Halo: Combat Evolved

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Halo: Combat Evolved

NVIDIA GeForceFX 5700 Ultra Review - Graphics Cards  71 Halo: Combat Evolved

I’ve always enjoyed Halo on the XBox. My brother-in-law occasionally has a LAN party where we have 12 people on 4 XBox’s and we’d have a day running over each other in Warthogs on Blood Gulch and sniping heads in Boarding Action. Halo for the PC is finally here and I guess we now know how people with Macs feel being forced to wait while people on a different platform have their fun. 🙂

For those who know me on the forum, I’ve been pimping the frenetic pace of Halo CTF for a long time and how “vee-hick-kles” like the Puma Warthog add a whole new dimension (never bothered getting BF1942, sorry! :). I must say, Halo PC is well worth the wait and I think the guys and gals over at GearBox feel like the weight of the world has been lifted off their shoulders. However, with the game released, we quickly heard about performance issues even from people with very powerful machines with top-end cards! I dug into this game and played through the first 5 chapters looking for the most taxing environment.

Situation 1 – Truth & Reconciliation: High Details

In the first few chapters, I found two spots that made the test system crawl: the stairwell in the Pillar of Autumn (Chapter 1), and in the storage bay on the Truth and Reconciliation (Chapter 3). In many ways, these two situations are very similar:

  1. Large quantity of enemies attacking (not just standing there)
  2. Large multiple floors viewable from the player’s location
  3. Large amount of bump-mapped surfaces

This test was done on the Truth & Reconciliation in the above mentioned storage bay. I have chosen a situation that’s tough on the video subsystem on purpose so we can see how bad the hardware performs. So rest assured that the rest of the game should be much better (as we will see in our 3rd situation test).

Game Configuration
Screen Resolution 1024×768
Difficulty Heroic
Shader Version v2.0 (forced through the -use20 switch)
VSynch OFF
Specular Effects ON
Shadows ON
Decals ON
Particles High
Textures High
Anti-aliasing Since Halo does not support anti-aliasing, we don’t have any of those tests here. Instead we can only adjust anisotropic filtering.

 

NVIDIA GeForceFX 5700 Ultra Review - Graphics Cards  72

Min and Max Frame Rates
FX5700U
FX5600U
Softmod R9500
R9500
Min
Max
Min
Max
Min
Max
Min
Max
1024×768

0xAF

9
29
6
10
10
28
5
15

8xAF

7
14
4
14
8
27
3
10

The FX5700 Ultra does pretty well if you can use the word “well” to describe the numbers we see above. 9-14 FPS is not what I consider playable on the FX5700U (duh!), and none of the other cards produced anything playable either. No wonder people are complaining about poor performance in Halo. On a XP 3200+ with 512MB of DDR4000 RAM, it’s obvious to me that this game was NOT designed to run ay 1024×768 with all the details especially with slow-downs like this.

However, this type of frame rate is not typical. The next two situations will show you what happens when you start disabling features and when you play on a level that is more typical. So rest assured, not all hope is lost. 🙂

Situation 2 – Truth & Reconciliation: Feature Tests

For this test, I disabled all the features and then played the same room used in the previous situation. Then one by one, I enable only one feature to see what effect it has on performance (i.e. the performance cost of having Effect X enabled). Then for the last test (Test #7), we enable everything except Specular to see how well things run without the most costly feature.

Game Configuration
Screen Resolution 1024×768
Difficulty Heroic
Shader Version v2.0 (forced through the -use20 switch)
VSynch OFF
Test 1 – Everything OFF All effects LOW or OFF if available.
Test 2 – Specular Specular ON, rest LOW or OFF if available.
Test 3 – Shadows Shadows ON, rest LOW or OFF if available.
Test 4 – Decals Decals ON, rest LOW or OFF if available.
Test 5 – Particles Particles HIGH, rest LOW or OFF if available.
Test 6 – Textures Textures HIGH, rest LOW or OFF if available.
Test 7 – No Specular All effects ON or HIGH, Specular OFF

NVIDIA GeForceFX 5700 Ultra Review - Graphics Cards  73

Min and Max Frame Rates
FX5700U
FX5600U
Softmod R9500
R9500
Min
Max
Min
Max
Min
Max
Min
Max
Test 1 – Everything OFF
17
31
9
23
21
40
9
25
Test 2 – Specular
7
29
6
9
10

30

7
15
Test 3 – Shadows
16
41
11
23
20
42
10
19
Test 4 – Decals
16
32
10
20
21
45
10
26
Test 5 – Particles
14
48
9
16
18
54
8
28
Test 6 – Textures
17
36
9
21
19
56
10
27
Test 7 – No Specular
14
41
8
21
15
35
8
29

These numbers are a bit more reasonable. From what we can see, Specular effects have the biggest penalty in performance, and all other options seem to have a very minor effect overall. The FX5700 Ultra starts off strong with 25 FPS which is still playable, but when Specular is turned on, performance drops drastically. In Test 7, we see that the frame rate dips below 20FPS which is too slow. Luckily, situations like this are rare in Halo.

Ch. 4 The Silent Cartographer: Specular Effects Test

Seeing how Specular effects has the greatest effect on performance, we will do another test using it ON and OFF on a more “typical” situation. Here I have chosen a room in the 4th Chapter “The Silent Cartographer” just after the “Shafted” checkpoint. The room has a number of enemies (6+ Grunts, 2 Elites, and 2 Jackals) in a room with two floors. Unlike the room in the previous situation, this room is a little smaller and has less bump-mapping which is more typical of Halo single-player and multiplayer maps.

NVIDIA GeForceFX 5700 Ultra Review - Graphics Cards  74

As you can see from these results, there’s a huge performance increase when Specular effects is turned off. The FX5700 Ultra had a huge 10 FPS increase in performance which makes a big difference in the smoothness and the playability of the game. It looks like the FX5700 Ultra is best with Specular turned off. Though I know some of you would love to have this turned on, this card just doesn’t seem to have enough muscle to do that.

General Halo Performance Tips

Having played this game for a while and tested cards on it, I have figured out some “good” settings to try to boost performance.

  • Turn Specular effects OFF. As cool as it looks, the performance penalty is too high. Even if you disable all other features and just have Specular, it’s still too slow. So just turn that off and turn on everything else to the Max.
  • Play at 1024×768. I know we PC people are spoiled with 1600×1200 gaming, but Halo was simply not designed to play at high res.
  • Disable Anti-aliasing. Halo doesn’t support anti-aliasing, so turn it off in your driver! If you have it enabled, you will have a severe performance hit. Strangely enough, an warning dialog pops up when playing with an NVIDIA card, but none for ATI.
  • Never disable particle effects. Disabling this feature makes plasma grenades harder to see and you unable to see explosions. It’s really odd seeing a grenade explode without any fire and enemies falling to the ground for no reason. If you’re playing multiplayer, you want this on as you want to see which direction explosions are coming from.
  • Update to patch v1.2.

Lastly, as a general playing tip: “…watch out for the shadows. They move .. when you are not looking at them.” – J. Sinclair 😉

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