Summary: With Enemy Territory: Quake Wars set to debut in a few weeks, we couldn't help but run performance numbers with the recently released demo. Inside we've got performance results with the latest high-end GPUs from AMD and NVIDIA. How well does id's MegaTexture technology work? And how do the cards perform with the game? Find out in this article!
This winter we’ll see the debut of a deluge of first-person shooters all competing for your attention. From Epic, there’s (supposedly) Unreal Tournament 3, while EA just released Medal of Honor: Airborne. Valve is putting the finishing touches on their Orange Box, which will include Half-Life 2: Episode Two, Team Fortress Two, and Portal, and Infinity Ward is wrapping up their work on Call of Duty 4. Gears of War and Blacksite: Area 51 are also primed for November debuts on the PC, but these games are more known on the Xbox 360 console and aren’t established franchises like the aforementioned titles. (Although I’m certainly looking forward to the debut of Gears on the PC, I’ve already played it on my 360 and I don’t think I’ll have time to play through it again on the PC – there are just too many games to choose from!)
And of course, there’s the game everyone has been waiting for. Crysis. We all know by now that Crysis will look beautiful, but the million dollar question is how will it play, and will the storyline be as good as it has been hyped up to be?
However, before those games ever see the light of day, we’ll see the debut of the latest chapter in the Enemy Territory franchise from Splash Damage and id: Enemy Territory: Quake Wars.
If you recall, the Enemy Territory franchise was launched unceremoniously over four years ago. Based on the Quake III Team Area engine, Enemy Territory was adored by the gaming press and end users alike. The game featured an innovative objective-based system where opposing teams didn’t compete to capture each other’s flag or simply hold a certain piece of land for a set amount of time; instead teams had objectives, like the Axis team collecting and loading shells so a huge gun could be fired at the Allied forces in the rail gun map. The game also had a skills system that rewarded players for things like soldiering, engineering (building bridges and other installations), or best medic. Enemy Territory was about more than just shooting, it had an additional layer of depth that made it a rewarding experience for traditional FPS gamers used to Quake and Unreal Tournament, as well as teamplay-oriented shooters like Tribes and Battlefield 1942. To simply call it a Battlefield clone was really doing it a disservice. On top of that, Enemy Territory was 100% free! It really was a sweet game the likes of which we’ll probably never see again unfortunately.
Now id and Splash Damage are back, with Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. As its name implies, the game is set in the Quake universe, with humans (known as the Global Defense Force, or GDF for short) taking on the Strogg. The game essentially takes all the key elements from Enemy Territory (classes, skills system, objectives, etc) and molds them from the WW2 theme of Enemy Territory to the sci-fi future of the Quake universe. The game continues to focus on multiplayer gameplay rather than single-player, and adds controllable vehicles and aircraft, features which weren’t found in the original Enemy Territory.
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars is based on id’s venerable Doom 3 game engine, with the addition of id’s MegaTexture technology. To make a long story short, id’s MegaTexture technology is designed to provide very large maps without having to reuse the same textures over and over again. Traditionally these textures would have to be loaded from memory (either onboard the GPU or system RAM) or even worse, off the hard drive. Instead with MegaTexture a single, extremely large 32K x 32K texture is used to handle the basic terrain, with texture management handled by a pixel shader program Carmack has developed. You can find a much more detailed discussion of id’s MegaTexture technology here on Gamer Within.
(Editor's Note: Keep in mind that tech like MegaTexture isn't unique to id or ET:QW. It is however important because this is the first id title to feature the technology. Crytek claims to use something similar for Crysis.)
ET: QW Performance
As any die hard gamer who is familiar with John Carmack’s game engines will tell you, id has developed a reputation for building engines that look awesome indoors, but don’t scale well from a performance perspective outdoors. Now whether or not this criticism is fair or not is something that we won’t delve into, but it is something that has followed id throughout the years, and try as they might to dissuade it with games like Team Arena it has followed them doggedly all the way up to today’s Doom 3 engine.
EVGA nForce 680i SLI motherboard
ASUS P5W DH Deluxe (for Radeon cards)
2GB Corsair TWIN2X2048-6400C4
ATI Radeon HD 2900 XT 512MB
Diamond Viper 2900 XT 1GB
ATI Radeon X1950 XTX
Catalyst 7.9 hotfix driver for ET:QW
NVIDIA GeForce 8800 Ultra
NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GTX
NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB
NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB
300GB Western Digital Caviar SE
Windows XP Professional w/Service Pack 2
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars demo
We’re testing the Enemy Territory: Quake Wars demo with the default map from the demo, Valley, which takes place in Yosemite, CA. The demo is quite intensive, as we’re attempting to protect the MCP from a pair of anti-vehicle turrents and one desecrator: at one point all three units are slamming the MCP with rockets! Our team’s tank is destroyed by the desecrator, then we return fire with a volley of rockets of our own…Needless to say, it’s pretty demanding on the graphics card, as units are exploding everywhere.
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars – OpenGL
As of right now, the GeForce 8800 cards easily pulled ahead of the Radeon HD 2900 XT in our testing with Quake Wars, but it clearly looks like the performance of the 2900 XT is being held up by the driver – the 2900 XT only runs about 20% faster than the X1950 XTX. The margin separating the two cards is much greater in Quake 4, which is also based on the Doom 3 engine. The GeForce 8800 GTX SLI setup is clearly CPU bound at 16x12 and 19x12, this is pretty impressive considering we’re running a Core 2 Extreme X6800. Meanwhile the stock GeForce 8800 Ultra runs anywhere from 4-8% faster than the 8800 GTX, while both GTS boards turn in similar performance numbers at all resolutions, including 2560x1600. Let’s see what happens to the GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB board though once AA is turned on.
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars – OpenGL
Even with 2xAA, the GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB manages to keep up with the 640MB card. Only at 2560x1600 did we note a real performance difference between the two cards, and even there it’s only 7%. Thanks to its faster memory, the GeForce 8800 Ultra opens its lead over the GTX from up to 8% at 2560x1600 to 10% while the GeForce 8800 GTX runs 26% faster than the GTS boards at 1920x1200. Looking at the SLI setups, the GeForce 8800 GTX SLI config is still CPU-bound at most resolutions even with 2xAA and a 2.93GHz Core 2 CPU. Meanwhile, the GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB SLI testbed was able to pull away from the 320MB SLI system.
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars – OpenGL
The GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB card continues to hang with the GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB at 1600x1200 and 1920x1200, yet when comparing SLI configs, the GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB SLI trails its 640MB counterpart significantly. The remainder of our 4xAA results mirror the trends we saw under 2xAA, namely the GeForce 8800 Ultra manages to squeeze slightly further ahead of the GeForce 8800 GTX, while the performance gap between the GeForce 8800 GTX and GTS 640MB remains the same at 26%.
The debut of Enemy Territory: Quake Wars is living proof that id can do it, thanks in large part to id’s MegaTexture technology.
In terms of performance, it looks like you’re going to need a very powerful CPU if you plan on running this game with a high-end setup like GeForce 8800 SLI. We were obviously CPU-bound the majority of the time with the GeForce 8800 GTX SLI configuration, only at 2560x1600 were we finally beginning to push the GTX SLI config in this game. The GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB SLI setup was also CPU-limited in a lot of cases.
The other major point you can draw from today’s performance numbers regards the GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB. In single-card configuration, it performs surprisingly similar to the GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB, even under 4xAA. In our opinion, this is a tribute to just how efficient id’s MegaTexture technology is, naturally you’d assume with half the memory the GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB would suffer tremendously in a large outdoor game like Enemy Territory: Quake Wars but apparently that isn’t the case. id’s use of one massive texture (megatexture) does seem to make efficient use of the card’s limited amount of graphics memory. Only at the demanding resolution of 2560x1600 does the card really begin to suffer. Curiously though, the card doesn’t seem to scale as well as the GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB with SLI -- after completing all the performance testing, we actually went back and re-ran all the GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB SLI results and got similar performance numbers.
Despite this, we’d still recommend if you can spend the extra $80-$100 you’d be better off with the GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB. The latest crop of games we’ve tested (World in Conflict and BioShock strictly when AA is enabled) definitely take advantage of the added memory found on the 640MB card. Odds are good that upcoming games like Crysis will likely behave similarly.
Obviously the GeForce 8800 GTX and Ultra are even better options if you can afford them.
As far as the performance of the Radeon HD 2900 XT, in our opinion, it’s way too early to draw any final conclusions about how this card will perform with the game. As we mentioned before, we saw artifacts when CrossFire was enabled, and ran into some stability issues at 2560x1600. Performance was also lackluster. Based on all this, it looks like AMD has more driver work ahead of them in this game.
If you think back to the launch of ATI’s R520 GPU, you’ll remember that ATI’s OpenGL performance was initially pretty underwhelming; in fact many were quick to judge it as the card’s achilles heel. But with subsequent driver releases, OpenGL performance in Quake 4 was eventually on par, if not better than the GeForce 7800 GTX 256MB in some cases. The Radeon HD 2900 XT is certainly no slouch in Quake 4 today, so we’re pretty certain that the 2900 XT is being held back by its driver in Enemy Territory: Quake Wars: add this title to the list of games that AMD’s driver team needs to spend more time optimizing for.
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars is set to debut in less than a month, so that doesn’t leave them with a whole lot of time to get things running better. Hopefully for AMD’s sake, the other games we mentioned at the outset are also receiving driver optimizations as we speak…
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