When Ageia announced the PhysX card last year, it was greeted with joy from some parts of the world and derision from others. Would a hardware component dedicated to running physics revolutionise the way games were played, as the graphics card did, or would it prove to be just something else that could break a computer?
Developed to showcase what exactly the Ageia PhysX card can do, CellFactor began as a tech demo. Holding the full title of CellFactor: Combat Training, it was released in May 2006 and had only one level, which existed just to show off the PPU's capabilities.
It was the subject of much controversy when game tweakers found that, although the game claimed that a PhysX card was required to run the demo, it was in fact possible to run the game on a normal system without it. It meant gamers had to do without the cloth simulations, but the game could mostly run fine.
Now that demo, expanded a little and re-released, is freely available again, this time under the new name of CellFactor: Revolution. Join us as we head back into the PhysX world and examine just what Ageia's PhysX card can do now.
We downloaded CellFactor and tried to run it on a PhysX-lacking system first of all. We'd heard that two maps of the five-level game, which offers Bot matches and LAN gaming only, don't require a PhysX card to run and we wanted to test them out first of all.
It didn't go so well.
On our usual gaming rig, which uses 2GB of RAM and an ATI Radeon X1900 XTX, the game wouldn't even boot up and just hung at a mauve-blue screen for about ten minutes before we gave up and went to onto something else for a bit.
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We came back and installed a BFG Tech PhysX card into the system, which was easily done as the card just plugs in to a free PCI slot. Starting the game up this time worked a treat and within moments we were staring at the ugliest, greyest main menu ever - the type of thing that looks cheap in a B-movie.
Now, we're fairly proud of our gaming PC and it generally handles everything we throw at it. So, obviously the next thing was to bump the settings up to maximum. Looking at the graphics setting provides two choices: HDR on/off and Per-pixel motion blur on/off. The latter has 'NOT RECOMMENDED' stamped across it, but we flicked it on anyway because, though it's a hard job, someone has to do it.
We briefed ourselves with the rather cheap training videos and then launched into the game. It took a while to load, and when we got in we had to choose a class first; Guardian (weapons specialist), Bishop (flying physics queen) and Black-ops (pansy that can't choose between the two and uses a bit of both).
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We went with the Bishop first of all and leapt in. Immediately our hopes fell as the per-pixel motion blur and HDR slowed even our mighty machine to a crawl, choking and faltering at around 5 FPS. We switched off the motion blur and tried again, but there wasn't much improvement. We had to settle for the bog standard and we weren't happy.
Running without the extras the game still didn't perform well for us. The game interface and controls felt awkward and clumsy, but since the game is essentially a revised tech demo we were willing to look past these at first. Unfortunately the framerate still struggled to break out of the teens.