Contemporary Graphics Accelerators in F.E.A.R. 3

Fear. Different marketing strategies and promotion campaigns all over the world bet on happiness, joy, success, wealth and health. But there is one developer, who for the first time puts fear at the top of the food chain. Please meet the new gaming title – F.E.A.R 3!

by Yaroslav Lyssenko
07/14/2011 | 02:22 PM

Frankly speaking, it is simply impossible to come up with something really new in the first-person 3D shooter genre. No matter what you can produce, what scenery you manage to create and how complex your scenes are, - everything has already been done before. So, even if the game is selling millions of copies, it will most likely be severely criticized by the press and reviewers for offering nothing new and out-of-the-box unique. A similar thing happened to the very first version of F.E.A.R. game.

F.E.A.R.: Evolution of Fear Therapy

 

Back in the busy year 2005 Monolith Productions released their title called First Encounter Assault Recon or simply F.E.A.R. The launch of this game coincided with a rebirth of the first-person 3D shooter games. The return of such masterpieces as Half-Life, Doom, Quake and Unreal Tournament undoubtedly encouraged the overall growing interest in this gaming genre. Sierra Entertainment couldn’t pass on the opportunity like that and started a massive marketing campaign teasing the anxious public with the atmospheric feel of the game, and then impressing them with the graphics twists of a pretty progressive engine.

 

The game resembled a combination of Max Payne, Resident Evil and Silent Hill, with the main character also resembling Neo from a popular Matrix trilogy. Moreover, intensive training combined with certain genetic predisposition allowed some players for a limited period of time to bring their concentration to a level when the world around them seemed to be in slow motion.

The graphics capacity of the new title also proved pretty remarkable. If you liked the “hall” scene in The Matrix most of all, then the first part of F.E.A.R. game could totally satisfy your destructive tendencies towards the marble walls. Of course, this “entertainment” set very high hardware requirements, but can anything compare with pieces of marble and concrete covering the mirror-shining floor of the super-market?

 

It was clear right from the beginning that massive support initiative like that wouldn’t stop at only one project. After a few relatively poor attempts in the form of Extraction Point and Perseus Mandate, they released a new sequel in 2009 called F.E.A.R. 2: Project origin. The game turned out pretty interesting, with even more complex plot, lots of horror and significantly improved graphics, even though they used a slightly enhanced engine from the first part of the game.

In some respect the story line in F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin left more questions than answers and at the same time ended in full sync with the rules of science fiction genre combined with a few horror-elements. However, the producers from Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment seemed to have a slightly different vision of the Alma’s world future.

F.3.A.R.: Brothers' Love

The years past didn’t do Alma and her family any good. The commercial rights owners decided to re-launch the series in some way and address the telepathic connection of unique individuals through the aspect of … family values.

 

 

Two Alma’s offsprings, two brothers – Paxton Fettel and Point Man, one alive and one also alive but without a physical body – had to stop Alma, their mother, who was pregnant again and her new offspring would be theoretically capable of destroying our world. This is a brief description of the part 3 of this legendary gaming sequel. According to the developers, it has even more horror and an even more advanced gaming engine makes the presence in the parallel world controlled by Onry? (vengeance spirit) even more realistic.

In terms of graphics, the game is pretty good. The creators of F.E.A.R.3 world did a great job trying to make every inch of the game scene worthy of a good horror-flick. Ruined hallways, ramshackle rooms, abandoned sewers. The atmosphere of hopelessness and oppressive gloominess is truly genuine.  All you need is a good sound system and darkness of the night. Trust me, racing heart-rate is guaranteed and very soon you will be sweating with fear.

 

 

Just like in the previous parts of the F.E.A.R. franchise you have a wide range of tools for killing special-ops guys, crazy citizens, zombie-soldiers and other enemies. For added realism you will be running out of ammo even at the lowest level of difficulty, so a single one to the head will save your precious bullets. The cowboys from Quake Arena will also have hard time coping, because 3-4 shots will be more than enough to kill you. However, this is indeed the appealing feature of F.E.A.R. 3, although definitely not the only one.

F.3.A.R.: Co-Op, Multiplayer and Game Engine

Although F.E.A.R. 3 belongs to the first-person horror-shooters, its major advantage is the multi-player mode. It offers a few options for a pleasant multi-player experience: classical multi-player mode and the already traditional, but quite unusual Co-Op mode.

In Co-Op mode you have to split the gameplay with your partner, nothing out-of-the-ordinary. However, each of the players has his unique own role, which is organized in such a way that the most dedicated Team Fortress fans could even dream about. One of the players becomes Point Man – a typical FPS-character with a rifle and a bunch of grenades. He has to shoot the enemies. The second player becomes the bearer of telekinetic and telepathic energy – Paxton Fettel. He throws in submission, shock-therapy and various mind tricks.

 

If you get bored with competitive gameplay involving two completely different characters, then you can go with classical multi-user mode with four different scenarios:

 

For some unclear reason the developers didn’t respond to our question about the specifications of the engine used in the latest F.E.A.R. 3 game version. However, the official information claims that the game uses enhanced version of the Despair Engine. Day 1 Studios used the same base for their Fracture game three years ago. According to the developers, they have significantly modified the gaming engine and added new libraries, one of which provides support for DirectX 11 API. Among the remarkable features of this relatively aged software we can certainly mention the following:

Well, this isn’t a very long list. Therefore, considering that the software engine is relatively simple, the game shouldn’t be too demanding to the graphics accelerator and the overall gaming system performance.

Testbed and Methods

We are going to test the graphics performance 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:

ATI Catalyst:

Nvidia GeForce:

The image quality in the game was set to the maximum.

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.

Premium Category

Performance Category

Mainstream Category

We measured the average and minimum performance using Fraps utility version 3.4.5. Each test scenario was repeated three times and the average value of the three runs was taken for the analysis, as always.

Performance

Premium Category

The gaming code may not be a work of art and with maximum quality settings this game is quite capable of bringing down even the best of the best. Even with dual-chip super-card from AMD and Nvidia you can’t achieve maximum screen resolution without accepting certain compromises.

It is fairly difficult to recommend a Radeon HD 6990 or a GeForce GTX 590. So, if you have the budget for a worthy product like that, then go with your gut feeling. Both these cards perform equally fast and in most cases it won’t disappoint you at all. Actually, these are the today’s fastest single-card products in the world.

Single-chip competition results into twelve full rounds in the ring with a slight advantage in favor of Radeon HD 6970. It is hard to explain why GeForce GTX 580 fell 10% behind, other than by the fact that Nvidia drivers are still somewhat raw. It is also important to remember that the game has fairly simple textures and a lot of mathematically-heavy scenes, which is AMD’s indisputable trump.

Performance Category

AMD products take the lead among affordable high-performance solutions. Radeon HD 6950 is the fastest here coping very well with the task. The top representative of VLIW5-architecture is just a little behind the leader. Radeon HD 6870 is only 3 fps short of the desired 60 fps threshold, which is a very good result keeping in mind previously discussed scores. At the same time its more affordable brother, Radeon HD 6850, will need you to compromise on some settings, because it simply can’t overcome the 44 fps barrier.

Although Nvidia solutions used to dominate this price segment, now the GeForce family has to put up with being only second best. Both: higher-performing GeForce GTX 570 as well as more modest GeForce GTX 560 Ti are on average 10-15% slower than Radeon HD 6950 and HD 6870 respectively. Overall, you can see from the graph above that in FullHD mode and 2560x1600 resolution you will have to consider lowering your quality settings for the any accelerator from the Performance segment.

Mainstream Category

If you still remember about the 60+ fps rule for games of this genre, then the Mainstream solutions are definitely not for you. You will obviously have to give up maximum picture quality.

The good old buddy Radeon HD 5770 continues to remain the ultimate leader in this price segment. 20% behind it come Radeon HD 5750 and one of the latest additions to the Fermi family – GeForce GTX 550 Ti.

Although general game mechanics will still allow you to experience the story development in F.E.A.R. 3 to the fullest, the products of this category are definitely not fast enough. You will most likely have to give up not only FSAA, but also a couple of special effects even if you have the latest Radeon HD 6670 in your system.

The outdated products of GeForce GT 430 class are completely unable to bear the load of maximum image quality settings in the Alma universe, so you have either to consider an upgrade, or to agree to dramatically lower quality settings.

Graphics Quality Tests

We used the following settings for this test:

 

Just like Duke Nukem Forever, F.E.A.R. 3 engine is far from being the innovation of the year, but at the same time it proves to be a tough nut to crack for contemporary graphics accelerators. Looks like you will have to literally pay for your ultimate gaming experience inside of a computer store. But how much of the image quality are you willing to compromise in order to experience the game at its best and at the same time not to put all your family savings into an expensive graphics accelerator?

 

I have to say that for 2011 the picture sometimes looks kind of old. Faded low-quality textures, narrow hallways and small rooms. Almost zero open spaces and hardly any room for maneuvers. However, interesting shoot-outs that require maximum focus even in with the lowest difficulty settings make the game feel not too script-heavy.

On the other hand, all above mentioned drawbacks create one big advantage. The color scheme and design of the gaming levels with smart use of fog and shadows create very unique atmosphere that will be totally up to the expectations of the horror-fans.

The CPU speed hardly affects the fps rate at all, so the major bottleneck in the system will be the graphics accelerator alone, and not the CPU.

 

While in DNF the best antialiasing algorithm was FXAA mode, in this case it is secondary. The performance boost from the use of a less complex algorithm is obvious: almost 50% for AMD Radeon HD 6950 and Nvidia GeForce GTX 560 Ti. On the other hand, we, unfortunately, can’t recommend FXAA settings: the result will look like someone is permanently pressing on the Blur button in Photoshop. Trying to eliminate the jagged contours of the objects on the screen, you will lose texture clarity. The vegetation will also suffer substantially. I doubt you will be willing to sacrifice so much for the soft contours of washed-out objects.

Different CPUs start affecting results, but the advantage still makes only 2-3%. Looks like this game is not really sensitive to the CPU clock speed after all.

 

Overall you can hardly notice that the picture quality gets worse once you enable lower quality textures and shadows. However, when you give up the controversial FXAA algorithm, the textures start to pop up even if you have High profile instead of Very High, as in the previous case. The performance gain in this case is 35-40% and the average fps rate doesn’t go below 90. Overall, this gaming mode is an acceptable compromise between performance and image quality in the new F.E.A.R. 3.

The CPU still doesn’t have any influence over the results, so whatever financial resources you have, invest into a graphics card.

 

This mode is the last chance to at least remotely feel the F.E.A.R. 3 atmosphere. Unfortunately, the texture quality here is significantly lower. As for the algorithms creating, applying and smoothing out the shadows, they are satisfactory at best. Depending on the complexity of the scene and the special effects the modes with Medium and High settings look differently, but in any case it is always best to play with High settings, if possible.

Despite significant visual changes, the performance doesn’t improve much: there is only a 10-18% gain. Also, keep in mind that with the average fps rate about 100+, you do not need a faster processor.

 

This traditional mode with minimal quality settings produces nothing like a shooter with a horror feel. You obviously won’t be pleased (horrified?) as the game developers intended, so we strongly advice to avoid this mode at all costs. Finally, if you are just in the mood to shoot someone, pick a different game, which doesn’t focus on fear and horror.

Conclusion

I have to say that we are actually lucky, as the summer of 2011 is surprisingly rich in all sorts of great games. So even in rainy summer weather you still will be able to enjoy your time off. But is F.E.A.R. 3 game worth it? Let’s draw some conclusions.

The graphics component in F.E.A.R. 3 turned out more than demanding when it comes to graphics accelerators. So, if you do not own an expensive graphics card from the upper price segment, then you will have to sacrifice some of the settings. Dual-chip flagship solutions, namely AMD Radeon HD 6990 and Nvidia GeForce GTX 590 performed very well and demonstrated surprisingly similar results. It is also going to be difficult to choose between Radeon HD 6970 and GeForce GTX 580. AMD product is a little faster in both cases, but this advantage is too minor to indicate an indisputable victory.

In the more affordable segment AMD products are on top. And if you are not shooting for the ultimate high-end, then Radeon HD 6950 or Radeon HD 6870 look very appealing. The alternative products “designed by Nvidia” are half a step behind, and in our opinion, GeForce GTX 560 Ti may be worth considering due to its lower price and only slightly lower performance than that of GTX 570.

Radeon HD 5770 has been a sales hit for a while now. And even though this graphics card can’t cope with the maximum graphics quality settings in F.E.A.R. 3, it has the best chance of making you happy if you decide to go with a little less aggressive settings. But if you have a Radeon HD 5750 or a GeForce GTX 550 Ti, then we really can’t say which feeling will be dominating: the fear from the scary game, or the irritation caused by its awful performance.

CPUs have less and less influence over the performance in contemporary games and our today’ tests in F.E.A.R. 3 have one more time confirmed the tendency we saw in Crysis 2 and Duke Nukem Forever. Faster CPU doesn’t boost the gaming performance, so it obviously makes no sense to invest additional funds into minimal performance improvement.

I wonder why all summer nights are either very short or very light? I just feel like closing the blinds or shades and spending at least another hour with Alma and her offsprings. The game developers and story-writers managed to recreate the remarkable atmosphere from the first part of the game and make the journey into the horror-world even better. The fans of the sequel as well as the newcomers will definitely find something interesting in this strange world of the vindictive Onry? spirit.