“You know what I like best about Christmas? The surprises,” so says Katie Holmes in the movie Go
This Christmas looks like it’ll be a good one for enthusiastic gamers thanks to a new console and plenty of PC entertainment. But the surprises---the choice gems picked from a breadth of fresh titles---will be what set this holiday season apart. The first, a couple of months early, is F.E.A.R. It certainly wasn’t on my radar until I downloaded that immersive demo.
Though not for the faint of heart (I admit, it already scares me and I’m still at the beginning of the game), F.E.A.R is at least a masterpiece of visual decadence. It represents the pinnacle of what third-party developers have been able to do with today’s hardware. However, it doesn’t push those jaw-dropping visuals at the expense of other critical game engine components. This is critical. Without the physics, artificial intelligence, audio, scripting, and so on, you wouldn’t have the same compelling experience. You wouldn’t be pulled into the virtual environment and the game just wouldn’t be the same.
Instead, F.E.A.R. boasts some of the most impressive path-finding to date. Enemies don’t follow each other around like sheep to the slaughter. They’ll use squad tactics in an attempt to flank you. They’ll jump through windows, guns blazing, to catch you off guard. They’ll have you thinking that your mad-crazy game skills aren’t up to snuff any more. Or maybe that’s just me.
In any case, you’d think that the stunning improvements to those ancillary sub-systems would exact serious demands on today’s processors. After all, Half-Life 2 sure does. And that’s why we put this CPU scaling story together. The developer requires a 1.7GHz Pentium 4 or equivalent and recommends a 3.0GHz. But you know how recommendations go. After all, Microsoft thinks Windows XP runs fine on a 300MHz chip with 128MB of RAM. Yeah, right.
So what processor should you add to your wish list? We dusted off 20 of them for comparison here, spanning single- and dual-core, high-end and mainstream, from $100 to over $1,000. We also ran a couple of memory tests, hoping to see some benefit to using 2GB of memory rather than 1GB. And to top it all off, there’s a page on SLI performance, if only to establish how graphically intensive this game really is.