Darkest of Days Performance Testing Review

ccokeman - 2009-09-14 21:20:05 in Gaming
Category: Gaming
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: September 20, 2009
Price: $36


Darkest of Days is a historical first-person shooter that takes you through a maze of time periods and battles to try and change history, for the better. You play the game as Alexander Morris, a soldier who really gets the wrong end of a deal by getting transferred into the 7th Cavalry right before the battle of the Little Big Horn! If you know your history, this is where General George Armstrong Custer's troops met their grisly end. So how do you play a character that dies? Well the wonders of time travel allow Mr. Morris the opportunity of a lifetime, as he is rescued from certain death by a traveler from the future. When you come to, you have been brought to the briefing room to fill you in on the details of your mission. The opposition is trying to rewrite history to suit their needs and ultimately your goal is to prevent this from happening. Your tasks take you through the Civil War, World War I and II, and even the fleeting moments of Pompeii! Launched on September 8, 2009, Darkest of Days is brought to the masses from 8Monkey Labs for both PC and Xbox 360. For this game 8Monkey has broken away from the Unreal engine and developed an entirely new engine that goes by the name Marmoset. The Marmoset engine features an advanced AI and richly detailed landscapes. To get that realistic look 8Monkey has chosen to use Nvidia's Physx technology. Throughout the game, Physx technology is used to make the effects pop or come alive! I'll show you a few of the screen shots of the game, as well as seeing just what kind of perfromance you can expect with some of today's latest video cards.





Closer Look:

One thing that stands out right away are some of the vistas you see while playing through the game. These four shots show how visually captivating and how well the game is put together. The top left is a scene where you are a sniper protecting Petrovich, one of the people you are sent to retrieve. The one on the top right is from the dying moments of Pompeii, as Mt. Vesuvius lets loose the gates of hell! The other two shots show the luscious greens you can expect to see in your travels




The water in the Civil War scenes is out of this world and reacts just like you would see in nature. In these two shots you can see the ripples in the water radiating away from the point of contact. The water is crystal clear and you can see the leaf debris along the bottom of the creek. What is more subtle are the reflections of the surrounding landscape on the water's surface. Pictures just dont do this effect justice. Can you notice the one thing in the pictures that just seems out of place? These shots are during the Civil War, while the weapon is from the 20th Century! This is a feature of the game where you will get to use weapons from different time periods to your advantage.



The weapon damage throughout the game is reactive. Wood splinters realistically and when those splinters hit the ground they react to it. While watching the in-game benchmark run, you can see the effects without concentrating on the game play. This way you can see what's really going on. The first two shots are consecutive and show the effect of the cannon shell exploding. Just through the cloud of smoke you can see the horse and rider that have been felled by the blast, while closer to the foreground the bodies of the soldiers are flying away from the blast. You can also see the dirt clouds thrown up by the blast and the leaves flying through the air.




The other effect that is really great would be the smoke and fog. After you fire your weapon, the smoke comes curling out of the barrel like a living, breathing thing. This smoke reacts to the wind and twists and curls while it is slowly whisked away by the wind. The fog reacts to the firing of weapons, as well as objects, such as horses and people walking through it. And much like any FPS game, when you get shot, you die. In Darkest of Days, you can tell you are on the edge of life by the bloody red haze that envelopes the screen!




Now that you have an idea of how the game looks, it's time to see how a cross section of today's top video cards perform in this game. Cards from both ATI and Nvidia will be represented.


The object of the exercise here is to see just how well a short list of the higher end video cards from both ATI and Nvidia compare in this Physx-heavy first-person shooter. To make sure this test is not entirely biased, I will run Darkest of Days with both High and Low Physx settings to show just how well each card performs with and without Physx calculations done on the GPU. When I ran this type of test on one of the first really Physx-heavy games, Mirrors Edge, the cards from ATI performed less than spectacularly with Physx enabled in game, while the Nvidia cards gave you the full experience during game play. By disabling Physx, the performance of the video cards was a horse race of sorts, and not a totally one sided race, to be precise. To perform this testing, I will be using my tried and true Core i7 920 testing rig, with the latest drivers from Nvidia 190.62 and ATI Catalyst 9.9. The settings in the respective control panels will be left at default.


Testing Setup:

Comparison Video Cards:


Game Settings:




Higher is Better


With Physx set to high and 4x AA and 16xAF, this game is tough on all the cards. The GTX 295 finished below the GTX 285/GTS 250 combo that takes the Physx workload off of the primary graphics adapter. In this test, even the lowly GTS 250 beats up on the best card ATI currently has to offer. The Physx effects are clearly visible throughout the game and brings a visual quality to the table that makes the game more enjoyable. By reducing the anti-aliasing to 2x or even off entirely, you can increase the performance while keeping the visual effects.


What would testing be if you did not show both sides of the fence? In this test, Physx was set to Low, while leaving the remaining settings intact. You have seen time and again where the ATI cards suffer when Physx is enabled. Mirrors Edge and Cryostasis are two prime examples. Darkest of Days is no different. What happens in this test shows that, although the game can be played by cards from the red team, the video effects and quality are diminished.

Game Settings:






Higher is Better


What you can see based on the results in these graphs is that when the Physx effects are set to the lowest level, the performance from ATI's cards is almost identical to the competing Nvidia cards. However, the GTX 285 finally pulls away from the HD4890 at the top end. The point of showing these numbers is to show that yes, the game is playable with non Physx-enabled cards. When playing through the game without the Physx effects after playing with them enabled, it leaves a somewhat less than satisfied taste in your mouth. In this series of testing, you can see that a Crossfire profile is not ready for this game, as the dual-GPUs perform at a level less than the single-GPU HD4890. On the other hand, the GTX 295 just flies through this game, showing that Nvidia has the SLI profile in place and working.


What you get with Darkest of Days is another step toward realism. But in order to achieve that, you have to play with Physx set to medium or high, based on your video hardware's capabilities. Just watching the included benchmark made my jaw drop. The fog of war, the smoke from the fires and weapons, the way that the bodies crumpled up in their final moments, watching the effects of shrapnel from the cannon bursts on the surrounding environment and soldiers – but wait, there's more! Seeing the leaves from the trees blowing across the ground and flowing into a circle like they were being carried by a small dust devil was an awesome sight. I don't claim to be a pyromaniac, but I was transfixed by the fires. The flames looked incredibly real at 2560x1600, and the way the smoke curled away looked well done. When you get up close to the water, I have got to say this was the most realistic water I have seen. Far Cry was nice, but this was incredible. The water reflections and ripples, along with the clarity, just "fit." How many times have you seen the smoke from a just-fired cannon round look opaque and just disappear? Not so in Darkest of Days. In the first mission, at the Battle of Antietam Creek (Sharpsburg, for those in the South), you have to fire a cannon across the creek to take out the entrenched rebels. From up on a hill, you need to use a cannon to accomplish this task. When you fire the cannon, you get the smoke trail, but it does not just blink into oblivion, it twists in the wind and slowly dissipates. The smoke coming from the barrel of your repeating rifle acts like a living thing, blowing in the breeze. Pictures really do not do it justice; you have to see it in-game for yourself.





The game is an entertaining play that kept me engaged all the way through. The goals are pretty clear cut and easy to follow. It's not just a mindless "kill 'em all" type of game! For that, you have Left 4 Dead! Traveling through time to play a variety of scenarios from Custer's Last Stand on the Little Bighorn River to the streets of Pompeii to the horrors of the first and second World Wars. Each scenario brings a different challenge, as well as different weapons to master. When it came down to performance testing, I went two ways – with and without Physx enabled. ATI cards just cant play the game with Physx enabled. Even with the aggressive setting used, the little GTS 250 out did the big stars from ATI when Physx was enabled. When it was disabled, the ATI cards put in a performance that shows their capabilities. Crossfire just does not show any benefit on the 4870x2, but the GTX 295 showed some really nice scaling. When you combine an Nvidia card with a lower end card to take the Physx calculations off the primary GPU, you see quite a performance bonus. But again, only when Physx is set to medium or high, as there is no benefit at the low setting. Darkest of Days presents a great game play experience that shows what the inclusion of Physx technology can do for a game. Mirrors Edge and Cryostasis were not the best showcase for the technology – this is a showcase. Good game play, great visuals and effects – now I am sold on Physx!


Bosco's Comments:

I had been very excited about this game coming out, and upon receiving my copy, I was not disappointed. Frank touched on a lot of areas of the game, including the part about being engaged the whole time. I could not agree more. Between the story line and the graphics, I was completely hooked. I played this game for three straight days, about 16 hours a day to finish, then I started over again to play more slowly and take in the graphics. I am truly amazed by this game way more than I was by Mirrors Edge and Cryostasis. I am really enjoying the benefits of Physx and I am looking forward to more titles that take advantage of it, if the game play and graphics continue to follow suit.