As we said before, GTA IV is very resource hungry and needs a lot of hardware behind it if you want to aim for 30 frames per second. If you want more than that then you’ll the type of rig that most gamers only see in their most filthy of dreams.
Thus, in order to do our graphics testing we had to shift to a new system to make sure we could get access to the maximum possible graphics. We used one of our beefiest machines – Vista 64-bit, 4GB of DDR2 RAM, a QX6850 at 3GHz and an ATI Radeon HD 4870 X2 with 2GB of video memory (although the game only recognised 1GB, because the frame buffers are mirrored).
Unfortunately, even with the high end hardware we were unable to max out the settings totally – on a system that literally has ten times the graphics power of an Xbox 360. With textures set to High we were still struggling to see a solid 30 fps like we hoped.
Either way, below we look at the most taxing settings of the game – Texture Detail and View Distance. Not only are these the most important and strenuous settings, but they are also the only ones which have any real impact on performance and appeal as far as we can tell.
The texture palette in Grand Theft Auto IV has consistently been one of the most criticised things in the game, mainly because it’s browner than a monkey’s butt-hair. This setting won’t brighten things up, but it will make them crisper and more detailed.
Grand Theft Auto IV Texture Detail on High (left), Medium (centre) and Low (right), click for hi-res
The benefits here then at first appear fairly minimal, but if you look closely at the road by Niko’s feet you can see that this setting has a definite impact on the games overall aesthetic. The textures never look totally hi-res of course, but you’ve got to bear in mind how many textures there are on screen.
Unfortunately though, this setting is massively demanding on a system. Even on our super-powerful system we had to pull back the view distance below 40 percent to compensate. If your video card only has 256MB of memory then you’ll never get anywhere near this and even with 512MB, getting above Medium detail will be a stretch.
We suppose the good news there then is that the game is going to look good on future hardware and play like a dream – though we’ve got to honestly ask if we’ll all still be playing GTA IV by the time that graphics cards are carrying more than 1GB of memory as standard.
This is the other thing that was majorly criticised in the original console release of Grand Theft Auto IV as the low view distance meant that the pop-up was a constant pain. This setting is altered with a 0-100 slider and we’ve taken pictures at 10 (which is equivalent to the consoles), 50 and 100.
Grand Theft Auto View Distance on High (left), Medium (centre) and Low (right), click for hi-res
This setting starts to show where PCs have the upper hand on consoles as it starts to make more and more of the game world visisble, first by fading in those cranes in the distance and then adding more detail to them. It’s also worth looking at the textures fading in on the bridge in the larger images.
Unfortunately for Grand Theft Auto IV though the game doesn’t look all that better for it when in actual gameplay. It always seems like you’re either in a urban area where you can’t really see the skyline anyway, or you’re in an open area and all you can see is how badly this game needs AA.
Thankfully though the fact that this setting comes on a slider means that you can adjust it to suit your hardware much more easily than the Texture Detail setting, though that doesn’t mean you should try and force it to the maximum. Not if you value your framerate anyway.