The ultimate workout for your PC
If your PC could sweat, it would be drenched after running any of the following games.
Indeed, if you're still using a mid-range PC, you'd best stick with Minesweeper and Facebook games because the titles in this slideshow will bring your machine to its breaking point. In practical terms, if your rig is running anything less than a Core i5 processor, an Nvidia GeForce GT 440 graphics card, 4GB of RAM, and a 7200 RPM hard drive, it's time to consider upgrading—especially if you intend to play these games in their full visual glory.
This 2011 staple was designed to exercise high-end PC components, and it's a beauty, indeed.
The game puts you into the boots of the world's bravest (and sometimes craziest) soldiers. The difference between this title and the Call of Duty games? Multiplayer can involve as many as 64 different players, plus loads of vehicles and aircraft littered in between. That's a lot of geometry for a mid-range PC to render.
Sure, you can dumb down your graphics settings, lose anti-aliasing, and lower your resolution to oblivion, and then maybe you'd achieve playable frame-rates with your basic machine. But where's the fun in that? Battlefield 3 was made for the graphically elite, and you shouldn't have to compromise.
Civilization is a voracious beast, thanks to its heavy reliance on CPU calculations. It's also packed with gigantic, randomly generated maps and hundreds of individual units, all of which must be tracked.
You wouldn't think an oversize electronic board game would need so much computing power, but tracking each player's every decision, not to mention running through complicated scenarios, quickly puts a strain on a PC's hardware. Plus, the visuals are stunning.
Sure, you can turn down your graphics setting to a blurry mess, but your PC is still churning through mountains of calculations behind the scenes. This becomes painfully obvious when you wait nearly three minutes for your machine to process a single turn.
The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings
This sleeper hit from 2011 packs a devastating punch thanks to a single graphics setting: It's called "ubersampling," and it makes a visually stunning game even prettier. This mode is an extreme form of anti-aliasing, and as you can see in the screen, it removes all jaggies from 3D renders, and delivers an almost cinematic level of visual detail.
Of course, ubersampling will also decimate PCs that aren't up to the task. It isn't recommended for the common masses. You've been warned.
Grand Theft Auto 4
Not all PC games are demanding because of spectacular graphics and intense, behind-the-scenes game calculations. Some games are bogged down by unoptimized code that inefficiently uses your PC's resources. That's the case with Grand Theft Auto 4.
When the game debuted for the PC, it was nearly impossible to run without dropped frames and frequent crashes. Over the years, patches have improved playability, but bad code still puts unnecessary strain on PC hardware. (We know this because the game runs just fine on under-powered game consoles.)
Luckily, modders have hacked GTA4, optimizing the wonky code, and even improving the game's graphics. These beautifying mods are resource-intensive themselves, and are advised for behemoth PCs only.
The graphics may not look impressive compared to the latest iteration of Call of Duty or Battlefield, but this realistic military simulator isn't your average first-person shooter.
When Arma II is chugging through its code, it doesn't just focus on a single map. While you're playing the game, the engine calculates what's happening across the entire playable landscape, tracking numerous events in real-time. So, for example, while your squad is hunkering down in the woods, a helicopter might be attacking a convoy on the other side of the island, many kilometers away.
The scope of the game is so large, it's tough to get everything running at maximum efficiency—which means a mediocre system will struggle to pick up the slack.
Batman: Arkham City
Arkham City supports DirectX 11 and all the beautiful, resource-intensive options that come with it. Case in point: tessellation. This rendering trick dices up polygons into much smaller pieces to achieve more realistic textures. It will eat your graphics card alive.
Of course you can disable tessellation, but your computer will still hate you while it's processing a plethora of villains and the dark, detailed environment in which you're kicking butt.
If you can't get the best components to run Batman in all its glory, maybe compromise and strap a Bat Signal to it. That's just as cool.
Total War: Shogun 2
It's going to take a lot of processing power to marshal your army of samurai warriors. Total War: Shogun 2 grabs the turn-based, empire-building aspects of Civilization, and combines them with real-time war strategies of games like Company of Heroes and Starcraft.
Rendering massive battlefields and keeping track of so many units requires serious computing power, and lesser PCs will not be up to the task.
Check out this article where we used Total War: Shogun 2 as a case study to see what DirectX 11 could do.
Far Cry 3
When you have such a lush, beautiful tropical island to explore, your graphics card must be ready to work overtime.
But this first-person shooter is more than just one of the most graphically rich PC games available today. It also sports advanced enemy AI: The bad guys are aware of their surroundings, and make choices based on what's occurring in the game. Far Cry 3 also treats fire as an important environmental element. As it spreads, it sets everything near it ablaze, taking down vehicles, objects and flora. And all this conflagration demands processing cycles too.
It may be from 2010, but this post-apocalyptic, first-person shooter brings the hammer down if you even think about increasing your graphics settings.
For this reason alone, Metro 2033 has become a go-to game for testing high-end hardware. It was an early DX11 game, and sports settings that can be customized to really push a machine to beyond the brink. The game also suffers from an unoptimized depth of field option. This feature kills frame rates on most settings, and will give the average graphics card the workout of its life.
If you mixed Grand Theft Auto with a Jackie Chan movie, Sleeping Dogs would be the sweet, kung-fu result. But, sadly, if you aren't running the best hardware, you won't be kicking anyone's butt.
Similar to ubersampling in Witcher 2, Sleeping Dogs implements "supersampling," which improves upon typical anti-aliasing by using the color values of individual pixels to smooth out jagged edges at a high resolution. The result is colors that blend naturally, and smooth transitions between the edges of environmental objects.
Even after six years and two sequels, the original Crysis remains one of the world's most demanding games.
In 2007, it earned its infamy as the go-to game for determining whether a PC was worthy of elite status, and it still dominates modern machines today. In fact, Crysis was originally released as a tech demo to show off what the CryEngine 2 game engine could do with DirectX 10.
Every bell and whistle is included to make a visual masterpiece that few get to experience at its fullest. Even if you disabled all the fancy visual features that make palm trees sway and waters throw off reflections, your PC will still struggle to handle the expansive open world and advanced AI.
The 12 most frustrating PC games we can't help but love
So you've driven your PC into the ground, no doubt angering it the process. Why not even the score with some of the best PC games that will frustrate you to no end?
Check them out and let us know what your favorite frustrating game is.