Summary: Looking for BioShock DX9 vs DX10 screenshots and performance numbers? If so, you'll want to check out this article. Inside we've rounded up the latest high-end cards from AMD and NVIDIA. See which cards perform best in today's article!
System Shock earned widespread awards and accolades from press and end user’s alike, including a spot as one of Computer Gaming World’s Best Games of All Time, but the game featured very steep system requirements to get good frame rates: the game was a buggy, unstable mess if your PC wasn’t up to snuff. This fact, along with the popularity of other shooters at the time such as Doom II ultimately hurt the game’s sales. A sequel was developed by Irrational Games a few years later that also earned positive reviews but despite this the game wasn’t a real sales success. Over time the game faded, and while there are rumors EA may be working on a sequel, the franchise has slowly been forgotten.
Up to now that is.
With BioShock, fans of the System Shock series have something to look forward to, as the game has been described as the spiritual successor to System Shock, with Irrational Games back as the lead developer. BioShock takes place in an underwater city named Rapture in 1960. In the words of Andrew Ryan, the city’s creator, Rapture is a city “where artists would not be incensed, where scientists would not be bound by morality, where the great would not be constrained by the small”. Somewhere along the way however, his vision of a perfect society of mankind’s greatest minds went terribly wrong. Your character arrives in an underwater city filled with chaos, trash and filth are everywhere and genetically modified humans called splicers kill anything in their path. It’s your task to sort through all this mess, and depending on your actions throughout the game the result can be positive or negative for the citizens (if you can call them that) of Rapture.
In addition to the standard weapons you’d find in your typical FPS, your character can also wield special powers known as plasmids. Plasmids range from electricity, which can be used to electrocute your enemy, and speed boost, to the enrage plasmid, which can be used to have them fight each other. In addition to plasmids, your character can also use tonics which allow you to do things such as camouflage to hide from splicers.
You can interact with practically everything in the environment, from taking money out of cash registers (that money can be used to buy ammo, health packs, etc), to eating candy bars to increase your health. Overall the game is very well done with an engaging plot with several twists and turns along the way, and already the game has earned widespread universal praise from the gaming press, including our own Editors Choice Award in our BioShock review published earlier this week. But how does the game play with today’s latest hardware? That’s what we’re here today to find out!
Whenever a new game like BioShock comes out with such good-looking graphics, there’s always a fear that the game may not run well on older, slower hardware. Fortunately we can report that isn’t the case here – the game runs well for the most part, even with older hardware.
The game is built on a modified version of Epic’s Unreal Engine 3 game engine and as such, requires a shader model 3.0 graphics card or better in order to run. This means you’ll need a GeForce 6 series card or better, ATI’s Radeon X800/X700/X600 utilize shader model 2.0b and are incompatible with the game. The game’s code is also multi-threaded, so you’ll want a dual-core processor or better for optimal performance.
The game also offers DirectX 10 enhancements as well, but we’ll discuss this a little later in this article
As we noted in this news post, BioShock features an activation system that requires an Internet connection in order for the game to be run for the first time. After the game has been installed on your hard drive, simply type in your CD key and click the activate button to activate your copy of the game. The game will then attempt to connect to SecuROM’s servers to authenticate your copy of the game. It’s important to note that this also applies to copies of the game distributed through online services such as Steam and Direct2Drive.
How we tested
Since the game doesn’t include a built-in utility for benchmarking, we’re testing BioShock performance with FRAPS, as we do with many other games we test with such as STALKER, Battlefield, and Oblivion. In this case, we manually run through the medical pavilion level of the game after it’s been clear of all the baddies. Our test sequence starts towards the beginning of the level, this area is where the frames per second is at its lowest. This is likely because this area uses shadows extensively. From here we run into the medical pavilion foyer, up the left stairs to surgery, and then hook another left to go to the crematorium entrance. From there we got up another set of stairs to the eternal flame, and that’s where we conclude our manual walkthrough.
Intel Core 2 Extreme X6800
EVGA nForce 680i SLI motherboard
ASUS P5W DH Deluxe (for Radeon cards)
2GB Corsair TWIN2X2048-6400C4
ATI Radeon HD 2900 XT 512MB
Diamond Viper Radeon 2900 XT 1GB
ATI Radeon X1950 Pro 256MB
8.401.1 Bioshock_hotfix driver
NVIDIA GeForce 8800 Ultra
NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GTX
NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB
NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB
300GB Western Digital Caviar SE
Windows Vista Ultimate 32-bit
As it stands now, BioShock officially lacks support for AA when run under Windows Vista. In order to hack the game to enable AA under Vista, the game’s executable must be renamed to "R6Vegas_Game.exe" for GeForce card owners or "Oblivion.exe" for Radeon owners. You must also add "–dx9" to the game’s shortcut for both cards in order to get AA to work. This forces the game to run in DX9 mode and thus prevents you from running the game with DX10 eye candy.
Integating DX10 into BioShock
While Epic’s Unreal Engine 3 game engine was originally built with shader model 3.0 in mind, Epic has integrated limited DX10 code into newer builds of the engine.
In the first two sets of screenshots, we’re focusing on the difference between DX9 and DX10 shadows. In the words of the developers, under DX10 the shadows should look “crisper”, but we’re hard-pressed to see any differences, even when zoomed:
What about the game’s dynamic water ripples? To test this effect, we took screenshots of a pair of splicers walking through water. Pay no attention to the difference in lighting/shadows in this area, as there is a flickering light at the top of the scene right above the statue that can’t be seen:
Once again, it’s very difficult to see any differences between DX9 and DX10. The water wake on both characters looks pretty similar to us. We also were under the impression that bullets and other objects hitting the water would produce radial ripples under DX10, but we tested this out and couldn’t see any differences between DX9 and DX10 here either.
Where we did spot a definite difference between DX9 and DX10 in BioShock was the soft edges for particles. Take a look at the first example:
In the first sequence, we’re firing the revolver at the couch. When a bullet is fired and hits the couch, a puff of smoke is emitted where the bullet strikes the couch. You can see hard edges on particles where this smoke meets the couch in the DX9 screenshots above. We illustrated this for you below:
Now look at a similar sequence under DX10:
In the DX10 shots, you can see how the edge of smoke blends smoothly with the couch where they intersect:
We took another pair of shots here:
In this example, fog retreats slowly over the edge of a plant. In the DX9 shot, you can see how the fog clips right at the intersection where the edge of the fog retreats over the surface of the plant resulting in a hard edge:
Under this same scenario in DX10, the edge of the fog blends smoothly with the plant, there are no hard edges:
You can see another example of hard edges on the plant here:
UPDATE 8/24/07: Thanks to the help of reader Ring Wraith we've got a good example of DirectX 10's crisper shadows! Feast your eyes on these screenshots:
In the images above you can see how the shadow of the woman and stroller are less blurry under DX10. The edges of shadows are much crisper actually! Thanks again to Ring Wraith for discovering this nice find for us!
Now that you’ve seen the differences between DX9 and DX10 in BioShock visually, let’s examine the performance impact DX10 brings to the game.
UPDATE 8/29/07: Since publishing this article we've discovered that toggling between DX9 and DX10 in BioShock's graphics settings menu doesn't work 100% correctly, which explains why we couldn't see the difference in water ripples. Click here for the full story.
BioShock – DX9 vs 10
BioShock – DirectX 10 Performance (7900 GS and X1950 Pro running DX9)
In terms of hardware requirements, the game isn’t quite as demanding as we initially thought it would be. Sure, you will want a nice dual-core processor for best performance, but graphically, it doesn’t look like you’ll have to shell out the big bucks for an SLI setup or GeForce 8800 Ultra if you want to play the game with full DX10 graphics. In fact, we noted little difference in performance between DX9 and DX10, and with the exception of soft particles, little or no difference between the two visually either. If you plan on gaming at 1920x1200 or higher with the graphics settings cranked up to max and want the game to run in the 30-40 FPS range you will want a GeForce 8800 card however.
In terms of performance, NVIDIA’s GeForce 8800 Ultra obviously delivers the best performance in BioShock, although a bone stock GeForce 8800 GTX doesn’t trail by much 6-12% depending on resolution in our testing. If you’ve got a factory overclocked GeForce 8800 GTX, your performance will obviously be even better.
With fewer stream processors and less onboard memory, the GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB and 320MB trail the GTX by over 25%, but still deliver very playable frame rates in the game up to 1920x1200. At 2560x1600 the GeForce 8800 GTX and Ultra pull even further away from the GTS cards, running about 1.5 times faster in our testing. AMD’s Radeon HD 2900 XT trails NVIDIA’s GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB by over 20% at 1600x1200 in DX10, but as the resolution increases the gap slowly closes until the 2900 XT is practically even with the GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB by 2560x1600. Considering that the GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB has less memory and a narrower memory interface, not to mention fewer stream processors, this has got to be disappointing to Radeon enthusiasts, but we wouldn’t be surprised if AMD has more driver tweaks in the works to improve BioShock’s performance (adding CrossFire support to BioShock is likely in the works as well, the current hotfix driver doesn't support CrossFire). As it stands now though the Radeon HD 2900 XT isn’t that much faster than an X1950 Pro running under DX9 with the same graphics settings.
UPDATE 8/30/07: With DX9 properly enabled in BioShock, the Radeon HD 2900 XT turns into a screamer, outperforming the GeForce 8800 GTS and GeForce 8800 GTX and giving the GeForce 8800 Ultra a run for its money. This indicates that AMD has got a lot of work to do to get their DX10 driver up to the level of DX9 in this game. If you crave performance, we recommend Radeon HD 2900 XT owners run the game in DX9 mode, the only downside is you will lose DX10 water ripples.
We’ll be taking a look at BioShock’s performance with today’s latest mainstream cards next. We’ve already read reports from GeForce 8600 GTS users seeing decent frame rates in BioShock, so we’re hoping for good things. All indications are that the game should be quite playable under DX10 as well, so that should be a nice bonus as well…
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