Mirrors Edge Game Testing
Reviewed by: ccokeman
Reviewed on: February 3, 2009
Mirrors Edge was released to the PC community on January 13 2009. Mirrors Edge is designed using the Unreal 3 engine. One of the highlights from EA and Dice was the fact that this is the first game to feature GPU accelerated Physx effect throughout the game. As you may or may not know, Phsyx is becoming a huge part of the gaming experience. The additional realism that comes from using this technology on hardware designed to maximize the potential of the Physx capabilities makes playing the gaming that much more intense. From the glass that stays part of the environment to the cloth that tears and moves realistically to the physically simulated smoke, this First Person Runner as it is called, has plenty of hype regarding the stunning visual effects. There are plenty of reviews on the game, but what I wanted to see for myself was just how well some of the latest cards from both ATI and Nvidia stacked up in a head to head contest with and without the Physx effects enabled, to see just what the difference was when the capabilities were enabled and to see just how realistic the effects really are. With such a comparison I chose the Nvidia GTX 260-216 core and its direct competition, the HD4870 1GB, as well as the latest behemoth from Nvidia the GTX 295 and the HD4870x2 from the ATI side. So just what will the results be head to head?
Nvidia and EA Dice teamed up to bring forth a game in which Physx is used throughout the entire game. You have simulated glass, cloth, smoke, wind, debris and weapon particles that make the game more realistic by having these items not just fade away, but become an interactive piece of the puzzle. For starters, let's get a look at the game video settings. The video control panel is not what you would call elaborate by any means. The fact of the matter is that the settings are vague and offer brightness, contrast, resolution, vertical sync, texture detail, graphics quality, anti aliasing and Physx support. Kind of bare bones, but it belies the console origins of the game. The sliders adjust up and down to provide the adjustment to the quality settings. Shown below are the highest settings available to the lowest settings available.
So what's the big deal about Physx acceleration? Well, just take a look at these few slides to see what the differences are with and without it. The first 2 slides show the effects of the glass and cloth simulations and how they interact with the environment. In the first slide the glass and cloth are impacted by the bullets and move realistically and stay in play wheras in the second screen shot the glass and cloth just do basically nothing.
Here's another look at how the glass becomes part of the simulation rather than just fading away. As our heroine Faith runs for her life, the bullet impacts in front of her shatter the glass. Without Physx there is nothing special here, but with it, the effect is much more realistic as the glass becomes again part of the environment. This is a 3 slide series to show the progression of the effect from impact to the end of the effect.
Another effect is the damage inflicted by weapons. In this series of slides, the damage particles from the bullet ricochets continue to fly and bounce off the surfaces instead of just passing through the environment. This makes you bob and weave in your seat while playing.
Last but not least, I want to show some of the effects in the game that are available when the Physx simulations are active. There is the wind blowing papers, to bullets ripping through fabric, the movement of the tarps that really needs to be seen, the broken glass and bullet impacts, the pysically simulated smoke - it all adds up to one nice effects package.
Let's see how the cards compare in the performance they deliver.
To test out Mirrors Edge I will be using a fly-through demo to allow each card to have a shot at a consistent run through the time demo. Each card will be run 3 times through the run and an average of the three runs will be tallied for the final marks. Each video card was run with Phsyx enabled and disabled to see what impact this has on gameplay and the realism of the effects. Resolutions tested will be from 1280x1204 to 2560x1600. The game settings for each run will not change with the exception of the resolution. The drivers used are the latest releases for each manufacturer. The Nvidia camp used the 181.22 and the ATI camp used the 9.1 catalyst suite. All settings in the respective control panels are left at setup defaults.
- Processor: Intel Core I7 920 150x20
- Motherboard: MSI X58 Eclipse SLI
- Memory: Mushkin HP3 12800 7-7-7-20
- Video Card(s): See Below
- Power Supply: Mushkin 800 watt Modular power supply
- Hard Drive: 1 x Seagate 1TB SATA
- Optical Drive: NEC DV5700
- OS: Windows Vista Ultimate Edition SP1 64bit
Comparison Video Cards:
- 8X AA
- Physx On /Off
- All other in game settings to maximum
What is clearly evident in the graphs above, is that when Phsyx is disabled in the game, the competitors are relatively close in performance. More so between the GTX 260 and the HD4870 1GB card. But when Physx is enabled in the game, the green camp just pulls ahead by large margins, bordering on double the performance of the ATI cards. You could have tricked the HD4870x2 into running better by renaming the EXE to one that offers Crossfire support, but that really is not the way to test, as most people are not going to get that involved. When Physx is enabled, the ATI cards offload the calculations to the CPU, causing a massive performance drop that is not evident with the Nvidia cards, as the Physx calculations are handled on the Nvidia GPU.
Mirrors Edge is a unique game that brings the realism factor that much further forward, from many games out currently. The effects are just amazing and provide that next level of immersion. Glass does not just break and disappear into thin air. The cloth does not just tear away in big blocks and disappear - they become part of the environment and enhance the experience in the game. The Physx effects are what make the game so much more realistic, as each effect adds to the game rather than detracting from it. By turning off the Physx effects, you are back to just another game with mediocre effects. The lineup of cards used represents both the top of the line from both camps, as well as the top mid-level players in the video card wars. This performance run-through is not so much about the game itself, but about the effects and the performance generated by the current crop of offerings from each manufacturer. The bottom line here, is that you need to decide what level of visual effects are right for you and your style of gameplay. By turning the Physx simulations off, the performance in the mid-range is almost identical between the red and green camps. The high-end is not as close. Now, when the Physx simulations are enabled, well there really is not a contest at all - the green camp just walks away from the red camp by leaps and bounds. The massive computing power of the Nvidia cards and the Physx processing, just makes the game all that more enjoyable from a realism standpoint, that would otherwise take an additional hardware purchase to bring the tables even close with the ATI hardware. My vote goes for the eye candy and realism!