Archive for the ‘reviews’ Category

review – GTR reloaded

Montag, Oktober 27th, 2008

long time without any updates here. i’m sorry for the absence but i wasn’t able to spend that much time over the summer.

but, i haven’t missed the release of GTR reloaded (or GTR evolution) and after getting my copy at the local game shop i was really keen on putting this piece on my pc. the most interesting thing is the official nordschleife and how the game perform compared to the former 3rd party nordschleife versions for GTR2. so here is a 2-hour review, a kind of first impression.

installation:
well, nothing really exciding here. after starting the setup you’ll get the choice of installing an offline or online version. since i have never spent that much time online i went for the offline version, just to avoid to get ’steam‘-ed. i do not understand the concept of having two versions. after waiting for the copy process of about 3.2 gig onto the harddisc without any spectacular screens or whatsoever, the installation ends with the common questions about opening related information and the placement of icons all over if not deselected. the well known configurator tool let’s you choose a few settings with the ’since GTR1′ non telling antialiasing settings level1 to levelx.

start:
the start of the game takes unusually long and i assume this time is needed to load those fancy looking intro videos. as a frequent player i’m always anoyed by this but i have seen some nointro mods around the net. the intro videos are not bad at all but they don’t reach the race feeling of the GTR2 intro. overall, a lot of work for something which will be skipped by most of the people out there.
the look and feel of the main screen is quite clean and well structured but different to GTR or GTR2. it requires some minutes to check where is what and the approach is not really straight forward in my oppinion.

setup:
the setup of the game is similar to former titels but with a new structure. the often communicated as confusing menues are kind of shuffled and still not telling. with former experience, it is not that hard to set up the game but for newbies it will take some tests to find the right setup. the first major disappointment is the lack of surround sound. this is something i can’t understand since the release of GTR. a new feature is the so called ‚performance manager‘. this function tries to balance the settings so that the system is able to provide a certain, user selected, frame rate. unfortunately, the old control f function to show the frame rate in-game is no longer working and fraps isn’t able to show the frame rate neither. not sure if this is related to MS Vista but i will try to get whatever kind of framerate display to check the options any further.

first race:
just to get an impression of the performance and the quality of the nordschleife, i went for a quick race. that was at least the idea. to start a race is far away from quick. a huge amount of screens is the first challenge you have to take. selections of different tracks, cups, cars, drivers, difficulty and so on. after passing the ‚as-usual‘ long loading screen, which has been cleared from any progress bar, the next menu with options appears. just a comment about the loading screen, a good feature is the display of what is being loaded at present time, this could be a helpfull feature to figure out what is causing problems, especially with 3rd party-ware.
i went for a practise session and by using the camera features i was just watching the cars going around the track.

graphics:
well, to make it short, nothing has changed compared to GTR2 or the changes are so minor that you will hardly take any notice. i do not expect graphics like Farcry2, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. clear sky nor Sega Rally but a little bit more uptodate would be nice. Having GRID: race driver in the back of my mind, which i won’t call a reference but this is something i expect today, i’ve got the impression that GTR reloaded looks a little bit dead and flat. the nordschleife itself is not bad and maybe it is optimized for performance but overall the track looks kind of unnatural. i wasn’t really a fan of the fancy version for GTR2 due to performance issues but the current version does not look very real. i like the new trees and especially the mix of trees for nordschleife but compared to the real nordschleife, the gras, the gravel and the crash barriers are too sterile. the cars are nice, not too detailled but not blocky, good enough for a game with a focus on the technica simulation. new feature, the wipers. even if they as sharp as the world around, which is a little bit distracting, it is a nice feature. this leads direct to the lack of any depth of field effect. the graphics are sharp until the horizont and depending on the frame rate, all those vibrations are just simulated by jumping pictures. i know, it is hard to guess the area on which the player is looking actually, so blurring the cockpit and the horizont isn’t a solution but having in mind what shaders are able to produce today (think about COD: modern warfare) i think a vibration blur, motion blurred wipers and a slightly unsharpen horizont couldn’t be that hard. regarding level of detail, especially on the nordschleife, gtr reloaded tends to fade in objects after approaching a certain distance. this looks very outdated and a technique more similar to different details depending on distance instead of just pop in trees and stuff as you come closer to them wouldn’t impact performance that much, proofed by other games.
i wasn’t able to check rain and night but will do so soon.

sound:
hm, no surround support, just one track as soundtrack are the downside. the sound of the cars is ok, as usual or common. nothing really new except built in brake noise and some ’section of track‘ related sounds like audience.

performance:
as mentioned above, i was not able to get any display of fps running. my first test is always, set everything on max and check how it runs. ¬†there is less stuttering compared to GTR2 but a few ‚hangs‘ are still noticable. my personal feeling is that the framerate is around 30 fps with everthing on max and antialiasing on level 4. there is a heavy anisotropic effect on the road, like in former titles with the same engine, so the tarmac appears very blurry just a few meters ahead of the car. this can be tweaked by the settings of the graphic card but will cost a few frames per second. by stepping back on some effects or detail levels, the game appears smooth but my expectation was higher. compared to what is presented the performance is not really exciting.

nordschleife:
the included layouts are tourist, endurance and gp. this is ok and should fit most peoples demands. the layout is very close to the original but i miss some bumps here and there. the karussel is too smoth and the area around between adenau and breitscheid is a little bit too perfect, in real, the track is more twisted within the corners. the performance is quite equal around the track, which is good for the gp part and this provides a smooth feeling for the whole track without major framerate drops. the ai performs sometimes a little bit strange on the track but for a final conclusion i will have a race to check how they perform. the endurance layout is perfect, the entry to the pits and the shortcut to start a lap after leaving the pits fits very well and the ai is using this too.

overall:
this is really hard to decide. for those who are looking for a GTR3, the expectations are not met. if you are happy with a refurnished GTR2 with track updates and different/new classes of cars, the package offers a lot. the caterham series, the mini challenge and the wtcc series are a nice addition if you want to put your hands on something different. if you are just using your favourite car the amount of cars is not really interesting, especially, the lotus elise is missing. for the hardcore sim freak, a lot of options are not interesting, i would tend to call them useless overhead. motec is supported by adding a few lines to the player.plr, the car setup screen is splitted in front, rear, overall, which is confusing and different to former titles. strange thing, the car setup screen is much smaller than before, this could be nice on high definition displays above 30″ but overall not really an improvement if you are using a hd ready below 30″ screen.
conclusion: if you are happy with GTR2 and everything runs fine, there is no real need to go for GTR reloaded (or GTR evolution). even if there are some small improvements in terms of performance, the difference is not that huge. the usability of all those menues and options is eating up a lot of your time, as a solution could work to set up different scenarios and save them for quick access. i’ve got the feeling that the handling is close to console titles and not optimized for PC. more to come as soon as i will find some time to race.

review – race driver:grid

Dienstag, Juli 8th, 2008

due to the high temps in germany, i was not really in the mood to spend time seriously with gaming. but i found the demo of ‚race driver: grid‘ from codemasters on a magazine dvd and thought, let’s give it a try. i have read that this game is quite demanding in terms of hardware requirements and so i was kind of interested to see how my system is able to handle the game. the installation of the demo took some time but was showing some nice screenshots of the game. after the installation, the game is placed in the games section of vista, so no seperate menu item. there is no external setup, everything is done inside the game. usually, this is quite nice because you do not have to leave the game for changing the settings for graphics or sound but the game requested restarts (of the game, not the system) for most of the changes which takes some time and makes no difference to an external setup. anyway, the settings for graphics are very high level, as well as for sound and controller. there is no chance to switch to a specific soundcard nor controller and most of the settings are more like on/off, low/med/high. the demo provides 3 races – race track with a bmw 320, drift with a nissan sylvia and street race with a ford mustang. the overall game navigation is quite nice but very console-ish.

graphics:
without any doubts, the game looks nice. the scenery is quite detailled and the objects placed everywhere are giving the tracks a ‚life‘ touch. the objects are detailled, breakable (if you can reach them) or animated (eg: people). the lighting is related to the time of the day or the location and adds a nice touch to the scenery. an eyecatcher is the package of effects. the game is using hdr effects a lot and so there is a lot of shiny reflections, blooming, pupil adaption simulation, sparks, smoge, back fire, broken mirrors/windows, scratched or broken body parts and so on. the cars are detailled as long as you watch them not in the rear view mirror. here they become very boxy and all those mentioned effects are gone as well. this is very pitty, especially for the drift events where no smoke is visible in the mirrors at all and to look at the mirror during a race is so disappointing, you feel yourself set back to the late 90s.
the overall mood of the graphics is kind of flat, not as colorfull as sega rally. if i compare the game graphics to photos i’ve shoot at races or other car related events, it could use some more saturation.
the interior of the cars is very well done. lot’s of details, different gauges, steering wheel, legs, pedals and so on, this is very impressive and for me, it set’s a new standard for car interiors. this comes in very nice, especially during the replays because you’ve got different camera positions inside the car as well.

sound:
hm, this is a little bit difficult. the setup is strange, you’ve got the choice to use hardware acceleration or not, whatever this means. on my xfi card, this means, 5.1 or not, on different other soundcards, i don’t know. there is no option to select your sounddevice as well. this is really not very user friendly.
the sound coulisse is not bad, a lot of environmental sounds, bounces, gearbox noise and tire squeaks. but, especially the sylvia or the muscle car comes quite flat in terms of engine sounds. i expect more presents for the engine for a game which offers this amount of effects overall and the balance of the volume for the different sound effects needs more attention as well.

controls:
same here, no choice to select a specific controller. you’ve got 2 profiles, standard and custom and as the name is telling this, the custom controler setup can be used to create an input scheme which fits to your needs. by whatever reason, i was not able to get a usefull forcefeedback on my momo race. the wheel is without any resistance or rumble effect. sometimes, during heavy bounces or very fast steering actions, there was something like an effect but this is far away from the very first forcefeedback titles back in the windows 95 aera. not sure if this related to the demo, vista or the wheel. overall, there are some deadzone and linearity settings, which is nice and stands out of the other settings for the game. the response to throttle, brake and steering is good and direct and provides control over the car. overall, this game is best driveable with a controller, especially the drift race requires very fast steering actions and this is going to be kind of demanding with a wheel. but this is typicall for arcade titles and with some tweaking and a more ‚lookahead‘ steering style it is fun as well. fortunately, the throttle and brake is very sensitive, so it is not this pure ‚button-like‘ throttle/brake driving style.

physics:
this may be a little bit disappointing for the ones looking for a more sim-like racing game but this is codemasters. race driver:grid is arcade pur. for me, it is in line with nfsu2, nfsc or sega rally. basic load balancing, understeer/oversteer but very drift-ish and forgiveable. the opponents moving around like they haven’t got any physics at all and even a heavy crash isn’t really able to push them or you out of the track. sometimes, the opponents spin, as you do as well if you steer in too fast, but this is really just something that happens because it is the intention and not a result of a physics engine. other parts on the track breaking, fallling down or flying some meters after a hit but this is already seen in titles like burnout2 as well. overall, the feeling of the car is kind of ‚weightless‘ and it reminds me a lot of other codemasters titles like TOCA or DTM Race Driver. acceleration and decelleration is done within a blink of an eye and there is no major slow down in bends. the opponents are often really bullish, they turn in into a bend without paying any attention to you and so you find yourself often in a situation where you get rammed with full force. it is not really possible to drive without any demolition and if you want to win at higher difficulty, you have to add some brutality to your style, like in former codemasters race titles before. it seems like this is a mandatory part to present the damage model ūüėČ overall, the pack is suffering from rubberbanding, it is no problem to catch up if you are a couple of seconds behind and it is not really possible to get rid of the pack, the biggest advantage i’ve had was a 18 sec gap in frisco and 15 seconds for the other race (serious difficulty, no driving aids).

overall:
it is a nice, fast paced arcade title. the presentation is nice, the advertised volume of the game sounds interesting, the handling is easy (even if the drift race needs some training). the demo isn’t really presenting the options you will get in the full version so you have to read around a little bit. i’m not sure if this title is worth the full price. compared to forza (xbox) or forza2 (360), it comes in a little bit low, because there is no real tuning nor parts shop. the graphics are nice but tend to be unsharp or boxy. this is a strange effect because sometimes it looks like i’m playing the game with 800×600 stretched to 1280×768. on sloped tracks, this leads to a loss of orientation and turn-in’s becomes a little bit tricky. the performance is quite well, i get constant frame rates above 50 fps, with 1280×768/4xaa and everyhing on max on my 3.6ghz dual core with 8800gt (overclocked as well). for 20-30 euro, this is something to consider if you need something to relaxe after a hard day at work but for full price, well, you have to be focused on arcade racing.

review – sega rally revolution

Montag, Juni 23rd, 2008

i’ve remembered playing the sega rally revolution demo some time ago but it wasn’t really made for my notebook. so this came to my mind as a game which i should test on my new game rig. getting the demo from the internet and later ordering the full game for just 10¬Ä from amazon wasn’t a tough taks. since i really loved the screamer series several years back, i found myself in a similar mood while playing this rally game.

installation:

there wasn’t something really different, a huge amount of data is copied¬†to the harddisc and a patch from the web and the game is ready to run. setting up my momo race wheel is painfull and fails often, so i gave up and went for my gamepad. graphic settings were adjusted to max, nothing else would be interesting for this game ;), for a lc-display i recommend a fixed frame rate and v-synch, but nothing more has to be adjusted

first impression:

there is no doubt that this game is available on a console as well. the main concept aims at controller usage instead of mouse and keyboard. this is not bad at all, the navigation thru the game via keyboard or controller works kind of fine, just going thru whatever level of menues is sometimes a little bit confusing and slow. the navigation is based on pictures, like an album of photos, which may not everybody makes smile. jumping into quick race or just starting a cup isn’t a very sophisticated task, there is hardly something to set-up, pick a location and¬†a car and start the race.

graphics:

from my perspective, the graphics are nice. not sure if the developer was aiming at a photorealistic look or not, the sceneries are nice and detailed and the overall style is a nice mixture between reality and the former screamer titles. it is not comic but it isn’t as real as RBR or the latest McRae titles. the cars coming with a solid touch, they doesn’t look like toycars but like real cars neither, even if every car reflects an existing model. but maybe that’s due to the missing damage system. depending on the track, the cars get dirty, by mud, sand or snow and even if you change from a very wet and mud area on the track to a part where dry sand is dominating the scene, the car finish changes from wet to dry, which adds a nice effect to the game. the particles, emitted by the cars, like mud, water, sand or snow are a little bit clumpy to my taste, especially in mud you’ve got the impression that someone is throwing fist-sized rocks at you. what i really like is the water which started to appear in the tire-tracks or the ice which is covered by snow at the start of the race. which leads to one of the impressive features of the game, the tire tracks. on surfaces like sand, mud or snow, the tires of the cars are leaving deep treads at the surface which affecting the handling of the car as well. the scenery is lovely and detailed, the gras is shaking when the cars passing it and the tracks are detailed as well, there is a lot of variation and even details like broken tarmac at the border of the road or floated areas giving the game some nice touch. everything is really colorfull, this is absolutly not comparable to nfsc nor motorcity.

physics:

well, to talk about physics is maybe not the right approach. sega rally is as close to real world physics as a street car to a race car. there is something which could described as physics but sega rally is a trully arcade game. the different cars behave a little bit different, so there is a difference between front wheel drive, rear wheel drive or all wheel drive and i’ve got the feeling that some lighter cars jump more over the treads than the bigger cars but i won’t bet on this. there are some effects which forces you to drive on some kind of best line, since water, gravel,¬†walls and deep mud slows down the car and if you cross the tire treads the car starts to jump and losses steering ability. there is some small amount of load balancing, so the car reacts to the steering wheel better if you are off throttle, refuses to steer if you are on the brakes and tends to understeer when you are on the throttle. the two main setups, gravel or tarmac, are kind of subtle on mixed tracks, on tarmac-less tracks you won’t go for the tarmac setup and twice versa.

sound:

hm, i’m not sure if it is related to my xfi card but i wasn’t able to get out 3d sound, neither from my onboard nor my xfi card. the sound of the engine isn’t bad, the gravel sound is kind of synthetic and too loud and the environmental sounds requires some attention to details. the sound is not bad but compared to burnout or rbr, it is not outstanding.

 overall:

it is a funny game, it looks nice, it is easy to drive but not too easy to win on certain tracks, it sounds like a classic game and the tracks varies enough to keep driving for a while. the long term motivation is muted a little bit by the lack of settings on the car, just 3 laps per race and kind of short tracks. if you got the pc to handle the game (or the 360) and the game for a few bucks, go for it if you are a fan of arcade racers. if you are looking for colinmcrae, rbr or gtr2 like games, never mind, this is something completly different. nfsu1-2, nfsc, nfsmc people will desperately looking for tuning and pimping.

review – Alienware 51-7500

Dienstag, Juni 17th, 2008

review Alienware Area 51-7500:

i’ve spent about half an year thinking if i should go for a new pc rig or if i focus myself on consoles. but still fascinated by S.T.A.L.K.E.R, GTR2, Quake 3/4 and ETQW i gave myself a bump and went for a new pc. i mean, the performance of my VAIO notebook (2 GHz, Intel single core, ATI x800 card, 2GB) isn’t that bad but compared to screenshots of above mentioned games, found on different forums, i was always a little bit disappointed. so i started to look around for complete rigs, components and tests. it took less than a week and i was completly lost. i haven’t spent any time into pc stuff for about 5 years now and so i was (and still be) far away from being up-to-date. in the past, i always tend to go for some known brand and i don’t mind to spend a few euros/dollars more to get something which works out of the box. i know, a well known brand is not a guarantee for a running system but my experience isn’t that bad either and spending endless hours to find something which is maybe a handfull of money cheaper does not provide a reasonable pay-off for me because my spare time is limited as well. this doesn’t mean that going for a self-build system is the wrong way, this is up to you.
my goal was to get a system which is a mixture of top-notch and affordable. so i was forced to spent some time to ‚compile‘ the system to my needs. after some searches on the internet i found that Alienware offers what i was looking for. Good base system with a great variety of options. i know that Alienware is a more than well known brand in the gaming scene and the majority of usage for my system is gaming. my budget was not really limited but my personal goal was to stay around the 1200-1400 euro range. finally, i went for this configuration:

Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo E8500 – 3,16 GHz 1333 MHz FSB, 6 MB Cache
Motherboard: NVIDIA nForce 680i SLI
Graficprocessor: 512 MB NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GT
Memory: DDR2 SDRAM, 800 MHz – 2 GB – 2 x 1024 MB
Harddisc: 250 GB Serial ATA 3 Gbit/s, 7.200 rpm, 16 MB Cache
Optical: 20x Dual Layer DVD+/-RW / 20x CD-RW
Sound: on-board Intel High Definition Audio, 7.1 Surround Sound, S/PDIF-Koaxial digital output
Power: 750 W power supply for multi GPU
OS: Windows Vista Home Premium
Case: Alienware P2-case – Cyborg Green

the quad core cpu and the dual gpu setup was too expensive for my usage (most of the games i’m playing support neither more than one core nor sli graphics) so i went for the 512 mb graphic card instead of the 2×256 sli version and i took the fastest dual core cpu available. the memory is upgradeable to 4 gb (2 banks left) and the gpu can be upgraded by a second one as well if necessary. hard disc isn’t important, i’ve got an external harddisc which stores my stuff.
additional, attracted by the nice demo on the page, i went for the ‚Alienware AlienIce 3.0 Video Cooling + AlienFX system lighting for Windows Vista‘ this provides the option to change and to animate the lighting of the case (the alien skulls, front bay lights and inner lighting) basically, this is a nice feature and i really like such stuff, so i thought, ok, that’s maybe worth the additional money. the possibilities to use the lights start with color, brightness, animation and goes up to change those settings depending on events or applications. unfortunately, the lights are quite flat, means, not very bright and the color fade is not as smooth as you may expect this from a true rgb light. i haven’t spent too much time on this, so maybe i will find the beauty later but at the moment, this feature is not worth the 80¬Ä they charge you for it, even if you count in this additional fan in the side panel to aspirate you graphic card(s). in terms of performance, this money can spend to more usefull things maybe.

nethertheless, back to the main system.
the box in which the system is shipped as to be called huge by no doubt. and with huge, i mean huge. it’s shaped like a half dishwasher and it is about half as heavy as the mentioned kitchen tool. so i lifted up this monster box into my van and started to think about how to unbox this space killer in my 28 square meter flat in which i stay over the week for the job. the best solution was to take out the things i need and to transport the stuff unboxed into the room. after documenting the damage to the package (the postal service didn’t care about that very much) i opened the box, took of the small pieces out of a smaller box and then i removed this smaller box. i was quite shocked. the overall weight of the box was foreshadowing what i should expect but what i found exceeded my imagination by worlds. the rig is soo huge that i was really doubting that this is what i have ordered. i mean, carrying a 17 inch laptop has already shifted my point of view regarding size of computers and within my collection of classical systems, there are some rockies as well but that a modern system is consuming so much space was really beyond my horizon. the next step was to¬† haul this chunk of metal and semiconductors up to the 4th story (3rd in Germany). i’m really not a couch potato and i’m comfortable to climb up stairs or mountains but to trug this system up wasn’t a pleasure. covered with sweat, avoiding the two dogs between my feed, stumbeling into my flat, i was searching for a place to store this furniture temporally. the place i’ve planned was laughing at me, no way to fit this creature in. fortunately, my wife got stressed by the tightness of the flat as well and started to move things around. so i was able to place the pc close to my desk and i started to connect this million of cables to it. power, network, keyboard, mouse, monitor and sound system, what a pleasure to throw in a laptop into its docking station ūüėČ since the package was quite damaged, i found myself opening the housing to have a look inside if everything is where it should be. this test offered a nice overview of the construction of the system. very sorted, well designed and very well cooled by some huge fans and cooling ‚towers‘.
turning on the tv (which i use as a monitor) and then pressing the front alien to switch the system on was the following step. a short and impressive gasp of the fans, a flash of the aliens and the system has became alive. the next hour was a huge disappointment. it was kind of a never ending set-up, update, reboot session. the AlienFX system lighting wasn’t working, the settings communicated while ordering weren’t set and to make things worse, there was a microsoft patch day one day before. but that’s the dark side of using a pc. finally, i came to a state where i was
able to ‚use‘ the system the very first time. i was really keen to see something and without hassling with installation of my games including updates i thought it would be nice to have a look on the crysis demo.

Crysis
the installation of this 1.7 gig file was pretty fast and after a few minutes i started up the game. due to my inpatience, i skipped the intro videos and went straight to the settings menu. hidding the ‚optimal settings‘ button and waiting for the messages to be appear was an action of a second. a red message box appeared and i thought, ups, what’s that? but then i realized the content of the message – games settings has been set to high spec. crysis on max settings? i wasn’t really sure if this is believable and so i started the single player game. the intro wasn’t really fluid, even if it was a little bit hard to spot what was causing this hardware demand. after reaching the beach, the game became much more responsive but kept minor stuttering more or less frequent. i started to roam around a little bit and overall, it was an impressive experience, i have never seen such graphics on one of my systems. after tweaking the graphic settings a little bit (i’ve reduced settings for texture quality and tested the volumetric quality) the game became much more smooth without loosing too much of it’s quality at 1280×768. i was kind of satisfied and went on to the next game because neither far-cry nor crysis can catch my attention for hours, i’m really kind of bored by the concept and the story.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.
the game i’ve had bought this system for – S.T.A.L.K.E.R. the installation was quite quick as well, the dvd drive and the harddisc are really fast so including the actual update plus the weather overhaul mod it took less than 10 minutes in sum. with some excitement i started the game. what is going to happen now? i went to the settings menu, chose maximum settings, checked the advanced menu if every slider is really on the right and then i started a new game. it takes really a while to start or to load a game without the -noprefetch switch but then the intro video came up. skipping this video, the screen went dark and then the game graphics appeared. i mean, the very first room isn’t really a beauty in terms of graphics but i was amazed tho. but as i have left the underground and stepped into the day i was blown away. i’ve seen a lot of screenshots on the internet before but seeing those graphics in realtime is an absolute different experience. i walked around with an open mouth, it was very fluid and smooth, very few stutterings (typical for stalker) and especially the weather overhaul effects blooming and depth of field are so awesome. while visiting a few places by loading up some savegames i started to relax. this system is what i was looking for.
update:
a day later i was playing with the graphics settings again, and i’m using the global illumination option as well. this has just a minor impact on the graphic quality but no noticable impact on the performance. i will try to record a timedemo within the next days so that i will be able to get some detailed performance data.

confident that i haven’t bought something useless for me and strongened by the former experience, i started to test quake 5 (etqw) and gtr2. q5 was asking for an update, so i started the download of the patch and went for the installation of gtr2.

GTR2
i’ve downloaded the actual nordschleife already, including all updates, so throwing in the track and starting gtr was a matter of seconds. fortunately, the securom protection accepted my drive and the disc, and the game appeared on the screen. moving every setting to the max and starting a test session on the nordschleife was the next step. i’ve jumped into an opponent car virtually, just to follow the ride on the track. the new nordschleife is really a beauty, the crew has spent so many attention to details, even the bonfires at the camps are burning and the tarmac textures are really nice. the trees are quite variant and well placed and the overall feeling of the landscape and the shape of the track is amazing. the frame rate was varying between 80-60 fps which is acceptable for this graphic monster of track. so i became a little bit more brave and went back to the race menu. same track, same graphic settings but 68 opponents. loading took a little bit longer and the time until the garage became responsive was a little bit longer as well. jumping into the car and checking the fps was the following action. the display was showing 25-30 fps, a small downstep in exitement. but i know, the nordschleife is very demanding at max shadow settings, especially when you surrounded by 40 visible cars. skipping the intro lap and switching to the ai driver gave me a chance to watch. after the common ‚wreck at least 10 cars within the first corners‘ gtr bullshit, the field started to become wider and the framerate went up to 30-40 fps. that is really ok for me and by tweaking the shadow settings, the performance is even better. unfortunately, simbin was never able to remove the stuttering from the game, which is really noticable during ai driver or replay but not so distracting while driving, so this problem still exists, and the track cam performance is still lower than in-car performance which also is still lower than on-the-hood cam. really a strange graphic enginge. another teardrop is the sudden crash after half of the track. this does not happen with less cars, so i have to check if this is related to the cars in the field or what’s the reason for this behavior. the lag of multi core/thread support is really a major minus because the cpu load is really heavy, so the dual core cpu does not have any effect for this game.

Enemy Territory – Quake Wars
this game concept isn’t really what i prefer but the fast paced action in combination of being a strogg makes this game attractive for me as well. same procedure, all graphic settings to max and jumping into the action. i’ve started the america level, same as the demo, because i’ve spent a lot of time to tweak the settings on my vaio notebook until this level became ‚playable‘. the first wow in-game is the graphic of the arm and the weapon, this is really amazing. the stroggs are so well designed and the graphic is so ‚realistic‘, i kept minutes just to watch the bots and myself. then i went out of the tunnel and everything was just so cool. etqw isn’t a game where you pay too much attention to the landscape, so i will not compare the graphics to stalker or crysis, it’s too different. but all the buildings, vehilces and player characters are really nice and very detailed. the game wasn’t showing any weakness in performance, only in spectator mode with the cam high above the ground, the motion becomes less fluid. but especially for this type of game, i’m not looking for extreme antialiasing nor anisotropic settings, so by stepping back a little bit, the game is more than fluid, smooth and responsive. and as usual for id-games games, it supports the dual core cpu very well.

Quake 3 Arena
for some of you may this appears a little bit odd but i’m a very passioned q3a player and at max settings for antialiasing and anisotropic, this game was still causing problems on my laptop. so i was looking forward to the performance on my new system. this test session became a little bit wierd because nothing of the graphic settings, neither in-game nor gpu configuration was showing any impact on the game performance. i have looked the frame rate to 60 hz, like my display and the showed framerate of 60 fps was like a static texture. so i’ve set the max frame rate to 100, nothing, same behavior, constant 100 fps. i went for 500, a few levels started to show an impact, the frame rate was between 300-500. by reducing antialiasing and anisotropic filtering, i was able to get 1000 fps without loosing too much graphic quality. this is really insane. by whatever reason, q3 refused to run in smp mode (multiprocessor mode) but i would say, i can life with this ūüėČ

Plasma Pong
maybe not everybody is aware of this game. this game won a party competition 2007 and it is really funny to play and especially to watch. the game is a simple pong version but in a kind of fluid environment with different forces influending the fluid and the particel system. it is a nice performance check as well, because you can adjust the quality of the fluid, colors and particles in a broad range, so this game can be fitted to almost every system. and surprising, i was able to force the system to 40-45 fps by using 40000 particles. stepping back to 20000, which is not really noticable because still too much for my 1280×768 resolution, the game was running stable at 60 fps.

final comments:
for the mentioned games, this system is more than usable. except GTR2, none of the games were showing major problems in terms of performance. even for higher demands in fps, adjusting some of the graphic settings in-game (texture size for example is hardly noticable at 1280×768) or by tweaking some of the gpu settings it is really easy to adjust the performance to personal needs without loosing too much quality.
the overall design of the system is nice if not outstanding. in my personal opinion, the case is too huge compared to the stuff which can be found inside and without any doubts, the whole rig is too heavy to care it to somewhere frequently. if you are looking for a game party rig, i would recommend to go for a laptop. at this price tag, you will not get a system comparable to this pc system but enough performance to play current games at parties where superior graphics isn’t that important. the quality of the case is great, the look is not cheap and the front bay door is very solid. unfortunately, the dvd drive can’t push the bay door to open, you have to do this before ejecting your media.
the noiselevel even under heavy load is acceptable, i was expecting much more noise. the case provides front sockets for 2x usb, mic in, earphone and firewire(?) and on the rear all the necessary network connections, usb again, sound (analog, digital)
what i dislike is the on-board sound. i haven’t found a possibility to use the s/pdif in surround mode. even my old xbox doesn’t struggle with this but to get 6 channel (or max 8 channel) sound you have to wire your digital sound rig by 6-8 wires (3-4 if using stereo cables, which is required due to the stereo jacks) if you are using a sound set with single channels inputs you have to use special cables or if your sound set is using a different input design than fr/fl, rr/rl, center/sub, r/l.
the AlienFX lighting is a nice add-on, especially when you use this for alerts or different light setups depending on applications/games. but overall, the light experience is too weak, the alien skulls are ok but not outrageous, the case light is by far too weak and the bay light suffers from a strong rgb separation at the top and illuminating a green housing with something different than white or green doesn’t make much sense anyway. the illumination of the frontside sockets lights back into the case, which distorts the inner case lighting once more.
software: i went for the vista home premium because alienware wants to charge you additional 80 euros if you want xp on the system. beside this, directx10 may become more and more used for games in the future and especially for gaming, i don’t care that much about the system as long as it is not too different in terms of performance. so the rig comes with everything related to vista plus some additional software like powerdvd (with multichannel support), nero plus lightscripe application. additional, the AlienFX lighting application which refuses to work suddenly which requires a turn-off reboot or it doesn’t start up at all, causing vista to show usb mal-function messages, which requires a turn-off reboot as well.
i bought an Alienware usb stick as well, 4gb for 40 euros. the stick is¬†fast, about 5-6 mb/s for writing and up to 20 mb/s for reading. even the rally stick (not rally2)isn’t that much¬†faster.
additional, the package included a mouse pad, rigid style but very nice surface, a alienware basecap, which i would call cheap in quality and a small ‚filofax‘-style handbook and a few cd’s/dvd with drivers and system restore.
if the system is worth the money is quite hard to judge and it’s up to you if you want to spend about 1300 euros for this configuration. my impression is that you will get a similar system for maybe 200-300 euro less if you go to build it yourself but i’m not an expert, i see myself as an user. 4 weeks of delivery time is definitely too much, especially when the delivery date was promised 2 weeks earlier during the ordering process. the flaws with the initation of the system are not nice as well as the heavy and oversized case. would i buy it again? i’m not sure but in terms of being not really satisfied with the overall alienware service i think the next system will be a homebuild system again. but i think i can use the current rig for the next years when i want to keep track with graphic cards or by placing in some additional memory. not sure if i can exchange the cpu but someone with more knowledge will tell me this when the time is right.

review: need for speed carbon collectors edition

Montag, November 20th, 2006

beside gtr and gtr2 i am always attracted by other so called racing games as well. so i have played several ¬Ďneed for speed¬í games (starting with the very first demo of nfs), especially the underground series (i really like those ¬Ďfast¬ín’furious¬í cars), i spent a lot of my time on forza motorsport and i am really a fan of the burnout series. since i have to life in two flats due my job i was missing my x-box over the week and i had no chance to play my racing games. the release of ¬Ďneed for speed carbon¬í was a chance to change this. to empty my pockets completely i went for the collectors edition which comes with some additional cars, tracks, whatsoever and a dvd with the trailer, short clips about tracks and cars, some material about the production of the game and some audio/visual mixes. i haven¬ít checked the whole dvd since i was more keen on testing the game. the installation was kind of flawless but very slow. i am not sure if it is really necessary to copy 5 gb on the harddisc because the game-dvd is always required to start the game and even from the harddisc most of the videos are very shaky. load time is ok, would be a little bit slower from dvd maybe but copying of 5gb takes some time as well. nethertheless, the installation is necessary just once, so no more complaining about it (there are just 3 or 4 different pics during installation, played in a loop¬Ö.)
the game:
the overall impression is stylish, even if i don’t know for what are all the x’s stand. the introduction is quite nice and the first look and feel is like nfsu2. welcome back i thought. after some minutes of video i came to the main screen and this screen unleashed my repressed memories about nsf most wanted. the navigation is simply horrible. a fluid handling of the game is neither with a controller nor with mouse and keyboard possible. i can imagine that this is a little bit easier on a console with a standard controller but not on a pc with a steering wheel. to have a mouse/trackball AND a keyboard in range is absolutely required and this mixture of wheel/mouse/keyboard is comparable with a flight simulator and not with an arcade racing game. the good thing, maybe based on the 5 gb on my harddisc, is the load time, this is at an acceptable level and does not interrupt the game play.
graphics:
this is always a difficult part. playing games on the old xbox changes the sense for graphics a lot. the limitation of memory makes xbox games always a little bit wahsy but i tend to like this look more than the super sharp 3d look of most pc games. so my expectation was not really disappointed and tuning some options within the game gave me an acceptable level of details and sharpness even the textures are still not razerblade sharp. the level of details in geometry is quite nice and really enough for a fast pace racing game. the mood is great and some parts of the city reminds me of nfsu2 or older nfs parts. there are better games in term of graphics available but this wasn’t my requirement. the cars are well designed and with lot’s of details. the effects on the car are sometimes a little bit strange and the reflection of lights are more like jumping white dots which can be a little bit irritating (reflection update rate at high). what i don’t understand, and with this i mean this is more than inacceptable, is the lack of wide-sreen support. what the bloody hell is going on here? didn’t recognize ea that wide-screens are some kind of common? every damn old console games (from ea as well) comes with wide-screen support. do they want to force me to buy console stuff instead of pc-games? i really like console gaming and beside gtr and gtr2, nfsc is the only racing game i bought for pc the last 5 years (i am still playing q3 and q4 on pc but that’s another story) i think buying pc games from ea is indeed a worst idea. fortunately, there is a workaround for this. the widescreen patcher for nfsu2 works for nfsc as well. but to get this you have to crack the game (remove cd protection) and then you can patch your own resolution into the game. from a buyers point of view, this is really a hit in the face.
sound:
the soundtrack i’ve heard so far is not bad and better than nfsu2. the style for the import racers is more like pumping trance/dance music, very electronic and fits well to the game and the cars. if you go for a muscle or exotic car, the soundtrack is different. unfortunately, the whole soundtrack is much shorter than for nsfu or nfsu2. the first thing i really miss, like the wide-screen support, is 5.1 sound. coming from the xbox were this is some kind of standard this is quite inacceptable for me as well. just a cheap surround effect kills a lot of the feeling of being inside a car. the engine sound is kind of thin and not as impressive as you expect it from a tuned car with custom exhaust system. the overall effects are not bad at all, the response of the engine, shifts, environment, opponents/crew and the tires are quite well sampled and far away from synthesized sounds. after playing the game for some hours, the tire squeak is a little bit anyoing, every steering action is followed by the squeak which is a little bit too much.
cars:
i¬ím just jumped in and so i wasn¬ít able to check all the cars and possibilities of modifications. but what i¬íve seen so far doesn¬ít look bad. the cars are detailed, the mods are wide spreaded and the autosculp feature is a nice way to modify (or to spoil) the cars. quite funny to customize customized parts as usuall, tons of vynils, logos, colors, wings, rims, exhausts and so on. the sounds are different for the cars and the handling as well. it is also nice to have the categories of muscles, imports and exotic (european) models, this provides enough material for every mood and everybody. what i dislike is the limitation to tuning parts by progress steps. even with the start capital of 15000 $ it is not possible to spend all the money at once at the car because most of the parts are looked. so you have to drive around with a ¬Ďclose to stock¬í car for the first races and this is a little bit stupid for this budget.
tracks:
the mixture of tracks is nice and also the different locations are well designed. some parts of the city and it¬ís surrounding are taken from former parts of nfs but i am happy to see this. i feel kind of familar driving around in the different territories and it is far away from being repeating or boring. the canyon parts are very close to fast¬ín’furious tokyo drift so if you like the movie, especially the last race, you will enjoy those tracks.
story:
even if the story is as usual quite linear and given, it is a nice plot and to have some buddies on the streets eliminates this one-against-all feeling. the different types of racing require different setups and sometimes different cars and so you will get the chance to build up different cars not just for the sake of it.
conclusion:
at this point of progress i have done so far, the game provides what i was looking for. it is good for short races, it is good for tuning and styling and there is enough room to spend some hours on it without getting bored. the lag of the suv¬ís is not really a problem, i was never really enjoying the races with the suv¬ís in nfsu2. what i really miss are the tuner shops and painters in free roam modus. you have to do all the tuning, modification and painting in your own garage. so roaming around is not as funny as in nfsu2 were i was often just driving through the city to get a special part in a shop or for repainting my car. coming home was ¬Ďundergroundish¬í as well, now you just have to get close to the save house and that¬ís all. the races are very obviously placed on the streets, so no hidden races anymore. the opponents are a little bit better than on other parts of the nfs-serie and especially the canyon races are challenging due the breakable barriers and guiderails. i can not say if they are fair and i haven¬ít tested if the crew is usefull or not. my 2 cents, nfsu2 was cooler than carbon for me and i will try to get a used version somewhere which doesn¬ít mean that nfsc is crap.

gtr2 – second impression

Dienstag, Oktober 10th, 2006

the game:
the intro is nice, good music, nice line. the menu is the same like in the demo version, which is not a surprise but i still dislike it. the setup of the game works like a charm, lots of different settings for graphics, audio, controller and realism. nice to see that depending on the difficulty (arcade, semi, sim) some of the aids are disabled by default.
the tracks:
well, the game covers the fia gt tracks only, means, only tracks on which a fia gt race took place in 2004/2005 are included in the game. as an european, it is a pity that the vln long distance series is not included. this means no Nordschleife for example. the other tracks are not bad but i found a major disbalance for the frame rate for different tracks. this depends mostly on the scenery. if you are running a system which is a little bit ¬Ďon the edge¬í you have to change the graphic settings for each track and this is quite anoying. the details of the tracks are fine and especially with the new lighting system it is really impressive to watch races on certain tracks. for driving, it is very helpfull for finding brake points and turn in points, especially if it is not daytime.
the sound:
the sound is not very different to the first version of GTR. still no 5.1, still a little bit flat and liveless and i miss the incar feeling. compared to other sims like nascar, where you can feel the brutality of the engine, GTR2 is not really a reference. and i want to hear the engine where it is, means, for a mid engine or rear engine, the sound has to be placed in the back not in the front. and i also miss the sound of the tires, it is so great in richard burns rallye if you can hear which of the tires are scrubbing.
the cars:
the anouncement of 140 cars is a little bit strange, since there are less cars, just different skins. if you start a race with 60 cars (like spa) then you’ll get the warning that not enough cars available (red number close to the slider) even if i understand the concept of the different skins (driver, season, event) i don’t understand the promotion of 140 cars. the good think, or better, the very good point is, all cars are not encrypted. even if i dislike to mod or to change everything nor i want to drive a 1000 horsepower car, this is really a good decision to put the files non crypted on the disc. this will make things a lot easier (vln series, other privateer cars etc) and it gave me the possibility to add my modified exige to GTR2 as well. due the different seasons and cars, new tires are available, so i have to go for my tire test again ;). the quality of the cars is great, even at low detail and low textures, they look brilliant, especially in dusk or dawn.
the performance:
as i have said above, the performance depends on the track. the overall performance is much better than GTR. on my sony vaio 2 GHz, 2 GB, Ati 700, Soundblaster Audigy PCMCIA the game is running at about 30 fps without many hacks on graphics. if i go back to directx7 shaders (or no shaders i would say, it looks quite close to GTR then) i get 60 fps easily, even with 60 cars on the track and full scene antialiasing. rain is really demanding and also with full shadows at high quality i got frame drops to 10 on spa or other complex tracks. rain is good to handle without fsaa, which is not really necessary due the fog. the shadow problem (if you want to call it like this) can be fixed by decreasing quality and setting it to medium. but the shadow issue hardly depends on the track, a complex pit building cuts off about 30 fps easily while a flat track like china is no problem at all. motec eats up to 10 fps as well and like in GTR, outside the cockpit, the frame rate is much better and more consistent. overall, it is acceptable and still driveable on low spec systems if you can life with less details on cars and tracks.
the realism:
this is the most important part of a simulation, isn’t it? i’ve already tested the conversion of the Nordschleife from GTL and brakesmann has released a kind of official version for GTR2, so no editing and renaming necessary. now, with the final release of GTR2 i am able to use my former exige. so i can compare GTR and GTR2 side by side with the same car on the same track.
my first impression was – easy. my second impression was – more like a real car, and my third impression – great. GTR was often some kind of too predictable, means, i know befor a curve this will be a disaster because there was often no chance to catch a spinning car. from real life i know that there is a border on which everything is lost but in GTR this border is reached earlier than in real life due the handling of the cars. in GTR2 i think this border is set properly and, and this is a very good thing, the cars are able to slide more than in GTR. so if you throw a car into a bend and you know you are a way off the line for the current speed, you will be able to force the car into a more sideway motion and with some luck, this will rescue the situation. i do not talk about ¬Ďneed for speed underground¬í drifting, i just talk about exceeding the tire grip a little bit without loosing the car completely. especially on tracks like Nordschleife, where you have a lot of places where you can not look ¬Ďaround¬í the corner it is quite important to have at least a chance to avoid crahses initiated by spinning cars or whatsoever, especially for 24 hours races.
to test the physics a little bit in depth, i took my exige and went out for a couple of laps on Nordschleife. with a base setup (short gears, too much rear wing, wrong caster) i was able to drive a 7:55, which is not bad for this car. after getting my old settings from GTR i was able to get a 7:44. this is about 9 seconds faster than my best time in GTR. my first idea was, more grip on the track. so i went to motec and compared speeds and g-forces at certain sections of the track. surprisely, they are quite close together, so it is not only related to the grip of the track. so i started to dig a little bit deeper and i found that i was braking a little bit later and i was accelerating a little bit earlier than in GTR. i have no idea what is the major reason for this but i would say it is a better ¬Ďfeeling¬í. handling the car on the edge seems a little bit easier than in GTR and i¬íve got the impression that the force feedback is different to GTR (i have modified the force feedback settings to get rid of this raddling feedback, maybe i have spoiled the feedback in GTR). i will spend some more time on this issue to get the reason for this improvement.
the analysis:
for me as a statistican, it is very important to analyse my driving. GTR2 requires the new Motec version I2. At a first look, this version looks very different to the well known Motec Interpreter. But at a second look, the new version is more flexible and provides better output. Handling multiple graphs, adding and removing channels, everything works like a charm, there are lots of detailed settings like filter, scale and color. handling different sessions is as easy as eating icecream, so jumping between different runs is very handy. a major improvement is the new selection of channels. the tire temperatures for example, this provides a great opportunity to adjust the caster settings in a more sophisticated manner than in GTR. what i miss is the brake temperature, especially for cars with non-motec displays or with the small motec display (there is no brake nor tire temp available while driving). to find the optimal brake cooling setting is more a shot in the dark.
overall:
GTR2 is definitely a great sequel to GTR. if you are into sim racing and if you like to get a complete package of gt racing, this is your choice. it is not without minor problems and bugs but it is a good game with lots of features like full seasons, driving school and time attack. hardcore sim freaks may not enjoy every option but i think this game offers a lot of different features to fullfil a wide spectrum of needs without the need to use every option. the non encrypted files offers great opportunity for modders or for people who wants to ¬Ďadjust¬í some parts. if you are a pure mod freak then maybe r-factor would be a better choice.

gtr2 – first impression

Dienstag, August 1st, 2006

the first impression is, this will be a damn nice game! even if i dislike the new interfaces, the whole interface looks clear, modern and some kind of logical. it is quite hard to tell because a lot of the functions are useless at the moment because there are no tracks nor cars to choose from but the way i have to select which mode i want and which kind of assistance is a little bit hidden but i guess, this has to be done just once. the garage is more scattered than in gtr 1, i really feel a little bit unconfortable with it. configuration of graphics and realism is great, a lot more things to adjust than in gtr 1 and so it is really easy to finetune the game to the current hardware. the ingame graphic is great, even on low spec systems. up to direct x 9 shaders are available and so it is possible to create a really nice looking environment. everything looks great, even on low or med settings, the lighting is one of the best additions overall
the sound is in my oppinion just a disappointment. still no 5.1 support, the whole environment sounds still too synthetic. i am really begging for engine sound on the right place (not in front of me if i drive a rear engine car) and it would be more than great to hear which wheel starts to scream under braking. it is also hard to hear where are the opponents actually. let’s hope there will be an improve until the full version.
simulation – that¬ís a tough part. my first impression was, closer to reality than gtr1. i never got it why a car with just 30-50 km/h will start to spin if i wave the steering wheel a little bit. i have never ever experienced just a behavior in real life. the next thing i really hate on gtr 1 is, if you know the next curve will be far away from being perfect, the situation was quite lost. there was no chance to ¬Ďtrick¬í the car around the curve because the car spun or refused to react to steering. with gtr 2 this has changed. you have more opportunity to rescue the situation, even a small drift is possible without loosing the car. compared to real life, this is much closer to reality than gtr 1. i don¬ít talk about that the simulation is easier now, driving very fast is still as hard as it was in gtr 1. but especially under changing conditions or during light contacts to opponents, the chance to handle the situation is much better now. the next improvement is the tire model. the difference between cold, warm and hot tires is more tangible now and i am really looking forward to the final release with full live track technology to check the difference between being on the line or being off the line.
force feedback Рi didn’t recognize any major difference to gtr 1 with my logitech momo racing. still this kinda anoying swaying feedback on straights, raddling and hard one direction force while standing in the box but nice and precise feedback in curves.
performance Рas stated above, the range of hardware which is capable to handle gtr 2 is much wider than for gtr 1. i have tested the demo on my vaio 2 ghz/2 gb notebook with an ati x700/256mb (direct x 8 shaders) and it runs fine. depending on the shader level i get up to 60 fps (limited by the display) on 1280×768 widescreen. even with all settings set to max i can play the game with 25-30 fps (cockpit view). keeping in mind that the game looks much better than gtr 1 this is quite qreat. but no apple without a worm, the performance with rain or with headlights is very weak and inconstant with this demo, let’s hope for some improvements in this part for the final version.
motec – the good news, it is still there, the bad news, it still eats up as much cpu power as gtr 1 already did. no whining about that, just to mention it.
3rd party stuff Рi’ve just tried the conversion of the nordschleife for gtl and despite some small issues, this track runs fine. the look is great, much more life due the lighting system and better orientation for braking and turn in/out. i really beg for a nordschleife version with life track.