutions.
Although I easily achieved great performance at 1080P resolution, I was still curious about impact of each graphics option on average frame rate. My next phase of analysis consisted of running the Grand Theft Auto V benchmark with my baseline maximum settings, but with each separate graphics settings option disabled or maximally lowered. After I acquired the results with each option off, I had the ability to compare them with the results while they were on. Thus I had a chance to determine performance impact of each of the graphics options on overall frame rate. Here are my results:
Featuring 20 standard graphics settings options to adjust, Grand Theft Auto V offers a lot of space for improving your average FPS. Back in the 2015 when the game was released on PC platform, knowing which option impacts performance the most meant a lot. In 2019, however, this isn’t anymore relevant unless you strive to achieve better performance on resolutions higher than 1080P. As you can see, lowering texture quality, anisotropic filtering or shadow resolution quality practically has no impact on overall performance. That is, of course, the case if you have more than 4GB VRAM at your disposal.
Naturally, highest performance impact has multisample anti-aliasing, which is now considered to be archaic and inefficient method of smoothing those pesky jaggy lines that show on your display screen. It is worth here to say that Grand Theft Auto V has one of the worst implementations of anti-aliasing methods in recent video games history. Enabling MSAA doesn’t seem to fix the problem of jaggy lines at all, and is much better to use cheaper FXAA solution in order to smooth up the picture. GTA V, unfortunately, doesn’t support temporal anti-aliasing which would definitely be a better solution in improving image quality.
Besides standard graphics options, GTA V also offers adjusting advanced graphics options, which are by default set to off. These options are specially made for PC platform and offer pumping up image quality even further than standard options. Enabling them, however, impacts performance, so be prepared for lower frame rates. Here are my results with enabled advanced graphics options:
Enabling Long Shadows, High Detail Streaming and extending Shadows Distance seems safe. Turning on High Resolution Shadows and extending Distance Scaling, however, impacts performance up to 15%. These options do provide a certain increase in image fidelity, but they are not essential, and improved image quality with these settings enabled is in most cases barely noticeable. If you have powerful GPU with power to spare, then enable these options freely. Otherwise, just leave them on default settings.
When summing up impact performance of all graphics options, it is worth to translate all of these results in relative measures. I have, thus, made a following chart in which you can easily see how much each option actually costs:
As you can see increasing each option to maximum setting in GTA V will cost you same performance. Only exceptions seem to be Population Variety, Population Density, Long Shadows and High Detail Streaming options which might give an impression that enabling them will give you higher average frame rate. This assumption is most certainly wrong, since performance increase that these options provide is smaller than 0,5%, and as such is statistically insignificant and could be attributed to measurement error. Enabling these options, however, won’t impact performance at all so feel free to do with them whatever you want.
Multisample anti-aliasing, post-process effects and reflections impact performance the most. This is expected from such options since they are considered to be graphically most intensive. Disabling MSAA will boost your FPS a lot, so you shouldn’t even bother with enabling this option since it won’t fix jaggies at all. Shader Quality also costs a lot, but I wouldn’t recommend you to lower this option even on higher resolutions since it will make image quality a lot uglier. Besides MSAA, the only option I would recommend to lower down is Grass Quality. Although not very expensive, this option seems to cause weird stuttering problems (at least on my system) when set on ultra quality. In that sense I would suggest to lower it to very high quality. It will still look very good, and you won’t experience these weird stuttering issues.
All in all, if you are reading this in 2019 and own solid mainstream graphics card such as AMD RX 580 or Nvidia GTX 1060 or GTX 1660, then feel free to crank up all settings to maximum because you will easily achieve more than 60 FPS in this game at 1080P resolution. Even at 1440P these cards might give you solid performance provided you have more recent CPU with at least 6 physical cores.
Grand Theft Auto V is today easy to run on most systems and doesn’t require you to make costly upgrades as it did in 2015 when it launched on PC. It is worth to note that GTA V was from start a very well optimized game, which has become a rarity in recent years due to early access games and badly optimized game engines. Even today, game still looks good and enjoyable to watch. It does show its age in terms of textures quality, however, various graphical overhauls such as NaturalVision and VisualV, which can be obtained at GTA V modding community websites, offer refreshing update to game’s visuals. These mods will surely keep this game alive for years, and one day we might even witness astonishingly better visuals than we are used to see now while playing GTA V.