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Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter 2 - AGEIA PhysX PPU Update

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Subject: Processors
Manufacturer: AGEIA
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AGEIA Needs a Boost

Trying Times

AGEIA's PhysX dedicated physics processing card has been on the market since May of 2006 -- but you could hardly tell from all the buzz the company is making today.  Information and hype about the AGEIA PhysX technology started coming out well before then, as my first article on the subject from May of 2005 (!!) clearly shows. 

My first article ended with this: "AGEIA has a great new technology idea on its hands and if they can get the right support from the game developers AND from gamers, they may just change the way games are played on the PC forever.  They have a long, uphill battle ahead of them to get there though, and PC Perspective will be following it all."  The full review of the first PhysX card to be released to public ended with this 12 months later: "At its current state, the BFG AGEIA PhysX PPU card is a mixed bag.  On one hand, the card's additions to Ghost Recon and the couple other titles that are in retail that support PhysX, are less than spectacular.  The changes in realism and visual quality are really minimal and I think most users would feel that the required additional $200 investment wouldn't be worth it quite yet."

Honestly, with another year gone by, nothing much has changed.  All we have are sporadic titles using the technology in a way that is underwhelming and more promises of revolutionary work being done in future titles.  Eventually, something has to give.  AGEIA knows they need their "killer app" that will make gamers drool over the AGEIA PhysX hardware in order for it to really catch on; only then will the snowball effect take place and bring more developers into the PhysX fold. 

Could the new Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter 2 be that game?

Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter 2

The Ghost Recon series has always been hailed as one of the best strategy simulation shooters on any platform.  Its mix of fighting action as well as team-based strategy and recon make it a great mixture that appeals to more than just the hardcore FPS players. 

I am no game reviewer -- I leave the game software evaluations to others for the time being.  As such, you won't find this to be a "game review" in any usual sense.  Don't expect to see a game rating, breakdowns on graphics, sound, game play or anything like that.  We are using GRAW 2 simply to evaluate how the AGEIA PhysX product has matured over its lifespan; and if you should buy it.

If you ARE looking for a regular game review, check out this one from Gamespot that offers such quips as:

 GRAW 2 is sort of like spring break in Mexico. Only, there's no beach, and plenty of assault rifles.

The major difference between the two versions is that the Xbox 360 is much more action focused, while the PC is a lot more simulation heavy. It's a huge difference. You can sprint your way through the Xbox 360 game, knowing that you can heal up easily whenever you hit a resupply point. In the PC version, the pace is a lot slower and more methodical. If you try to run-and-gun through you'll get cut down within seconds. It's all about moving slowly, using cover, and suppressing the enemy with cover fire.

While the difficulty will undoubtedly be one of the things that the dedicated fans of the series will look forward to, GRAW 2 raises the challenge bar to a new level. That said, if you're looking for a relatively quick and painless shooting experience, look elsewhere. If you want to experience a brutal battlefield where death can happen suddenly, then check out GRAW 2.

There you have it -- difficult, but fun.  That about sums my playing time with it in the last couple of weeks as well. 

PhysX Disabled - Click to Enlarge

 

What we are going to look here quickly is a graphical comparison of the first level of GRAW 2 with PhysX features enabled and disabled.  All the small screenshots can be enlarged by click on them to see full sized 1600x1200 resolution image. 

PhysX Disabled - Click to Enlarge

PhysX Enabled - Click to Enlarge

This first set of images shows some wooden fences that are located in your starting area (there are LOTS of them).  Just pointing and shooting at them results in some dust coming up and until enough bullets cause the fence to start collapsing.

PhysX Disabled - Click to Enlarge

PhysX Enabled - Click to Enlarge

Here is where the differences start to materialize -- the shot on the left without AGEIA's PhysX is what occurs after firing enough bullets into the fence.  Suddenly, all at once, the fence falls apart.  On the AGEIA side you'll notice (in the larger image) that single boards are falling off the fence after being shot, not just the entire structure collapsing at once.

 

PhysX Enabled - Click to Enlarge

The PhysX enabled version of these fence animations is definitely more realistic looking and more closely follows you know, laws of physics. 

It is interesting to note how the GRAW 2 developers overcame the problem of adding physics enhancements to the game while maintaining the same playing experience for user's without the AGEIA PhysX card.  One of the points of these wooden fences is that you can hide behind them -- but only for so long until enemies (or you) start firing through them.  In the standard mode the fence absorbs X amount of damage and then falls apart revealing the coward behind it.  On the AGEIA PhysX enabled mode, the fence more slowly reveals the enemy.  Thus, both PhysX and non-PhysX users can achieve the same basic usability in-game while increasing visual qualities with the add-in card.

PhysX Disabled - Click to Enlarge

PhysX Enabled - Click to Enlarge

Here are a couple of screens showing the results of throwing a grenade into the little stone hut in front of me.  The results are very much the same with the fence on the right collapsing from the force of the grenade and some debris shooting out from around the hut.  In neither version did the hut actually collapse, and the debris fields seemed VERY similar from both versions I played.  The only difference here was the fence collapsed - the models on the PhysX mode were much more realistic in their demolition.

PhysX Disabled - Click to Enlarge

PhysX Enabled - Click to Enlarge

Firing on the house's door here shows some particle effects being sprayed out, with just a bit more material on the PhysX enabled mode of the game.

PhysX Disabled - Click to Enlarge

PhysX Enabled - Click to Enlarge

Unfortunately, we see the opposite here with the two images showing more stuff on the PhysX disabled mode; obviously the particle systems are very similar on things like this throughout the game. 

Much as we saw in our look at the first Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter with AGEIA support built into it, the advantages of the PhysX technology are pretty minimal in the course of normal game play.  The differences usually included extra particle in explosions, some smoke that exists during the game (but didn't after user game play directly) and even some swirling dust on the ground.  While these are nice changes, and definitely add to the realism of the game, I don't think those changes alone are worth the price an AGEIA PhysX card is going to cost you.

But you're in luck; Ubisoft and AGEIA teamed together to develop a special level of the game that is only playable when you have a PhysX PPU card in your system.  The level, called AGEIA Island, is shown on the next page.

Next Page - AGEIA Island - Potential?

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