Contemporary Graphics Cards Performance in Battlefield: Bad Company 2

One of the most anticipated game titles – Battlefield: Bad Company 2 – has just hit the market. X-bit labs decided to take a closer look at this game in order to help you pick up the right graphics card for the ultimate gaming experience.

by Yaroslav Lyssenko
03/09/2010 | 11:34 AM

Personal computer gaming has come a long way from iconic Arkanoid and Tetris. Nowadays there is a wide range of games and genres to choose from, but there has always been a certain class of titles that attracted the most attention – First-Person 3D Shooters. The genre was established by id Software with the release of Wolfenstein 3D and Doom video games. Since then a lot of game designers have tried to follow in the footsteps of John Carmack.

 

When the original Battlefield 1942 game was released back in 2002, the genre of first-person shooters (FPS) seemed to be overcrowded with such grand names like Half-Life, Quake, and Unreal. At the time it seemed very unlikely that a new name might appear in the FPS Hall of Fame. Luckily for gamers all over the world, Digital Illusions CE, the developer of the Battlefield-series firstborn, decided to offer something radically new. The Battlefield 1942 was more targeted for team play, rather than the standard "deathmatch" multiplayer mode. While at first Battlefield 1942 seemed to be yet another WWII shooter with a nonexistent single player mode, it did not take long for reviewers and general public to single out the core attractiveness of the title. The multiplayer mode provided unmatched challenge for cooperation between the teams. On top of that, a wide range of vehicles, aircrafts and other means of destruction were at their disposal, a never before seen feature.

 

 

 

The original Battlefield 1942 grew old and gained some weight, namely acquired a few add-ons and a follow-up game Battlefield: Vietnam, which provided new sceneries but did not really surprise or deliver the same kind of experience the Battlefield 1942 did originally. Nonetheless, every new add-on or title bearing Battlefield trademark sold millions. The ever-growing fan base demanded new products and Swedish designer seemed to always have yet another ace up its sleeve. In 2005 a brand new Battlefield 2 computer game was released, which pitted USA against China and Middle East Coalition in a modern day fictional war among the respected parties. The second coming of Battlefield was filled with bugs and imbalance issues, but the game received positive reviews and millions of copies were sold, again. The only shortcoming – from a business perspective – seemed to be the lack of console market offerings.

 

 

The shortcoming was filled with the release of Battlefield: Bad Company video game in 2008. Proud owners of PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 once again praised the multilayer mode and overall concept of the game. An especially appealing feature revealed to be the elements usually associated with RPG and strategy video games, naturally weaved into FPS fabric of the title. With the success history of the earlier Battlefield video games, the arrival of a sequel was predetermined. 

 

 

Having teased the public with a trailer at E3 exhibition in Los Angeles in summer 2009, Electronic Arts released the much expected Battlefield: Bad Company 2 on March 2, 2010. In this article we are going to take a closer look at this latest title in Battlefield series and try to determine how well contemporary graphics cards cope with the latest Battlefield video game.

Battlefield: Bad Company 2: Plot and Gameplay

Single player part of Battlefield: Bad Company 2 offers a rather short campaign lasting 13 missions, some of which are in major part scripted cut scenes. The prologue takes us back into World War II, where a team of American commandos have to extract a Japanese scientist responsible for the "Aurora project", something claimed to be on par with the U.S. Atomic and Nazi V2 programs. The story then jumps back to an alternative XXI century timeline and continues in the company of the familiar faces from the first game. The "Bad Company" has to fight through a number of armies in jungles, mountains and a gigantic desert installation in South America. If there has ever been a weakness in the Battlefield series it has always been the plot part. The BF: BC2 is no exception. While some people will probably very much enjoy the storyline unveiling in this video game, we must say that after playing any of the Call of Duty titles, Bad Company 2 is going to seem somewhat empty in comparison.

 

 

When people talk about Battlefield games they tend to highlight Multiplayer mode and Battlefield: Bad Company 2 is no difference. This is a game where headset is a must and team player cooperation is the key to victory. In the true traditions of the series, Swedish designers provided a wide range of vehicles and military equipment: a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, a quad bike, a patrol powerboat, an AA-gun, tanks, HMMWV, UAV helicopters, etc.

 

 

Multiplayer mode continues with the four man team and ability to enroll you either as an Assault, an Engineer, a Recon or a Medic. Each class has an initial primary weapon and a pair of gadgets unique to the class. As the experience points are gained, the player is allowed to unlock and use new weapons, gadgets and upgrades. As for the gameplay itself, the multiplayer mode allows to test your team strength in a series of challenges:

Frostbite 1.5: Same Engine, New Features

From the technical point of view, Battlefield: Bad Company 2 uses basically the same Frostbite 1.5 engine as was used in Battlefield 1943 last year. The major difference is the introduction of a Destruction 2.0 engine library, which allows destroying whole buildings instead of just walls or any other given elements. This means that you can literally raze a small town to the ground with your armor or aerial assault.

In addition, the DirectX 10 version of the Frostbite 1.5 uses a number of enhancements offered by the application programming interface such as geometry instancing or geometry shaders to provide rapid rendering of multiple objects along with highly complex structures or characters. DICE has also put a lot of efforts into reducing CPU overhead in rendering in general. In particular, the developers reduced the amount of “rendering slices”, which is a performance bottleneck when it comes to shadowmap exposé, thanks to capabilities of DirectX 10, which allows performing single-pass shadowmap rendering.

Overall, from the atmospheric point of view the game makes a very positive impression. The jungle and snow peaks maps, while do lack attention todetails seen in Crysis video games, still impress. The acoustic part deserves a separate praise. Sounds of bullets fired and shots echoing from the jungle depths are amazing and add a significant amount of involvement feel with the game.

Since the game was designed for both game console and personal computer hardware, the appetites for hardware performance should be quite modest. In fact we are going to put this video game masterpiece against a lineup of modern graphics cards in order to determine how heavily Battlefield: Bad Company 2 can stress PC hardware.

Testbed and Methods

To investigate the performance of contemporary graphics accelerators in Battlefield: Bad Company 2 we put together the following testbed:

The graphics card drivers were set up to deliver the highest possible quality of texture filtering and to minimize the effect of software optimizations used by default. We enabled transparent texture antialiasing. As a result, our ATI and Nvidia driver settings looked as follows:

ATI Catalyst:

Nvidia GeForce:

14 modern graphics cards participated in our today’s performance test session. They can be split in three categories according to their price:

Premium/High-End category:

Performance-Mainstream category:

Mainstream category:

We ran the tests in all resolutions including 2560x1600, but only for the first category. Mainstream solutions were tested in the two lowest resolutions.

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 can’t boast extensive list of fine tuning options. Whatever is available looks as follows:

Swedish game designers decided to pursue minimalistic approach to fine tuning the graphics settings as seen in the table above. We decided to use a number of modes for our comparative testing, including the most resource hungry with FSAA set at 4 samples and Horizon-Based Ambient Occlusion (HBAO) Enabled. Battlefield: Bad Company 2 doesn’t have any built-in benchmarking tools, therefore we used Fraps utility version 3.1.2 in the manual mode to record the average and minimal fps rate. As usual, to minimize the measuring error, we took the average result of three combined runs for further analysis.

Performance

Premium/High-End Category

The picture is quite clear in the Premium segment of the graphics cards chart. Nothing can come close to AMD/ATI flagship solutions. The performance level of multi-GPU technology by Radeon HD 5970 is unreachable even for its aging counterpart from Nvidia. Through reviewed resolutions Radeon HD 5970 maintains a steady 30% lead over GeForce GTX 295 graphics card. Single chip duel also turns in favor of a much more powerful and newer AMD product. GeForce GTX 285 is trying hard to keep up with Radeon HD 5870 but loses every battle by almost 18%.

GeForce lineup is represented by a retiring architecture and does a good job in keeping up with AMD's finest. On the other hand, this fact suggests that an outdated game engine does not know how to use Radeon architecture capabilities to their fullest extend.

It must be said that both dual and single GPU products barely deliver comfortable level of performance. If you are trying to be on top of your game, you will have to disable a setting or two. Taking a shot with the sniper rifle at anything below 60fps is really difficult. Without disabling FSAA or HBAO quality settings the lucky owners of 30" displays can forget about native 2560x1600 resolution gaming.

Having said that, the obvious choice from the Premium/High-End sector of the market would be AMD/ATI based graphics cards. Both Radeon HD 5970 and Radeon HD 5870 deliver comfortable framerates as long as you keep your screen resolution in check and outperform Nvidia solutions in every case reviewed. It turns out that a few years old Battlefield: Bad Company 2 graphics engine is quite a hard nut to crack even for the monster card from AMD. Now let’s see how Performance-Mainstream solutions take the beating.

Performance-Mainstream Category

 

A rather predictable, yet still interesting picture may be seen in the Performance-Mainstream category battle. There is no question that AMD/ATI boasts the fastest offering in this sector. If you are looking for a reasonable upgrade, Radeon HD 5850 is the way to go for you. With a lead of 20% over GeForce GTX 275, the Canadian based solution wins across the board. AMD's card manages to deliver a near-comfortable frame rate in lower resolutions, but just as with the Premium solutions, you will want to disable or lower a few settings, at least in the multiplayer battle.

If a price tag of $300+ still feels a bit heavy, you should take a look at the other side of the river. Santa Clara designed GeForce GTX 275 graphics chip puts up a good fight and manages to close down the gap to a more powerful Radeon HD 5850 in the higher resolutions. Although some jerkiness may still occur in certain scenes due to unimpressive min. FPS numbers.

As for the less pricy products, the GeForce GTX 260 turns the tide and outperforms Radeon HD 5770 graphics card. Nonetheless both cards are slow even at 1280x1024 and we can't really recommend them for the Eye Candy addicted players. Having said that, AMD's offering is quite a bit cheaper at $160-180 as opposed to Nvidia's price tag of $190-220. Add to this DirectX 11 support and it should probably make sense to take a close look at Radeon HD 5770.

Just as with the Mass Effect 2 review, our favorites in the upper and lower segments of the Performance-Mainstream category are AMD’s products. If you are not on a tight budget and can afford to make a solid investment, go for the Radeon HD 5850 graphics card. It is the only product in this category that can provide somewhat conformable minimum fps level. On the other hand Nvidia’s products are still a good pick if you are not interested in latest DirectX support.

Mainstream Category

As it happens, the most interesting battle is not always among heavy-weight champions. In a true Rocky Balboa style, an almost three-year-old design still packs a punch as GeForce GTS 250 manages to outperform not only its much younger brother - GeForce GT 240, but also peeps Radeon HD 5750 for the win. Although 30 fps may seem enough for a casual gamer, Battlefield: Bad Company 2 somehow does not feel right at such level of performance. It is quite hard to score a headshot and picking up assault helicopters with your RPG from the sky is a challenge, too. Just as with other products reviewed earlier today, we would definitely suggest lowering you graphics setting or you may have to face a few extra loading screens.

The latest addition to the Radeon family has a hard time coping with BF: BC2 rendering. Young Radeon HD 5670 is left behind by a much simpler GeForce GT 240 in the 1280x1024, but manages to get back some dignity by shortening the gap in 1680x1050 thanks to more efficient memory management.

We are sorry to say, but entry-level solutions from AMD and Nvidia are not a good choice for Battlefield: Bad Company 2 gaming. Both Radeon HD 5570 and GeForce GT 220 do not have the horsepower to provide comfortable framerates with the highest quality settings even at 1280x1024. The game experience is basically a slide show at 17fps.

The game clearly has a thing for Nvidia hardware in the Mainstream lineup, which is the one we recommend going for if you are on a limited budget. But please remember that disabling FSAA and lowering your level of detail is a must for the least expensive solutions.

Instantaneous Performance and Image Quality

Undertaken investigation suggests that Battlefield: Bad Company 2 has somewhat mixed system requirements. In the Premium and Performance-Mainstream categories the obvious choice is AMD based products, while Mainstream and Entry-level solutions should be picked from the Nvidia camp.

Having determined the level of performance that can be achieved by modern graphics cards, we want to know how the game behaves at different graphics quality settings and whether the CPU frequency affects the frame rate. For this test we used two typical representatives of the AMD and Nvidia camps: Radeon HD 5850 and GeForce GTX 285. Both cards were tested with Core i7-975 Extreme Edition and Core i7-920 processors. The display resolution was set at 1680x1050 to avoid reaching the maximum our graphics card are capable of.

For each of the four profiles with settings we recorded the instantaneous frame rate for 60 seconds with the Fraps 3.1.2 utility. The test included various scenes, both in and outdoors, which involve shooting and blowing up buildings.

Additionally, we captured a few screenshots that help visually evaluate the difference in image quality between the mentioned profiles.

And here are the results of this test:

 

 

 

 

A slower CPU does have an effect on Battlefield: Bad Company 2 gaming experience. We can see a difference between the two runs on cards from AMD and Nvidia when FSAA is turned on. The graphs are apart as Radeon HD 5850 manages to lose a bit more of the performance edge. Perhaps the extensive amount of physics calculations needed to accurately destroy an object are affecting the performance here as we don't see the same performance drop with GeForce GTX 285 graphics card, which can offload some of the workload from CPU to its GPU. Having said that, Radeon HD 5850’s framerate is never lower than 30fps despite the full-screen antialiasing.

 

 

 

 

When 4x FSAA is turned off, the frame rates rise by 10fps on average. The ATI Radeon HD 5850 is obviously the fastest, but the CPU is still having a major effect on the performance level. Despite a graphics engine that is several years old, Battlefield: Bad Company 2 is a game with high system requirements, even though initially this multiplatform project was aimed at PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 hardware. As for the quality of the visuals, the FSAA does play a significant role in BF: BC2. The video game is full of buildings and jagged edges are easy to spot.

 

 

 

When we lower setting to Medium level the game doesn’t look ugly at all. The only feature you might really miss is the HBAO, which makes the overall picture look just a bit more realistic. The frame rates grow higher, and now even the most demanding player can be satisfied with the average number recorded being close to 100 fps. Once again we can see that Radeon equipped system tends to put more stress on the CPU, unlike its GeForce GTX 285 counter part, which manages to completely ignore CPU model upgrade.

 

 

 

 

At the Low graphics engine settings the GeForce GTX 285 and Radeon HD 5850 are as high as 110 fps and more, but there is absolutely no point in using such settings. As you can see from the screenshots the game is not so eye-catching and begs for more details and textures. We suggest using this level of quality settings only if you are experiencing intolerably low framerates on your system.

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 does like its settings maxed out; Full-screen antialiasing makes the whole picture look crisper, while Horizon-Based Ambient Occlusion adds a nice finishing touch. People who are not currently looking for any major upgrades would be pleased, as the game does not lose its visual quality much even if you disable or lower some of its image quality settings. Please keep in mind that if you are planning on buying a new graphics card, you will have to consider upgrading you CPU as well as there is a strong correlation between fps and CPU when you are playing the latest Battlefield title.

Conclusion

We can safely assure you that the latest Bad Company 2 video game is made in the best traditions of the Battlefield series. It will please not only newcomers to the series, but also the proven veterans.

The single player campaign can be a bit of a disappointment, but after you have tasted the multiplayer experience, it will hardly matter. The game is going to sell in millions of copies, and this means that online servers will be full of people ready to fight against other players.

The visual aspect of the game is quite pleasing. While there is nothing special – from the textures and details point of view – Battlefield: Bad Company 2 creates a nice atmospheric feel. The engine also offers a lot of flexibility for playing with different settings if you feel unsatisfied with gaming performance and/or image quality. Without significant visual quality sacrifices you can still enjoy this title on a wide range of modern graphics cards.

If you are looking for a true eye candy experience, be prepared to spend a significant amount of money on your next upgrade. Maximum quality settings require you to have a brand new ATI Radeon HD 5970 installed in your PC. Nothing less will suffice.

ATI’s Radeon HD 5x00 architectural superiority to the currently available Nvidia GeForce series is obvious in BF: BC2; therefore, your choice is somewhat restricted only to the red team offerings. The actual selection of the particular GPU brand may depend on your personal preferences as well as on the kind of deal you can get from your favorite hardware shop. While Radeon HD 5850 is a preferred option, some people may find a better deal with GeForce GTX 275 graphics card (keeping in mind that it does not support DirectX 11). We would most probably advise against buying Nvidia’s flagship GeForce GTX 295, as it will soon be replaced by a brand new Fermi based graphics card.

For those of you who are not interested in hardcore gaming, sticking with GeForce GTS 250 (8800 GTS 512, 9800 GTX, etc.), if you own one, would be the best way to go. Even though the card itself may be considered as a bit of a relic, it does the job of beating all of the newcomers and performs on par with Radeon HD 5750, which is, in fact, the preferable choice.

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 does need a top-end CPU to get the best out of your graphics cards. Our tests showed a noticeable increase in performance when we upgraded our system from Core i7-920 to a top of the line Core i7-975 Extreme Edition. Destruction of buildings, walls, towers and other elements stresses your CPU subsystem and having a faster CPU from either AMD or Intel is a good idea.

All things said, Battlefield: Bad Company 2 has a certain 'drive' that will not leave any FPS familiar player unaffected. You are going to spend hours trying to beat the opponent team and shouting orders to your helicopter or tank driver will become a habit. And those beautiful buildings in the middle of the multiplayer map will have to be razed to the ground. Enjoy!