by Yaroslav Lyssenko
11/01/2011 | 02:28 PM
Every Battle Is Won Before It Is Ever Fought - Sun Tzu
There is something completely different about tactical first-person shooters. Something that sets them apart from conventional FPSes and makes us forgive them certain shortcomings that would drown a conventional shooter commercially. Being perfectly aware of that, game developers are eager to implement tactical elements into their good old kill-‘em-all shooters.
Battlefield 3 is yet another tactical first-person shooter and a direct sequel to the 2005 hit. Released over 6 years ago, Battlefield 2 has been enjoying huge popularity to this very day, by the way. The large scale of gaming has always been the key feature of the series and the third installment carries this trend on. It wouldn’t be easy to name another game where there can be as many as 64 players on the same battlefield.
What do you need to enjoy such gorgeous fighting right now? First, you need a computer with Windows 7 or Vista, preferably a 64-bit version. Second, you need Electronic Arts’ distribution service Origin. Next on the list are a quad-core CPU, a few gigabytes of system memory and a graphics card. What card exactly? We'll show you in this review.
Battlefield 3 features a very advanced game engine we haven't yet encountered in our tests. It was developed by EA's Swedish studio Digital Illusions Creative Entertainment AB, also known as EA DICE or simply DICE. Let’s browse through the studio’s profile.
The Frostbite 1.0 rendering engine was introduced along with Battlefield: Bad Company in 2008. Destruction 1.0 and HDR Audio were its two key features. The former allowed to destroy various in-game objects while the latter helped create an atmospheric virtual world by monitoring the volume of different sounds and emphasizing those of shooting and shouting.
Battlefield 1943, released in 2009, ran on an updated version of the same engine. The Destruction module was upgraded to version 2.0 for Frostbite 1.5 and enabled the demolition of whole buildings rather than small objects. Finding a shelter in that game wasn’t easy. You can learn more about the engine’s capabilities in our special report Contemporary Graphics Cards Performance in Battlefield: Bad Company 2.
Talking about the new version of Frostbite, the developers call it a gaming industry milestone. Frostbite 2 is the first rendering engine that has abandoned legacy technologies such as DirectX 9. Instead, the focus is on the cutting-edge features: DirectX 11 and x86-64.
The Destruction module has been upgraded once again, to version 3. As before, you can move furniture around the way you like by just firing a few hundred bullets. New in Destruction 3.0, you can change the battlefield landscape and tear down your enemy’s fortifications. Besides the marked interest in mass destruction, the game developers have extensively employed DirectCompute 5. Here is a list of the engine’s features:
As a result, Frostbite 2 can easily run in parallel on multiple CPU cores, utilizing more than two cores of our Intel Core i7-975 Extreme Edition processor. Hopefully, other game developers will take up this trend to give us a reason to buy six- and eight-core CPUs in the future.
Besides Battlefield 3, which is an important event in itself, DICE's rendering engine is going to power the upcoming Need for Speed: The Run and Mirror's Edge 2, both potential hits. So, our today’s tests will give you a general notion of system requirements you can expect from the next generation of PC games.
It’s hard to be inventive in the world of video games, but the Battlefield series has had one unused idea. We mean single-player play mode, a campaign with a plot. It’s implemented in Battlefield 3 and that’s especially important considering the competition with the upcoming Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.
Although most of the Battlefield games were fine with just multi-player battle modes, this time the developers decided not to impose any limitations, especially since this shooter will be competing against a very serious rival - Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.
So, you play for Staff Sergeant Henry “Black” Blackburn who gets involved in situations which give a cause for criticism. The story is too similar to that of Call of Duty: Black Ops, so we don’t get anything new here. On the other hand, the single-player plot is quite engaging. Death of your friends, saving the world and an archetypical terrorist: all of these clichés are employed to produce variegated and highly entertaining missions.
The plot is not all about clichés, though. It would be hard to tell a world-spanning story through the eyes of a single sergeant and illustrate all the capabilities of the Battlefield 3 gameplay along the way. Therefore the designers used the well-known trick of Hollywood blockbusters. They show some of the story through secondary characters. Playing for them, you will have a chance to pilot an F/A-18F Super Hornet and take a part in a tank combat as a driver and commander of an M1 Abrams.
The game’s vistas are as impressively vast as those of Rage. You will occasionally slow down and just stand still, enjoying the view of a Middle East desert, the lights of a night city or the slopes of a mountain pass. The map designers have come up with even better scenes than those from Battlefield: Bad Company 2.
The game doesn’t conceal its scripted nature: you can hardly get off the predefined rails. On the other hand, the plot is so masterfully woven that you will only find the end of a map if you act without any logic. Moreover, you are not allowed to leave the battlefield. When you deflect or fall behind by so many meters or seconds, the mission is deemed a failure and you have to restart it.
The special effects are top class, too. The wisps of smoke rising up from a falling building can provoke an involuntary “wow!” In fact, smoke and sunlight are implemented just as well as in Crysis 2, if not better. On the other hand, the AI of computer-controlled troopers doesn’t match that of Crysis 2. Sometimes it feels like a shooting range with fixed targets rather than an interactive combat. You may want to disable the auto aim feature which can help you kill three separate enemy soldiers with one short burst of fire.
The multiplayer mode doesn’t need our recommendations. This part of the Battlefield series was revolutionary in its time and remains top class today. You have a huge map with missions, targets and objectives to complete. Each combat follows a mini plot where you can take on one of four roles: Assault, Support, Engineer, and Recon. There are a lot of combat modes to choose from, too.
So, the game will not let you get bored as the developers have tried to pack the best features of the previous installments into it. But is your current graphics card good enough for you to enjoy the heat of the battle? Let’s check this out right now.
We are going to test the graphics cards performance in Battlefield 3 using the following universal testbed:
We used the following ATI Catalyst and Nvidia GeForce drivers:
The ATI Catalyst and Nvidia GeForce graphics card drivers were configured in the following way:
The image quality in the game was set to the maximum. In Battlefield 3 we used Ultra settings profile.
The games configuration files weren’t modified in any way, because the ordinary user doesn’t have to know how to do it. We ran our tests in the following multimedia resolutions: 1600x900, 1920x1080 and 2560x1600.
Here are the cards that participated in our today’s test session.
We measured the average and minimum performance using Fraps utility version 3.4.7. Each test scenario was repeated three times and the average value of the three runs was taken for the analysis, as always.
Battlefield 3 has high system requirements indeed. We've got the most expensive graphics cards in this category but even they find it difficult to run the game really fast. The numbers shown by the Radeon HD 6990 and GeForce GTX 590 in our test provoke some apprehensions. What can we expect from affordable products if these luxurious dual-GPU cards can barely notch 60 fps in the Full-HD mode and cannot cope with the game at 2560x1600?
This means the first thing you may want to do when you launch the game is enter its graphics quality settings and disable FSAA, even if you’ve got such a top-end product as Radeon HD 6970 or GeForce GTX 580. These graphics cards can only deliver a playable frame rate at 1600x900. You won’t be able to make up for the defects of the non-antialiased image by stepping up its resolution because the frame rate is far lower than the desired 60 fps at 2560x1600.
The performance-mainstream products are having a hard time on the battlefield. The highest resolution of 2560x1600 pixels is of course unavailable for comfortable play, as you may have guessed after the results of the premium-class products above. The GeForce GTX 570 routs its AMD opponents in this category. It is followed by the Radeon HD 6950 which in its turn is competing with the GeForce GTX 560 Titanium. The latter two cards make it clear that the graphics engine is actively pumping data across the PCI Express interface. The GTX 560 Ti falls behind the AMD solution as the resolution grows up along with the amount of data to be transferred via PCIe.
The outdated GPU architecture of the Radeon HD 6870 and HD 6850 cards prevents them from being competitive in this test. On the other hand, they seem to be gaining on their opponents at high loads, so the VLIW5 architecture may be not so hopeless after all. Anyway, you will have to lower your visual quality settings if you plan on pursuing the career of a sniper or just want to shoot accurately. With auto aiming turned off, it is very hard to shoot a moving enemy in the head even at 45 fps, let alone at lower frame rates.
If you want to play Battlefield 3 on a mainstream graphics card, you may have to wait for the next generation of such products to arrive. Confirming the trend we’ve noticed above, Nvidia's solutions feel somewhat better than their AMD counterparts in this game, the GeForce GTX 550 Ti being in the lead. The Radeon HD 6770 and HD 6750 are good, considering their rather old architecture, but not good enough to outperform the GeForce GT 545 DDR3.
None of the entry-level graphics cards can deliver a playable frame rate in Battlefield 3. It is only through severely reducing your visual quality settings that you can try playing the game on a Radeon HD 6670 or GeForce GT 530.
We tested the game’s different visual quality modes using the following settings:
The Frostbite 2 engine offers unique opportunities in terms of fine-tuning your Battlefield 3. There are four predefined visual quality modes, and we guess that quite a lot of gamers will have to enter the Main->Options->Video menu and choose lower settings to play at a comfortable frame rate. Let's see how different the four modes are and if you need a fast CPU to play Battlefield 3.
We must confess we’ve got rather ambiguous impressions from looking at Battlefield 3 at its maximum settings. The game has certainly improved in its visuals since Bad Company 2 and its engine should be given credit for high-quality shadows, detailed textures and cutting-edge special effects, yet we can’t find anything really extraordinary here. Destroyable walls and furniture cannot surprise anyone in 2011 while the extremely realistic smoke cannot save the day alone. Perhaps this is due to the designers' desire to make the game as realistic as possible, without any distortions in terms of colors or special effects, but Battlefield 3 doesn’t look like a breakthrough in terms of 3D graphics.
Take note of the green curve which represents the performance of the GeForce GTX 560 Ti. This graphics card dislikes smoke and has problems rendering sunbeams passing through substances. This may be due to a lack of driver optimizations, but you have to give up the maximum visual quality settings with this card as yet.
Despite its new graphics engine, Battlefield 3 is indifferent towards the CPU speed. Although the developers suggested that a high-performance CPU would be necessary, the AMD Radeon HD 6950 and Nvidia GeForce GTX 560 Ti are unaffected by the 700MHz difference in CPU clock rate.
It’s not so easy to spot the difference between the High and Ultra profiles except for the lack of the resource-consuming MSAA method of antialiasing. On the other hand, switching to the High profile increases the frame rate by up to 60%, which is going to be good news for many gamers. Owners of AMD-based cards benefit somewhat more from the reduced amount of computations.
The model of your CPU is not a crucial factor at the High settings, either. The maximum performance gain from the faster CPU was a mere 2% in our test.
We had expected to see a dramatically different picture in the Medium mode. Its activation disables the high-quality ambient occlusion algorithm HBAO in factor of its less advanced cousin SSAO. The level of anisotropic filtering is lowered from x16 to x4. The most conspicuous difference is the lack of motion blur. Despite all this, the visuals are not as bad as to make you immediately switch to the higher mode. The difference is not even very easy to see, but the performance boost from switching from High to the Medium settings amounts to only 20-25%.
The new graphics engine from DICE can use multiple CPU cores in a most efficient way. This is our first test where the number of CPU cores is really more important than the clock rate.
The developers didn’t make the Low profile ugly, either. The game looks splendid even at the lowest settings. Yes, the angular shadows, muddy textures and weak special effects are all but too visible, yet the game still doesn’t look like a mid-1990ies project. The numerous owners of low-end graphics cards will surely say their thanks to EA Digital Illusions Creative Entertainment AB for this mode.
The CPU clock rate is still insignificant: we don't see a proportional increase in performance after boosting the frequency of our CPU from 2.66 to 3.33 MHz.
After years of waiting we welcome Battlefield 3 as a worthy successor of the famous game series. It is going to be appreciated by those who played the earlier installments as well as by those who are new to the whole Battlefield thing. It won’t disappoint you with its gameplay and visuals.
However, the current generation of graphics cards find it difficult to satisfy the appetite of the Frostbite 2 rendering engine. Even luxurious solutions like Radeon HD 6990 and GeForce GTX 590 cannot deliver a comfortable frame rate at every display resolution if you choose the maximum visual quality settings. Frostbite 2 must have been developed with the next generation of GPUs in mind, especially as this is but the first of projects to use it.
When it comes to single-GPU graphics cards, the GeForce GTX 580 or its more affordable cousin GTX 570 would be the best choice for playing Battlefield 3, although you can’t avoid lowering some settings even with these cards. They just seem to be optimal in terms of price/visual quality. The less expensive products will make you lower your settings even more. It is a feature of Battlefield 3 that you need a rather high frame rate to play comfortably. Slowdowns in visually complex scenes would be most annoying.
Battlefield 3 will surely sell in millions of copies worldwide, even though it is no breakthrough from a technological standpoint. The DICE developers have just proved that it’s possible to come up with a top-class product without much innovation. The game's visuals are splendid. The atmosphere of combat, especially in woody locations, is so engaging that we want to praise the work of the sound editors and visual designers.
The key feature of the whole Battlefield series – its unique multiplayer mechanics – is still present in the new installment, the single-player campaign being just a free bonus to it.
In fact, there is only one thing that can try to spoil DICE’s success. It is the imminent release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3…