Reviews

  1. Battlefield 1 May Update " Patch Notes "




    BATTLEFIELD 1 MAY UPDATE [BF1]
    " EA DICE " has released the patch notes for today’s Battlefield 1 update. This update is around 1.5 GB in size and should be available on all platforms.

    Battlefield 1’s latest patch update also includes the following set of fixes and change for the game, as revealed by EA DICE




    OPERATIONS

    We’ve received a lot of feedback from gamers regarding matchmaking into Operations servers, and we’ve made some adjustments – the first of many – to help mitigate getting matched to an empty server.
    With this change, a completed match of Operations will loop back to the same Operation rather than exiting the mode. However, you’ll be on the opposite side of the battlefield. For example, if you started as the French Army in the first Operation, you’ll be on the German side when it loops back after the “End of Operation” screen.
    By remaining on the same server with other players, instead of returning to the globe screen, we believe this will reduce the occurrence of being matched into an empty server. In the coming updates, we plan to continue to expand this feature to cycle through a complete Operation playlist.







    PREMIUM FRIENDS We’ve tested Premium Friends twice in the last couple of months, and we’re bringing it back again. It will be active as we lead up to EA PLAY.







    MAP & MODES



    • Fixed a Spectator Mode bug where the first-person camera could become stuck during the Pigeon Carrier Artillery camera sequence on the Assault Tank.
    • Changed ticket count for Domination to 200 from 100.
    • Fixed missing game mode description for Operations.
    • Tweaked scoring values for capturing flags in Conquest. Capturing gives less score now, however more capture ticks have been added and the team controlling more than 3 flags than the other team will be awarded Conquest Control bonuses.
    • Decreased the percentage of contribution to flag capture/neutralize from 50% to 30%.
    • Added “Join Any Operation” button to main Operations screen. Will start a matchmaking session to join any available operation at any size (40 or 64).
    • Spectator camera no longer missing from the map on Frontlines, Verdun, and Soissons.











    VEHICLES



    • Tweaked self-repair for A7V, FT17, St. Chamond, and Pierce Arrow.
    • Reduced health gained per self-repair cycle from 320 to 200.
    • Reduced time taken to complete a self-repair cycle from 8s to 5s.
    • o This makes these vehicles' self-repair equivalent to the self-repair of the MkV Landship.
    • Doubled the health of Field Gun and Stationary AA. Made Field Gun and Stationary AA repairable. Field Gun and Stationary AA will now enter a disabled state at 50% health where they become unusable. To use the weapons again they must be repaired back to 100% with the repair tool.
    • Increased time that the shell camera is active on the MkV mortar landship from 3.5s to 4.5s. This better suits the increased flight time of the new heavy shell.
    • Changed how max range for AA is applied. Max range now varies depending on the pitch of the gun. Shells can travel a maximum horizontal distance of 300m, and a maximum vertical distance of 450m. This applies to both the stationary AA and the AA truck. Previously AA shells timed out at the same max distance from the gun regardless of direction, resulting in a roughly spherical volume covered by the gun. This means horizontal range was as large as the max height the shells could reach, and that at very high altitudes the AA could cover very little area, even if its range was technically large. The new AA shells will have slightly less horizontal range than before at low altitudes, but they will retain that range all the way to the flight ceiling. This will make AA much more effective against high altitude aircraft without making it able to reach distant, low flying ones as well.
    • Extended Fighter and Attack Plane elevator flap scaling curves to better cover the entire speed range.
    • Reduced cooldown of speed boost ability from 30s to 15s for both the Dogfighter and Airship Buster Attack Plane.
    • Set up rear view on all planes: Albatros, Fokker, Spad, Sopwith, Rumpler, Halberstadt, Salmson, Bristol, Gotha, Caproni. To activate: Hold freelook while in third person to use rear view.




    Attack Plane Changes:




    • Retuned attack plane elevator flap scaling curve. Attack Plane turning will now be much closer to that of Fighters, but still slightly worse.




    Improved Underused Attack Plane Variants:




    • Increased damage of the Airship Buster variant's primary MG from 32 to 40. This puts its AA DPS on par with Fighter MGs.
    • With its speed boost active, the new flap scaling curves will allow this variant to achieve a higher turn rate than the Fighter for a short time. The reduced cooldown on speed boost will allow this advantage to be used more often.
    • Together these changes should make the Airship Buster more competitive with Fighters in its air to air role.
    • Increased velocity of tank hunter 37mm from 222m/s to 267m/s and reduced drag from 0.005 to 0.003. These changes should make the 37mm slightly easier to land hits with, especially against moving or distant targets.












    Changes to Fighter plane variants: Dogfighter




    • Added new secondary weapon, Incendiary Ammo. Incendiary Ammo does greatly increased damage to plane parts, allowing the dogfighter to quickly cripple an enemy plane by breaking a wing.
    • Changed active ability from emergency repair to speed boost.




    Bomber Killer




    • Changed active ability from speed boost to emergency repair.




    Swapping speed boost and emergency repair on the Dogfighter and Bomber Killer should help both variants in their respective roles. Speed boost gives the Dogfighter a maneuverability edge over the other Fighter variants, and emergency repair gives the Bomber Killer a better chance of surviving tail gun fire from Bombers and Attack Planes.
    Increased field gun damage against light vehicles. Armored cars will no longer take less damage than light tanks from field gun hits.







    Changes to FT Packages



    • Close Support Tank:




    o Increased 37mm HE ammo from 4 to 5.
    o Replaced Secondary Case shell with Coaxial LMG. These changes should help this tank better fulfill its general purpose role.




    • Flanker Tank:




    o Increased reload time on the autocannon from 2.5s to 3.75s.
    o Increased HE autocannon direct damage from 15-10.5 to 17.5-12.5.
    o This results in a 20% reduction in cannon uptime. The direct damage increase will offset the lower uptime against vehicles when targeting vehicles. These changes should make the Flanker slightly less effective against infantry.




    • Howitzer Tank:




    o Corrected primary weapon to HMG as shown in customization, this was actually LMG. The more powerful HMG should help offset its limited firing arc when compared to the Coaxial LMG of the Close Support Variant.
    o Changed driver secondary weapon from case shell to flamethrower on the A7V Flame Tank Variant. This change will reinforce this variant's role as a close range tank.
    o Added third person freelook to the FT Howitzer Variant. Missed this one with the other tanks because the normal version has a turret that can rotate 360 anyway.





    • Added rear firing Tankgewehr as driver secondary weapon for the Tank Hunter Landship Variant.
    • Enabled driving and third person camera while using driver rear guns in the Squad Support and Tank Hunter Landships.
    • Improved MkV Mortar Landship Variant Changed secondary mortar shell from airburst mortar to heavy mortar. Heavy mortar does much more damage and is effective against both infantry and vehicles, but has a much longer reload.
    • Replaced alternate smoke and gas mortar shells with track repair and vehicle smoke equipment. These changes should make the mortar Landship more viable as a combat vehicle, rather than sitting in mortar stance in the backline.
    • Fixed a bug with third person aiming on vehicles that caused a bullet to not fire in the correct direction when aiming at a soldiers head while they are on a horse.




    WEAPONS & GADGETS





    • Changes to bayonet charge:




    o Activated aiming speed modifier during prepare state as well as charge state. This means a player can rotate a maximum of 50 degrees during the prepare state. Also added an input modifier disabling strafe while charging.
    o Adding subtle boost to third person footsteps when bayonet charging to increase threat awareness. Boosted volume of Enemy VO for Bayonet Charge when close to player.
    o Slightly reduced maximum turn rate while charging.
    o Removed damage reduction while in charge. Weapons will now hit charging players for normal damage.




    • Fixed bug where Bipod Audio could persist when switching to secondary weapon.
    • Tweaked criteria for cross-class medal to require single shot rifles.
    • Added UI for grenade resupply.
    • Reduced the occluder size for the scope glint from 0.25m to 0.15m to hide it behind walls better.




    GAMEPLAY





    • Added a camera shake advanced gameplay option to adjust the amount of camera shake caused by explosions, etc.
    • Added missing spotting animation when spotting a downed allied soldier as a medic with the Medical Syringe.
    • Automatically show low on ammo icons on friendly soldiers.




    CONTROLS





    • Players using controllers can now do custom button/stick mappings.
    • Fixed “Select Operation” button not properly appearing when using the joypad or on console.




    UI





    • Moved ping widget to be below the kill log.
    • Fixed an issue in the squad select screen where no squad would be automatically selected for player not part of a squad. The first squad in the list will now be selected by default. Also added support on PC for pressing the space bar to join/leave a squad.
    • Fixed issue with the flag icons and world icons ghosting when going in and out of the customize screen from the deploy screen.
    • Added ability to disable UGC




    NETCODE





    • Implemented per region threshold settings for server side hit detection: 160ms for US + Europe, 200ms elsewhere.
    • Fixed server side hit registration interpolation.
    • Leading shot only necessary by the margin above the threshold, e.g. For US @ 180ms ping, you have to lead by 20ms.
    • Fixed latency display for server which is also responsible for decision if to perform client or server side hit registration.
    • Fixed input offsets for server side hit registration to match client side.
    • Fixed wrong hit indicator display when dying.



  2. Grand Theft Auto 5 PC Review

    There are times when I look at Los Santos and think 'why would you even think to build that?' This is, appropriately, a thought that I often have about Los Angeles. In GTA 5's case, the tone is different: baffled wonderment as opposed to baffled, y'know, despair. Rockstar have created one of the most extraordinary game environments you will ever visit. I look at it and I wonder at the vast expense of effort required to render every trash bag in every back alley just so. I marvel at the care evident in San Andreas' gorgeous sunsets, in the way that sunglasses subtly alter the colour balance of the world, in the artfully-chosen selection of licensed music designed to accompany your experience. Everything about Los Santos demonstrates the extraordinary amount of thought and love poured into it by hundreds of developers over many years. The abiding irony of Grand Theft Auto 5 is that everybody who actually lives in Los Santos hates it there.


    This is the most beautiful, expansive and generous GTA game and also, by some distance, the nastiest and most nihilistic. Rockstar went through a phase, in Bully, Grand Theft Auto IV and the sadly console-bound Red Dead Redemption, of framing their protagonists as anti-heroes. GTA 4's Niko Bellic did some terrible things, but he had a downtrodden charm that helped you like him as you piloted him through the underworld. He was surrounded by people who were larger-than-life but ultimately, beneath the surface, people. Among those people were some of Rockstar's better female characters—Kate McReary, Mallorie Bardas, The Lost and Damned's Ash Butler.




    Grand Theft Auto 5 does away with all of that, deliberately but to its detriment. Its trio of protagonists occupy a city full of vapid, two-dimensional caricatures, and they flirt with that boundary themselves. Michael is a middle-aged former bankrobber, unhappily married and on the edge of a breakdown. Franklin is a young hood, purportedly principled but willing to do almost anything for money. Trevor is a desert-dwelling, meth-dealing psychopath with a homebrew morality that sits uneasily alongside his capacity for violent cruelty and sexual aggression. The campaign explores their relationship through a series of heists and misadventures as they clash with every L.A. stereotype you might imagine—the bored Beverly Hills housewife, the corrupt fed, the bottom-rung fraudster, the smug technology exec, and so on.


    Against this backdrop, it's only Michael, Franklin and Trevor that appear to have any kind of internal life. I get the impression that this is deliberate, part of the game's relentless skewering of southern California and indicative of Rockstar's waning interest in romantic anti-heroes. Trevor's introduction, in particular, amounts to a particularly explicit 'fuck you' to the characters and themes of Grand Theft Auto IV. GTA 5 is heartless in that way, and as a result I found the narrative difficult to care about. It is ambitious, well-performed, and the production values are extraordinary—but it is also derivative and brutishly adolescent, set in a world where the line between criminality and the rule of law is blurry but where it is always hilarious that somebody might be gay.




    It's an R-rated episode of The A-Team where the 'A' stands for 'asshole'. The campaign's best moments come when your cigar-chomping master strategist, insane former military pilot and talented driver come together, and when you're given the power to choose how to use each of them. These heists are set-piece missions where you pick an approach and perform set-up tasks in the open world before setting out on the job itself. In the best of them, which occur later in the campaign, it really does evoke the satisfaction of having a plan come together. Perhaps you position Trevor on the high-ground with a rocket launcher, Michael on foot with a stealth approach, and Franklin in an armoured ram-raider. With a button press you can flick between the three, dynamically orchestrating a crime caper on your own terms.


    It is also in these moments that Rockstar's most ambitious storytelling takes place. Your choice of character, crew, and even certain in-game actions have subtle effects on the dialogue. In an early heist, a crewmember dropped part of the score but, as Franklin, I was able to retrieve it—a side-objective that I'd set for myself but that was subsequently reflected in a later conversation between him and Michael. This is another example of Rockstar's extraordinary attention to detail, and if the rest of the campaign respected your agency in this way it might overcome its weaker moments.




    As it is this is a very long game with a lot of filler. There's much driving from A to B, a lot of conversations in cars, a lot of gunfights with hordes of goons who show up just to run into your gunsights over and over. It's far richer in set-piece moments than its predecessor—drug trips, aerial heists, dramatic chases—and many of these look incredible even if they're light on actual interaction. In the best examples, you soak in the atmosphere and happily ignore the fact that you're only really being asked to follow the on-screen instructions. In the worst examples—insta-fail stealth sequences, sniper missions and so on—it's harder to ignore the shackles that are placed on the player in order to preserve the game's cinematic look and feel.

    I spent a lot of my time with the campaign frustrated along these lines, bored of the same mission templates that I've been playing through since GTA III and making the most of the scant opportunities to play my own way, like Franklin's refreshingly open assassination missions. Then, inevitably, I'd be doing one of those rote activities—a heavily scripted freeway chase, perhaps—when the magic of that extraordinary world would creep up on me again. It'd hit me: I'm doing 150 km/h along the Pacific Coast Highway at sunset. The rock station is playing 30 Days In The Hole by Humble Pie. It feels incredible, a collision of pop-culture, atmosphere, music and play that is unique to GTA.





    Performance and settings

    Reviewed on Intel i5 760, 8Gb RAM, 4Gb GPU
    Graphics options DirectX version, screen type (including fullscreen windowed), VSync, camera settings for first person, third person and vehicles, population density and variety, distance scaling, texture quality, shader quality, shadow quality, reflection quality, water, particles and grass quality, post FX, motion blur, depth of field, anisotropic filtering, ambient occlusion, tessellation.
    Anti-aliasing FXAA, MSAA, NVidia TXAA, Reflection MSAA
    Remappable controls Yes
    Gamepad support Yes

    Grand Theft Auto 5 ran at 50-60 fps on a midrange rig with most settings on normal or high. On a slightly better system, running a GTX 970, a mixture of very high and ultra settings could be used without framerate loss. I encountered a fair number of texture errors in multiplayer, however, and many players have reported frequent crashes.



    Here, then, is the kicker: that forty-plus hour campaign with all of its flaws amounts to an optional fraction of the vast overall package. Step off the main trail and you'll find fully-functional golf, tennis, races—even a stock market. You'll find cinemas showing funny short films and fully-programmed TV stations. You'll find armoured trucks to rob, secrets to find, muggers to help or hinder, cults to encounter, vehicles to customise and collect. This is what it looks like when one of gaming's most profitable enterprises reinvests that profit into the game itself. Rockstar have, quite literally, gone above and beyond the Call of Duty.


    The amount of work invested into the first-person mode is further evidence of this. It's not just a novelty alternative: GTA 5 is a fully-playable FPS, complete with detailed animations for everything from gunplay to getting out your phone. It achieves a similar sense of physical presence to Alien: Isolation, but in a vast open world. Steal an open-top car and go for a cruise in first person, steal a plane, or just go for a walk at night in the rain: there has never been an open-world game that offers this great a variety of atmospheric experiences at this level of detail. Hell, few games of any type have managed it. The only downside is that it's much more difficult to play, and that falling off a bike is so well-realised that it feels like really falling off a bike—people who get motion-sick in first person may suffer.




    Did I mention that GTA 5 was also a cinematography tool? Unique to the PC version, Director Mode allows you to explore the open world as any character you want, in whatever circumstances you want, and then record, cut and remix those experiences into short films using a deep and accessible toolkit. As crude and exclusionary as the out-of-the-box campaign can be, the option to take this world and make something else out of it is always there, available whether you're knee-deep in the narrative or cruising south Los Santos with a dozen friends.


    Right, yeah: GTA 5 is also an ambitious online game, a sandbox for deathmatch, racing and inventive co-op with MMO-lite progression features set in a world that is an order of magnitude more detailed than any of its contemporaries. The traditional multiplayer options alone amount to a feature-complete additional game. You can build your own tracks for races or use one of Rockstar's own, and configure your lobbies to account for different times of day, vehicle sets, weapon options—even radio stations. I've raced sportscars through the financial district, jetplanes through a windfarm, bicycles down through the hills below the Vinewood sign. There's also an attack-and-defend siege mode, regular deathmatch, and a hide-and-seek scenario that pits on-foot fugitives against hunters with sawn-off shotguns on motorcycles.




    Freeroam is the glue that binds these various experiences together, offering GTA 5's full open world (albeit with a reduced pedestrian count) for up to 32 players. You can rob stores together, murder each other, set bounties on each other, even pay to send mercenaries after one another when you reach the right level. Your progression is expressed through your expanding selection of customisable weapons, the vehicles you claim and make your own, the apartments you buy where your friends can hang out to drink your booze and watch your TV. As elsewhere, it's the details that make it: on the TV, for example, you can watch police chases live. These aren't pre-recorded shows—you're watching footage of actual players, actually on the run, presented from the point of view of a news chopper complete with Fox News-parodying ticker.


    These strengths culminate in heists, multi-part co-op missions similar in structure to their singleplayer counterparts. I've always loved asymmetric co-op, particularly the way that interdependency within a team creates moments where you get to shine both as individuals and as a unit. Heists are fantastic for this. I've had missions where my only job was to wait in a helicopter to pick up the ground team, but it feels amazing: I'm nervous for them, focused on what I'm doing, waiting for that one moment where I bring her in low and sweep them away with the score—a payout that feels earned in a way that videogame rewards rarely do.




    Two major caveats hold me back from saying that GTA Online is good enough to justify your purchase on its own: co-op is rubbish with strangers and it's littered with bugs and connection issues. Reviewing the game on a midrange rig, the singleplayer mode was relatively stable. Online, I've had the world load without textures, crash outright, and every variant on lag, matchmaking bugs and disconnections. I understand that it's nowhere near as bad as it was when it launched on console, but it could be much better.


    GTA 5 as a whole survives these problems because it is such a reliable generator of moments that transcend the script, the bugs, and its sometimes-galling linearity. This is particularly true of multiplayer, where the presence of other people injects energy and meaning into the open world. I've got as many examples of this as I have had play sessions, but here's one: having spent a chunk of my ill-gotten heist cash on a high-speed motorcycle, I break into the airport to see if I can reach top speed on those wide, flat runways. It's rainy and overcast, the rest of Los Santos lost in thick fog. I reach the chainlink fence at the edge of the tarmac and turn, and there, right in front of me, is an eminently-stealable private plane.




    I hop in and take off with no greater plan than 'get into some trouble'. Ahead, on the map, I can see another player in a helicopter. I give chase, which takes us across the map and into the wilds of Mount Chiliad. Then, from a gully on the mountainside, a tracking rocket explodes upwards and blasts the helicopter and its pilot out of the air. There's another group of players up there, making their own fun, taking pot-shots at anyone unlucky enough to wander past. I buzz them, close, dipping down into the gully and over a ridge to avoid missile lock. On my second pass, they hit me. Smoke and flame pours from my engine and the prop slowly dies. I lower the landing gear, point my nose down the mountain, and attempt to glide her down to the freeway. It works. I feel no small amount of pride as I touch down in heavy traffic. Slipping from the cockpit, I cast about for something to do next. Then I am hit by a truck and die.


    This isn't something I can repeat and it relies in no way on cinematic motion capture or cynical dialogue. It's an experience that stands alone, happily gamey, a moment immune to the cultural critique you might apply elsewhere. Moments like this are what push Grand Theft Auto 5 over the threshold from 'impressive' and into 'essential'. Like the city it both loves and hates, there are rough parts of town and people who will piss you off—but there's also the beach, the country, the skyline, the way the lights of the city play off the surface of the road in the rain. It's these ever present things that remind you why so many people might choose to spend so much time in this place. Rockstar did not need to build something this absurdly complex, this quixotic in its attention to detail, but I am glad that they did.
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  3. Unturned review [Early Access]








    Early Access reviews offer our preliminary verdicts on in-development games. We may follow up this unscored review with a final, scored review in the future.


    Unturned is a DayZ-style survival sim with a Minecraft-inspired art style. I don't blame you if you've already tuned out. PC is awash with DayZ and Minecraft clones. But Unturned is notable in that it's currently the fourth most-played game on Steam, beating Football Manager, Skyrim, and Garry's Mod by many thousands of players— and it was developed by a sixteen year-old. It's an amazing story—the kind only possible on PC—but is the game itself actually any good?

    You can play it for free, but with the option to pay $5 to access 'gold' servers, which grant you double XP, 'boosted loot drops', and other benefits. So it's possible to play the game without spending a penny, but the business model is clear—get players hooked on the F2P version and they'll eventually reach for their wallets. Free-to-play developers are starting so young these days.


    The survival elements are what you might expect from a game with DayZ's blood running through its veins: hunger, stamina, and so on. But, unlike Bohemia's game, you don't spend half your time running through the wilderness, only to find a rotten banana. Loot in Unturned is much easier to find, and it was only minutes into my first life that I found a rifle. If you never had the patience for DayZ's drip-feed of rewards, this might appeal, but it does make stumbling across a firearm feel less special.





    The Minecraftian landscape is chunky and colorful, scattered with towns, military bases, and even a golf course. Here you'll find loot and, naturally, zombies. Hey, this is an indie survival game after all. They're fast and vicious, and it's easy to get overwhelmed by them. But once you've found a weapon, and built yourself a base by harvesting raw materials in the world, you'll last longer and fight harder. It's a structure you'll have experienced in a dozen survival games before, but it works.


    You can play solo, but the game feels tailor-made for multiplayer. A large number of servers already exist—you can find a list here —although there's no in-game browser yet. Teaming up with friends to battle the hordes and build bases undeniably enhances the experience, although hackers have, predictably, targeted many servers. Developer Nelson Sexton is combating these with frequent updates, as well as fleshing out the core survival and building mechanics.
    There's no getting around the game's low production values. I mean, a teenager made it in his bedroom, so that's to be expected. You'll have to decide whether you can endure its lo-fi look and feel. If you can, you'll find a game with an impressive amount of features, including driveable vehicles and crafting, but also one that is completely derivative. Everything in Unturned has been done before, and better. But for the competitive price of nothing at all , it's worth a look. If it gets its claws in you might end up handing over that $5, but for now my wallet is remaining firmly in my back pocket.

    Verdict

    Unturned has few real ideas of its own, but is a simple, accessible survival simulator. If you can stomach the low production values, you might find something to love around its rough edges.

    Outlook

    The runaway success of the game means Sexton will no doubt be updating it frequently. If enough people pay for the gold upgrade, expect more elaborate new features to be added.

    Details

    Version reviewed 2.1.3
    Reviewed on i5-3570K 3.40GHz, 16GB RAM, GFX 570

    Recommended 2GHz CPU, 2GB RAM, 1GB GPU
    Price Free
    Publisher Nelson Sexton
    Developer Nelson Sexton
    Multiplayer Online
    Link Steam
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  4. NVIDIA Maxwell GPU GeForce GTX 980 Video Card Review

    NVIDIA Maxwell GPU GeForce GTX 980 Video Card Review

    NVIDIA launches its newest Maxwell GPU. There will be two new GPUs, the GeForce GTX 980 and GeForce GTX 970. These next generation GPUs usher in new features and performance that move the gaming industry forward. We discuss new features, architecture, and evaluate the gameplay performance against the competition.

    Big Max


    The "Big" Maxwell is here! Well..."the "bigger" Maxwell is here," would be more accurate. The much anticipated next generation GPU from NVIDIA is ready for prime time. We've actually seen a hint of what NVIDIA had in store for us with the release of the GeForce GTX 750 Ti back in February of this year. The GeForce GTX 750 Ti was actually the first next generation Maxwell chip release from NVIDIA.

    One of the key features of the GeForce GTX 750 Ti is its tremendous power savings and efficiency over previous generation GPUs at the price point of ~$149. We've evaluated several GeForce GTX 750 Ti's and have raved about the power efficiency which leads to smaller cards, less extreme cooling mechanisms required, and less power requirements. While GeForce GTX 750 Ti was just a hint at what was to come, NVIDIA now has the bigger, enthusiast level Maxwell ready to go now. If you are not familiar with the GTX 750 Ti video cards, we have reviews here, here, and here from various board builders.

    What you are going to find as we explore Big Maxwell, also known as GM204, is that Maxwell is more about feature additions, rather than revolutionary architecture changes. If you were hoping this included Project Denver with ARM cores and 3D memory cell stacking, this is not that. This however is an evolutionary advancement over Kepler that leads to a faster architecture that is more power efficient. Maxwell has more features that will hopefully push the next generation of games forward in 3D technology. NVIDIA's goal for Maxwell is: "Best gaming experience, regardless of what PC they have."

    We will start first by going over the new additional features, as this will be the most important to get across what Maxwell offers. Then we will look at the architecture, which has some specific advancements that are important to how this GPU improves performance, with less memory bandwidth and CUDA cores. Then we will look specifically at the GeForce GTX 980 and GeForce GTX 970 and finally our complete evaluation of gaming performance.


    GTX 980 & GTX 970 Pricing and Availability


    First, what is being released? Maxwell will be released in two GPU variants currently; the GeForce GTX 980 with an MSRP of $549 and the GeForce GTX 970 with an MSRP of $329.

    This is a hard launch, though you will probably find more GeForce GTX 970 cards at launch than 980 cards while Add-in-Board manufacturers ramp up 980 cards in the next few weeks. NVIDIA is also moving the MSRP of the GeForce GTX 760 down to $219. As of writing this we can already find GTX 760 cards for ~$230 after MIR.

    In addition to the movement in price for the GTX 760, NVIDIA has explained to us that the GeForce GTX 780 Ti, GeForce GTX 780, and GeForce GTX 770 are going discontinued as of this launch.




    Dynamic Super Resolution aka DSR




    Let's start with features that will improve your gameplay experience. The first new feature, exclusive to GeForce GTX 980 and 970 is called Dynamic Super Resolution aka, "DSR." This idea is not new, but the implementation and ability to have it work on "all" of your game is new.

    The premise is that you run your game at a higher resolution than your display supports, and downscale the image to your display size. There are a handful of games that support this feature as part of the game's graphics option, one of those is Battlefield 4. We have evaluated the Resolution Scale feature in that game previously.

    With NVIDIA's DSR this is going to work in every game, even if the game has no such option built in. Game developers will have to do nothing to support this. The feature will be enabled in GeForce Experience software with the "Optimal" settings if you apply the profiles to your games in GFE. If you don't wish to use DSR, naturally you do not have to, and you can even enable the feature globally in NV Control panel with a slider to scale up the resolution in multiples.

    We sat down with NVIDIA to make sure DSR was an optional setting that if a user did not want to use, they do not have to. NVIDIA assured us user control and customizability is not going away. If you wish to disable DSR, you can do that. Naturally, if you do not install the GeForce Experience software in the first place, it will not apply any profiles to your games to change the settings. If you don't install the GFE software, you can still use NV Control panel to enable the feature globally, or per game.

    DSR will need to be enabled either through the GFE software or the NV Control Panel as there are no in-game options to do this currently.




    So What Does DSR Actually Do?


    Let's say you have a 1080p display, with DSR you can actually run your game at 4K resolution (3840x2160) and the DSR NVIDIA filter downsamples the image to your display size/resolution. In addition to the downsample filter, there is also a 13-Tap Gaussian blur added. So what does that get you? That gets you improved sharpness and improved sample grids that provide better resolution and image quality on things such as alpha textures and transparencies, to name the most noticeable benefit.

    In the screenshots above notice that in the 1080p screenshot the grass is very jagged, with lots of aliasing. In fact, the blades of grass don't even form a coherent line because the resolution is so "low." If you look across the top edge of the grass you will surely notice the grassy dots sticking up in the air. In the second screenshot you can see that 3840x2160 DSR enabled at 1080p display size has enough resolution to reduce the aliasing on the grass and make it look much more realistic. If this all sounds familiar to you, that is because it is. Supersampling AA does the same thing, it scales up resolution and scales it back, full-scene. This is another way to achieve the same effect, full-scene, with potentially less impact on performance. The result again is a sharper image, and less aliasing.

    This is an image quality feature that is going to improve your gameplay experience, especially on older games, or games that lack sufficient AA settings. Older games that perform very well have the performance headroom to be scaled up to higher resolutions. However, if you don't have a 4K display then you are stuck at your native resolution in these games. Well, with DSR you aren't stuck, you can run that game at 4K on your 1080p display and benefit with improved image quality on those older games, or games that lack AA options to improve IQ.

    Naturally, newer games that are already demanding at 1080p or 1440p are going to be even more demanding at 4K, and so a different form of AA may be preferred. The beauty of DSR is that it can run on any game with user control, and no developer involvement. We look forward to testing this feature, which we will do in a separate article. Right now we lack the technology on the desktop to do simple screen grabs that capture the way DSR enabled games actually look on our desktop screens. We expect to have a solution to show the benefits of this shortly.

    continued...

    Multi-Pixel Programmable Sampling





    Multi-Pixel Programmable Sampling, or MFAA is a new form of Anti-Aliasing that aims to improve image quality at a lesser performance cost. We've long heard about programmable sample patterns for AA. Now it seems this technology is finally being used in an innovative way to improve IQ and save performance. This technology is only supported in the GTX 980 and 970, however it is NOT ready at launch; support will come in a future driver update.

    MFAA's goal is simple; produce 4X MSAA image quality at the expensive and performance of 2X MSAA. It does this by sampling two positions in each pixel and rotating the sample grid to sample to more places in the same pixel. It then combines these with a filter and you have in essence a four square sampling pattern just like 4X MSAA, however it has only taken the power of 2X MSAA to do it since it is only taking two sample patterns. We took a look at this up closely in demos, and indeed 4X MSAA image quality is achieved, for only the cost of 2X MSAA. This also scales up, it can achieve 8X MSAA image quality for the performance of 4X MSAA.

    If you were to see this in motion, the sample grid is actually moving, changing sample patterns in real-time. It has the added benefit of providing image quality improvements on objects that you wouldn't necessarily think would receive image quality improvements with MSAA. For example, some alpha textures or transparencies can benefit from MFAA versus MSAA. We will have to take a closer look at that once the technology is ready.

    MFAA's implementation is not finalized yet, but again we discussed user control with NVIDIA and the goal is to retain user control over using MFAA or MSAA in your game as you want to. Right now, in its early iteration, 2X MSAA had to be set in the game, and then 4X MFAA enabled from GFE or NV Control Panel. Final implementation is not set yet. This technology has the potential to give you 4X and 8X MSAA at the cost of 2X and 4X MSAA respectively, which will allow you to raise your in-game settings and still have a high amount of AA sampling.




    DirectX 12




    There is no doubt about it, AMD's Mantle started the trend of efficient, better CPU utilization, lean, mean gaming APIs. Microsoft is coming up to bat now with DirectX 12. This is certainly going to help push gaming forward, and generate better next generation games. Before we get there though, DirectX 11 is not over and done with.

    DirectX 11.1 can be downloaded for Windows 7. However, for DirectX 11.2 the only way to get it is to install Windows 8.1 which does come with it. Well, we have learned this is not the last iteration of DX11, in fact there will be a DirectX 11.3 coming. It is unclear right now how that will be distributed, most likely only Windows 8.1 and up users will have access to it. Beyond DX 11.3 we have DirectX 12 to look forward to.



    DirectX 12 will introduce a new feature set level that requires hardware support of said features, if you want to use those features. Note there is a difference between supporting an API and being able to utilize that API and then being able to use the updated feature set capabilities of that API.

    DX12 contains a new 12_0 feature set level to be announced. New hardware is needed to use those new feature sets. Up until now, AMD's Hawaii (R9 290X/290) and Tonga (R9 285) have been the most advanced in terms of DirectX feature level support. Those GPUs fully support DirectX 11.2. Well, now it is time for GeForce GTX 980 and 970 to come along, and these are the first GPUs to support DirectX 11.3 and DirectX 12's new feature sets. DX12 has much better CPU thread balancing.

    We asked NVIDIA what feature set level is currently supported at launch, the response was: "As DX12 hasn’t been released yet, we’ll support every version of DirectX that’s currently available." GeForce GTX 980 and 970 have greatly improved over the last generation's maximum support of feature level 11_0.




    NVIDIA GameWorks




    We don't normally talk about NVIDIA's GameWorks initiative, which is a conglomeration of several goals to help game developers with performance and image quality on GeForce GPUs. GameWorks includes, as part of its suite of tools, many GPU technologies. We just wanted to put this slide up so that you can see some of the technologies that are coming to games in the future. This is important, and we will cover some of these games so it is important to know what graphics features these have. GameWorks includes such things as Turbulence, WaveWorks, HairWorks (which will be in Far Cry 4), TXAA, HBAO+, FlameWorks, FaceWorks, and the new VXGI.

    In the second slide you can see a list of upcoming games and the GameWorks technologies being used in those games. We are going to be looking at some of these games in the future, Assassin's Creed: Unity, Batman: Arkham Knight, Far Cry 4, Project Cars, The Crew, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, all of these games use some new GameWorks technologies worth looking at.
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  5. ARK: Survival Evolved Early Access Review



    Jurassic ARK.

    by KgB y on August 4th, 2015

    Clan[HBS]'s early access reviews evaluate unfinished games that are nonetheless available for purchase by the public. While the games in question are not considered finished by their creators, you may still devote money, time, and bandwidth for the privilege of playing them before they are complete. The review below critiques a work in progress, and represents a snapshot of the game at the time of the review's publication.

    Like DayZ and H1Z1, ARK: Survival Evolved is another Early-Access survival game that has received an explosive amount of attention. But does it provide something different enough to warrant all the publicity? In short, no. You can collect materials, craft items, and tame dinosaurs, but many of those features are not exclusive to ARK, nor are they any better here. Serious functionality problems and lag exist, sapping enjoyment and crippling immersion. Still, it’s not completely awful. Given the chance, you can have a lot of fun, even if there are not many fresh ideas at this stage of development. The game can be entertaining at times and frustrating on occasion, but the evolution of survival it is not--at least not yet.



    Welcome to Jurassic Ark.When you first wake up on the mysterious island, the game’s primary drawback immediately becomes clear: performance. ARK has the trappings of many Early-Access games, but even with this caveat, it is incredibly sluggish and randomly glitchy. You may have to spend a lot of time in the graphics options menu clicking buttons and sliding bars until the frame rate becomes tolerable. Of course, this means you have to accept an uglier game to get better playability. This is what I had to do, so you’ll have to forgive some of my screenshots. I could only run the game in a blend of medium and low settings. On high settings, the game can actually be quite attractive, with lush, green jungles, roaring waterfalls, and stretching grasslands with flora swaying in the wind. It’s a shame to watch said flora blend into pixelated green blobs just a short distance away. Another major issue is server lag. Stuttering certainly occurs, but you have to enter a fight against a man or a beast to see it at its worst. In battles, players and creatures spring back and forth, to the point where any fight becomes a frustrating disarray of rubber-banding bodies.

    Entering the game, you settle down on the island, which is populated by your fellow players, dinosaurs, and other extinct monsters. Creating your character is the first step, and ARK gives you a choice between a male and a female form, with many additional options -- and I mean a lot of options -- for shape and size. The results are interesting to say the least. In my travels, I met grotesque mutants with giant heads and stubby arms as well as many other variations. It is amusing to see what others have come up with, but be prepared to encounter some nasty looking folks. You awake with little more than your underwear and a map that slowly fills in as you explore. On your HUD you’ll find indicators monitoring stamina, food, and hydration levels. Weather, such as fog, will creep through the island, and rain will shower down, further stymieing the frame rate. Similar to DayZ, the game also introduces status effects. Extreme cold can damage health, while heat has a strong effect on your hydration levels. Sprinting through a steamy jungle will often leave you searching for sources of water or otherwise reaching for your waterskin.




    Stay away from those horns!Crafting is fairly rudimentary if you’re familiar with survival games. You punch trees to acquire chunks of wood and pieces of thatch, and you can gather rocks scattered on beaches or jungle floors. These materials can be combined to create a rock pick-axe that can shatter boulders so you can obtain more materials, such as flint and chunks of metal. A metal, diamond-shaped implant on your left arm displays your inventory and menus for leveling up crafting; the latter features recipes, include instructions for tools, weapons, and parts to create structures. You can carve raw steaks from dinosaurs and dodos that you kill, and you can pick berries from bushes. However, the type of berries that could be harvested seemed random. There are multiple types of plants, but I couldn’t figure out whether one bush or another was more likely to give certain berries.

    Other than that oddity, as I began my journey into collecting various goods, everything appeared to be in order for a survival game -- save for one interesting surprise. As I was going about my business, I heard a gaseous rumble, and I was informed that I had defecated. I looked down and, sure enough, there it was. Huh, I thought, that is new. Naturally, the defecation has a purpose besides being instantly hilarious (I’ll grow up some day). You can use fecal matter that your character and animals expel as fertilizer to grow new plants for fiber and berries when you decide to create your own farm.

    Surviving on the island rewards you with experience points and more crafting options. As you level up, you can boost one of many attributes, ranging from health to stamina. Leveling up also grants you a small handful of points to spend on engrams, which unlock even more recipes and item tiers. Thatch structures make way for buildings crafted from wood, and the slingshot makes way for the bow, which you can eventually trade in for greater firepower, such as pistols and automatic weaponry. But there is a steep time investment to consider. You have to reach level 15 just to unlock a bow and arrows, and it took me around 10 hours to reach that rank. The time requirements also tie into a major criticism I have with the structures. Walls made from thatch and wood can easily be destroyed by anyone with a hatchet and a few minutes of time. You can eventually upgrade to powerful metal walls and doors, but I was nowhere near that point. Every time I logged back in, I found my character dead, my base ruined, and all my materials and food pilfered. It’s almost enough to make you defecate in fury.






    Unlock dinosaur dossiers to gain some history on the wildlife.ARK’s primary draw is the dinosaurs, large and small, that populate the island. But don’t expect the shock and splendor of Jurassic Park with large, migrating herds of brontosaurs or clever raptors surreptitiously assassinating any lost traveller who wanders too deep into the jungle. Instead, animals tend to stay where they spawn, meandering about without much purpose or urgency. On occasion, a meat-eater will attack a herbivore, but a battle of titans it is not. Utahraptors swarm their prey, nipping and slashing for several minutes, sometimes longer. It’s not an exciting event to watch whatsoever. The two sides slowly hack or bite, usually without moving locations or moving just a tiny bit, until eventually one side emerges victorious. A larger-scale battle between, say, a tyrannosaurus and a stegosaurus, is impressive only because of its size, not because of its content.

    Even facing most animals on your own is hardly risky. With many fights, if you can stay near the back end of a beast (or at least out of reach of its pointy bits), you can take it down with a steady stream of whacks using your stone hatchet. The exceptions here are the faster predators, but with the aforementioned lag issues, you can usually deal with them quickly by standing still and waiting until they bound into your vicinity. All this considered, we can conclude that at this stage, the most attractive aspect of the game (i.e., the creatures inhabiting the island) is also the most vapid--at least until you learn how to make some friends.



    Why walk when you can ride a utahraptor?You can tame dinosaurs, which can be used as pack mules or sometimes as mounts. I found this to be my favorite activity in the game because it gave me a goal and provided a welcome challenge to overcome, which I wasn’t getting running around picking berries and crafting huts that kept getting raided. Taming a dinosaur is relatively simple. The process involves rendering it unconscious, either by punching it, pelting it with rocks, or using a tranquilizer arrow, then earning its trust by feeding it the correct food according to the creature’s correct. diet--meat for the carnivores and berries for the herbivores. All the animals on the island have varying levels, and your tamed dinosaurs will level up, granting you the opportunity to increase their health and carrying capacity over time.
    But, with a dinosaur at your side, wouldn’t it be better to ride it? The answer is yes, always yes. As you level up, you unlock saddles you can strap on to various dinosaurs, ranging from the slow-moving phioma to the speedier utahraptor and even the flying pteranodon. The raptor tears across the land, leaping far distances and using its talons to rip enemies to shreds. ARK’s world begins to open up once you start riding dinosaurs. Without having to rely on your slow legs, traveling far distances becomes possible, and the joy associated with exploration soars.





    0008: Beams of light signify when a supply drop is about to touch down.The more you pry open the world, the more activities and enigmas you discover. Hidden caves, both on the surface and below the water, are scattered across the area, guarded by ferocious creatures. You can also find hints of mystery on the island. Three enormous obelisks, colored red, blue, and green, float lazily in the sky. The odd, alien structures could have something to do with the device imbedded in your arm and/or the random supply drops that appear and slowly fall from the sky in a beam of colored light. All of this suggests that some semblance of a crazy science experiment or “Hunger Games” plot is lurking just below the surface. You can also track down bosses to battle, such as the broodmother, a giant arachnid queen.

    In its current state, ARK: Survival Evolved doesn’t provide many surprises. It is unquestionably a survival game, complete with core gameplay and issues that have often defined its mates in the genre. But including the words “survival evolved” in its name makes you think it offers the next stage in what should be expected from the genre. ARK, however, doesn’t quite shake the foundations, notwithstanding the included thunder lizards. The developer promises more content, including procedurally generated environments, gas-powered vehicles, and a whole lot more. I want to remain optimistic because I did encounter moments of good fun in the game. The developer a year left until the game’s projected release, so if they can smooth out the rocky performance and add some fresh elements, ARK: Survival Evolved may eventually be something worth all the surrounding hype.

    What's There? A survival game with dinosaurs to tame, buildings and items to craft, and a load of performance issues that hamper the fun.
    What's to Come? More of everything, including weapons, animals, bosses, and biomes. The developer also promises better performance, and that the “game will sparkle like a shiny diamond before it is considered ready for Full Release.”
    What Does it Cost? $24.89, available via Steam.
    When Will it be Finished? Projected release date is June 2016.
    What's the Verdict? ARK: Survival Evolved is less of a step toward evolved survival as much as it is a shuffle. Still, there is entertainment to be found here, so long as you’re willing to invest the time and weather the performance issues and server lag.
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