Resident Evil 7: Beginning Hour

Resident Evil isn’t a game I ever paid much attention to. It seemed neat, but I just never had access to it as a kid. For whatever reason, I was really excited to try the demo at PAX this year, but it was by appointment only and it was always booked up for the whole day. The last day of PAX my friend and I decided to get there well before doors opened to try to secure our spot. 4 minutes after the doors opened we finally got to the booth, only to be told that all the appointments had been filled and we would have to wait in the stand-by line, hoping for no-shows.

Needless to say, I didn’t stick around.

Since then I hadn’t given the game much thought outside of the occasional promotional video, but when I saw the demo listed on my Xbox One dashboard I was really interested to see if it was, indeed, a scary game.

The answer is yes, yes it is scary. Penny Arcade coined the term “fear shitting”, which I would also use to describe this game (though they were playing using PSVR). It’s not something I want to explain too much because it really deserves to be experienced with no preconceptions and no biases. It’s truly an amazing experience with lots of replay value.

That said, if you really don’t want to play it yourself, here’s a playthough of the game with no unnecessary items collected or rooms explored with the ‘bad ending’. This way you can experience what the game is like without ruining the exploration and puzzle-solving elements.

If you’ve already played through the game and discovered the various endings, here’s a speed run where I complete the game and achieve the ‘true ending’ in only three minutes. As an added bonus I even talk you through it while I play!

Anyway, RE7 looks to be a great game and I’ll definitely be doing a let’s play series when it comes out in the beginning of next year.

Drift King: Shutoku Battle ’97 Review

Holy shit, I was so hyped to play this game when I first saw it. Sega Saturn, Genki, Keiichi Tsuchiya, freeway racing; a perfect storm of nostalgia that I had to have.

This game does a lot of things right. The opening intro is clip after clip of Tsuchiya drifting with hair metal blasting in the background. The car selection, while initially small, is on point. Blasting through the highways of Tokyo? Awesome! Until you realize how much faster your opponent is, that traffic is actually out to kill you, and your car seems to drive exactly the same regardless of how many upgrades you buy. Welcome to Shutoku Battle ’97.

That’s a lot to take in all at once, so I’ll break it down. The graphics are pretty good with some nice touches here and there, like pseudo-dynamic time-of-day changes and your dash lighting up when you drive through a dark tunnel. The controls take a while to get used to, but once you master the “drift” button and learn to throttle the gas to adjust your angle and grip, the game plays like a dream. The Saturn version of the game has a different soundtrack than its Playstation counterpart and it suffers because of it. The Playstation version gets full redbook audio while the Saturn version is limited to synthesised audio. The difference is pretty severe and takes the soundtrack down from “badass” to “completely forgettable”.

Unfortunately, the negativity doesn’t stop there. Because this game takes place on public highways there will, of course, be traffic. In titles like Wangan Midnight: Maximum Tune the traffic largely stays in it’s lane, moving over when it’s reasonable to do so. Here, the buses, cars, and semi-trucks all change lanes just as you’re coming up behind them. These same vehicles will do this on two-lane roads to create rolling barriers that will keep ramming into you until you slow down enough to drive around them. Then, they’ll swerve back into their original lane to bash into you all over again.

With the excellent controls, impressive visuals, and wonderful aesthetic you might be willing to look past the weak music selection and insane traffic to enjoy this otherwise great game. Until you get about a third of the way through the campaign and the rival cars completely outclass you. It’s not like “Oh, the enemies are harder now, I guess I need to try harder”. More like “Holy shit, after the first lap he’s already 30 seconds per lap faster than me”, which is a lot when each lap is only a minute and a half. You can upgrade your car, and even switch to a more powerful car and upgrade that one, but with how expensive upgrades are compared to how little you make after each loss you’re essentially going to spend hours and hours losing with the hopes of maybe, eventually being as fast in a straight-line before getting killed by a bus.

The game shows a lot of promise, and some of these issues may have been fixed in the Playstation release. Unfortunately, I don’t have that version, so I’m stuck with a semi-playable disappointment.

An Unlikely Friendship – AMD A8 and nVidia GTX

A while back I built a system for streaming; something inexpensive, portable, and powerful enough to record and stream multiple video inputs. I settled on an AMD A8-7650K. The price, performance, and beefed up integrated graphics proved to be an excellent combination. While building the water cooling system in my main rig my GTX 970 was laying around as well as my GTX 460. So naturally I did the unreasonable and compared the performance of the integrated Radeon R7 to a dedicated solution. But is it really all that unreasonable? The R7 proves to be an inexpensive platform for “console quality” but ideally a budget-based build leaves room to upgrade, so let’s see what happens when you do.

The system is composed of the afore-mentioned AMD A8-7650K APU overclocked from 3.4 GHz to 3.8 GHz in an MSI A68HM Grenade motherboard with 2x 4 GB sticks of Corsair DDR3 memory at 2188 MHz. Storage is a pair of Western Digital 750 GB Green hard drives in RAID 0. Power is courtesy of a 750 watt Corsair power supply. All of this is housed in an Antec P50 micro-ATX case which is badly in need of exhaust fans. During testing the stock APU cooler spins to defining levels despite the dual intake fans spinning at their maximum speed. The side panel was removed to exhaust hot air and keep the system ironically quieter.

For this round of tests the 460 will represent the “hand-me-down” video card you might get for free from a friend who’s upgrading their system. The 970 represents the “tax return” video card. Between these two cards we should be able to make reasonable estimates for how other cards, like a 780, might perform in a system like this.

The first test is 3D Mark’s Sky Diver test; a light snack for modern GPUs but provides a good baseline for integrated graphics and older video hardware. Unsurprisingly the integrated Radeon R7 was slaughtered in any test that woke up the GPU. Physics scores, which are CPU dependent, stayed the same across each test.

3D Mark's Sky Diver benchmark
3D Mark’s Sky Diver benchmark

Similar results can be seen while running the standard Fire Strike test.

3D Mark's Fire Strike benchmark
3D Mark’s Fire Strike benchmark

It should be worth noting that Fire Strike Extreme and Fire Strike Ultra can’t run, or shouldn’t, run on the integrated R7 or the GTX 460 due to both processing and VRAM limitations. Only the GTX 970 was able to run these tests. With each level of Fire Strike the graphics scores dropped quickly but the physics scores remained stable. Since only larger textures and resolutions are being used it makes sense that the physics scores wouldn’t change.

3D Mark's Fire Strike benchmark with the EVGA GTX 970 SC
3D Mark’s Fire Strike benchmark with the EVGA GTX 970 SC

Synthetic benchmarks only tell half the story, though. To get the other half let’s see what Lara Croft has to say about each of our GPU solutions.

Average framerates in Tomb Raider's benchmark tool
Average framerates in Tomb Raider’s benchmark tool

720p should be considered the default resolution for the integrated R7. If your computer spends its days plugged into a TV like this one does you’ll be hard pressed to notice any difference between 720 and 1080p. The game looks beautiful at normal settings and plays very well, even during scenes with explosions and collapsing caves. If you want to play with enhanced details or resolution you’ll need to add a dedicated GPU.

Average framerates in Tomb Raider's benchmark tool
Average framerates in Tomb Raider’s benchmark tool

That said, if you need 1080p resolutions the R7 may not be the best an option, depending on how demanding the game is. This is where the dedicated GPU solutions really shine.

Average framerates in Tomb Raider's benchmark tool. 1440 @ 2xSSAA, 4K with no AA.
Average framerates in Tomb Raider’s benchmark tool. 1440 @ 2xSSAA, 4K with no AA.

And of course, when you toss in your “tax return” card, you can start playing at 1440 and 4K resolutions, even on a 1080p display. By enabling nVidia’s Dynamic Super Resolution (DSR) your video card will render video at a higher resolution than your display, then downscale it to match your display’s resolution. The idea is that you get smoother, finer detail in things like hair, grass, object edges, etc. During my testing I lowered the anti-aliasing down to 2xSSAA on all of my tests and removed it entirely for the 4K tests.

So what’s the takeaway from all these charts and figures? The A8’s integrated R7 GPU does an adequate job at lower resolutions but is unlikely going to be a replacement for an Xbox One or Playstation 4. If you already own one and want to turn it into a medium-duty gaming rig a dedicated GPU will do the job just fine but you may still be limited by the raw processing power of the A8 APU.

GTX 560 Ti SLi vs GTX 970 SC

970

The comparison no one asked for but here it is. I’ve always been fascinated by nVidia’s SLi technology, shotgunning multiple videocards to multiply graphics performance. Of course, it’s not a perfect technology. You’ll see the same or better performance investing the same money into a single better graphics card, performance doesn’t scale 1:1, and the difference between minimum and average frame rate typically grows as you add cards (citation). So why do it? For me, I was adding a second card after I had owned the first one for a while. Prices dropped and and it became reasonable to invest a few extra dollars to increase my system’s performance. Later I was simply given two identical cards that were a whole generation newer, so I had no real reason to run a single card. Now that I’ve been gifted a GTX 970 SC it’s time to compare multiple older cards to a single current one.

The system the cards are being tested in consists of a water-cooled AMD FX-8350 overclocked to 4.415 GHz, 16 GB of DDR3 at 2427.9 MHz, and an ASUS M5A99X-EVO motherboard packed inside an NXZT H440 case with stock cooling. The dual GTX 560 Ti cards are from Palit (I hadn’t heard of them either) while the GTX 970 SC is from EVGA.

First up is the most standard test, 3D Mark Firestrike. Thanks to consistent settings across all systems this is the most reliable test for comparing performance, though it’s arguably not “real-world” performance. The highest score I was able to manage utilizing the dual GTX 560 Ti configuration was 5332. With the single GTX 970 SC my score jumped 62.9% to 8685. While this is a pretty huge jump I wasn’t completely satisfied since my score was still slightly below the “Oculus Rift spec” of 9271. To combat this I moved the card up to the top PCI-e slot, figuring the lower slots might be limited to x8 speed. Moving the card up brought my Firestrike score up to 8854. This could be because of the added bandwidth afforded by the x16 slot or it could be the result of, well, any number of things. I didn’t move the card down to see if that brought the scores back down, but it was at least an interesting change.

Next was the 3D Mark Sky Diver test. I scored 16,082 with the dual 560s and 24,612 with the single 970; a gain of 53%. It makes sense that the jump here wouldn’t be as big as we saw with Firestrike since it’s using older rendering technology and throwing memory and DirectX 12 support at it doesn’t really help here.

3D Mark, 2x GTX 560 Ti vs GTX 970 SC.
3D Mark, 2x GTX 560 Ti vs GTX 970 SC.

The most impressive by far test was Tomb Raider. Using the default settings on “ultra”, a resolution of 1680×1050 @ 120 Hz and V-sync off I got a minimum frame rate of 90, maximum of 140, and an average of 116.4 frames per second. With the new setup those figures increased to 130.1, 198, and 165.7 frames per second for a gain of 44.6%, 41.4%, and 42.4% respectively. That in itself isn’t impressive but when I changed the settings to “ultimate” (identical to “ultra” but enables TressFX for rendering hair as strands rather than a single mass) the frame rates fell through the floor on the old setup. Minimum, maximum, and average frame rates were 3.6, 35, and 13. The minimum frame rate was under four frames per second and the average a meager 13. With the new system we saw a minimum of 82, maximum of 132, and an average of 107.9 frames per second. That equates to a gain of 2,177.8%, 277.1%, and 730%.

Min, max, and avg. frame rates in Tomb Raider.
Min, max, and avg. frame rates in Tomb Raider.

One benchmark came back with kind of the opposite result of Tomb Raider. Cinebench’s OpenGL test came back with 89.57 points with the 560s and 82.32 points with the 970, a gain of only 3.1%. I also ran the CPU test, just for giggles, and that resulted in a gain of 4.7%. Initially I thought that maybe the test only ran on the CPU using software but the reporting in Cinebench also tells you what GPU is being used so I’ll have to investigate.

Going back to trying to match or surpass the Oculus Rift spec score, when I ran Firestrike Extreme and Firestrike Ultra (neither of which could run on the 560s due to only having 1 GB of memory) I somehow got better results. In Extreme I beat the Oculus Rift score 5,136 to 4,926, and in Ultra I beat it 2,746 to 2,596. Other users are supposedly getting over 10,000 points in the standard Firestrike test using the same CPU and similar GPUs so I think there’s still some work to do.

Another observation, outside of performance, is noise. My 560s and my 460s before that both started to sound like aircraft taking off when they started to sweat, even after cleaning and reapplying thermal compound. I’ve supposedly thrown some pretty demanding processes at this new 970 and it never seems to break a sweat. In fact I can never tell if the fans are even spinning (which they don’t at idle). After running a benchmark the temperature drops from an already-cool low-70s to low 50s within seconds. I’m honestly baffled at how this is even possible but I’m not complaining; I’m just not sure if the 970 is even being taxed at this point.

Conclusion: Shockingly, a single modern, high-end video card is better than two old ones taped together.