Posts Tagged GamesForWindowsLive

Grand Theft Auto : Episodes from Liberty City Performance Issues

To stay above that smooth 60 fps, you need to turn off Shadow Quality

With the recent release of Grand Theft Auto : Episodes from Liberty City for PC (and PS3), as well as “Rockstar Week” on Steam, I along with many others are back in the world of Liberty City. For those (few) who did not purchase the Xbox 360 exclusive last year for whatever reason, are now able to revisit Liberty City for some fine DLC for one of the greatest games of all time, Grand Theft Auto 4.

The DLC has so much more than the usual down-loadable content we are seeing lately. In fact it feels like a full game, actually scrap that, two full games, not only for the depth of each of the episodes “The Lost and Damned” and “The Ballad of Gay Tony” but for the standalone package format it has been released in. That’s right you don’t even need to have purchased the original GTA IV to enjoy Episodes from Liberty City, although if you have been hiding under a rock and missed out on GTA IV then I highly recommend playing it through before visiting the new episodes.

GTA 4 settings used in the benchmarking

The problem I am finding even after my discoveries in my initial GTA IV performance report, is back again, Grand Theft Auto still runs at a very low frame rate. With the release of Episodes from Liberty City for PC, the original GTA IV and the Episodes have been patched with a new and ‘improved’ scalable shadow solution. Great I thought, a new less memory-intensive, and better looking shadow solution sounds perfect, just what we need to keep the frame rate above 60fps for a smooth cruise around the faux New York that is Liberty City. The problem is performance is still low with “Shadow Quality” at all settings, and the new “Night Shadows” option make things even worse. Back to the benchmarking to test out this new improved shadow patch!

Taking a look at the figures above the only way I managed to maintain a playable 60+ frames per second was to turn off shadow quality completely. The frame rate drops below 60 fps even with shadow quality set to “Low”, and begins to fall rapidly with each toggle in shadow and night shadow quality increase, dropping to an extremely jerky 43 fps on the “Very High” setting. GTA 4 has never been a smooth ride for PC owners, and even on the test bed here at gamdo HQ, a Radeon 5870 and Intel Q9550 @ 3.4GHZ struggles to keep a constant frame rate. Has the patch made a difference? To performance I would say no, but when turned on shadow quality does improve image quality and shadows are less glitchy, but that is a judgment I can only make by sight, with no hard facts to back it up.

Either way Liberty City still looks beautiful on the PC, well worth the wait for those that held out from playing the Xbox 360 exclusive, even with the shadow quality setting turned off. The city is full off hustle and bustle and crime is still as entertaining as it was in GTA IV, the new episodes are fresh and filled with new story, crazy new characters and plenty of achievements to grab. So I’m off back to Liberty City, shadows turned off and Beat 102.7 turned on.

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Dirt 2 Review – What happened to rally games?

I’ve always been a fan of rally games, real rally games that is. One of my greatest gaming moments was on Rally Championship PC nearly a decade ago. Twenty minutes into a sunny forest rally, I lost second gear due no doubt to my granny shifting (just like real life). With a good few minutes left of the course, I was forced to maintain speed in third and fourth gear. Slowing down was not an option, without a second gear available I needed to stay in a high gear or end up dropping all the way down to first and crawling along the finish line, losing my position and hard work for the last twenty minutes of perfect rallying.

I crossed that finish line, I maintained enough speed so as not to drop gear and it was exhilarating, racing at full throttle to victory, one of my fondest gaming memories. For those last few minutes I felt like a rally driver, I was so immersed in the game making critical rally decisions, carrying on to the end in a broken car, a scenario that I guess all rally drivers have experienced.

But now we have the new generation of rally games, Dirt 2. Don’t get me wrong Dirt 2 is fun, but only for 25% of the time. Dirt 2 is totally sexed up, it screams X games and feels like someone from the skate boarding world came along and started adding bits until the actual rally game was left hidden behind the liveries (car stickers), rock music, partying, fireworks and radio chatter. Ken Block and his buddies shouting abuse over the in game radio does nothing other than annoy you.

Where there is rallying, Dirt 2 is great, the handling is spot on (unlike the first Dirt which felt like cars sliding around on an ice rink) and the graphics are gorgeous. This was the Directx 11 show case game. After all it came bundled with my Radeon 5870 (well a Steam download code came inside the box) and really shows off some of the Directx 11 features like realistic cloth, of which you end up not even noticing when screaming around at 100mph, but at least its there advancing the background from the days of 2D stick trees!

Either way it looks great and runs perfectly smooth at a constant 60fps now, thanks to the latest Catalyst 10.3 update. I first played Dirt 2 when the demo came out for Xbox Live gold members last summer, but the latest ATI drivers gave me reason to come back to this game on PC and play it all the way through. Ok there are no 30 minute rally sessions with realistic wear and tear to engine, gears and suspension, but I’ve learnt not to expect that anymore. What is disappointing about Dirt 2 is all the other so called ‘rally’ events.

Landrush, domination, rally cross, gate crasher and last man standing have absolutely nothing to do with rallying. The vehicles in Landrush are slow, handle like crap and sound like whirring annoying machinery not roaring throaty rally cars. Domination and last man standing feel like last minute add ons to give some variety but just end up being tedious game modes to play through until the rallying starts again. Gate crasher is another gimmick, which I very much doubt has ever been a real life event. Rally cross, a multiple lap based mode around short tracks set around various non rally locations such as London’s Battersea Power Station do nothing other than showcase the engine’s lighting effects.

If you can stick it out and play through or avoid all these extra game modes, then you can enjoy some beautiful scenery and some great rallying around the jungles of Malaysia and the green forests of Croatia. Ignoring the fireworks at the end of each race there is a hidden joy behind all the X games style overlay and rock music. Ignoring Ken Block and his friends chatter, jump in the MKII Escort and power through the long China countryside and this becomes a great rally game. It could have been so much greater without all these extra’s if they had just focused on the rallying, instead of these extras which only cater towards selling the game to kids who want a quick fix of so called off road rallying.

7.5/10 No longer a Rally game, but worth playing for a few classic rally moments.

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Game Room for Xbox & Games for Windows Live

Microsoft are throwing gamerscore at you to spend time in your Game Room

Game Room has launched today on both Xbox Live and Games for Windows Live. The idea is you fill your virtual ‘Game Room’ with oldskool arcades, reminisce the arcade era, invite your friends over to play together (online), set challenges and have fun like it was the 80’s, but from the comfort of your actual real world game room/basement/office.

So no stepping in chewing gum or wasting coin after coin of your pocket money? Wrong, apart from the not stepping in chewing gum bit. Yes you still have to pay, for each arcade, and to be honest, nearly 20 years on, these games are just not as fun as they used to be. In fact its hard to remember why these games were fun back then, I guess we are so spoilt with today’s photo realistic graphics and rag-doll physics that we forget how far things have moved on.

You can try before you buy of course, a quick demo on a few of the titles available at today’s launch and boredom struck me. These games are just too basic. So I began to wander around my arcade and started adding themes and placing decor, which I should add, nets you some free gamescore. Further boredom struck, so I decided to fire up Game Room on the PC and the Xbox simultaneously for some side by side PC vs Xbox comparisons. Check out my YouTube Video below.

The first thing I was impressed with was the fact that across both platforms, my Game Room was identical. No separate settings or achievements list for each platform like most games that appear on both PC and Xbox (Fallout 3, Dirt 2 etc). Microsoft have made Game Room appear as one across both platforms, allowing seemless jumping from console to PC, and I’m guessing this is part of their 3 screens moto, no doubt with Windows Phone 7 Series having similar compatibility, eventually.

I also noticed how much crisper and smoother Game Room was on the PC. With anti aliasing switched on, and a higher resolution over the Xbox, my Game Room looked and felt better on PC. Of course there are no such options to play with on the Xbox 360 version, the default resolution felt quite low, much lower than the 1080 my Xbox was set too. Loading times are pretty similar but the PC does have a slight advantage as expected. I also noticed some slight jerks on the Xbox when moving from arcade to arcade especially heavily active arcades. I know there have been teething problems with this launch, which might also explain why 2 achievements I gained have not been saved to my account, strange?

Overall Game Room is a bit of a let down, despite Microsoft’s efforts on pulling together a cool idea which is really well implemented, especially the cross platform part. The problem is the games are just not fun, that’s not Microsoft’s fault, but the games are what we go into our Game Rooms for and now, in 2010, we have grown to expect so much more, so much so that some basic 2d sprites just dont cut it anymore.

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BioShock 2 Multiplayer Review – Spliced up fun

I cannot hide, the evidence shows I actually play BioShock 2 multiplayer

What a shock. BioShock 2 multiplayer is actually good fun. I normally wouldn’t even try the multiplayer on a title so ground in single player roots, but as I’m an achievement whore the lure of some quick gamerscore quickly drew me in.

After finishing the brief single player game, which is nothing to write home about, I quickly scanned the achievement list and realised a good chunk are gained from racking up some easy multiplayer time. I remember reading reviews thinking who will play that, BioShock multiplayer, bah! Hours later, I’ve managed to reach Rank 10, and play a match on EVERY map. Sad, no, because BioShock 2 multiplayer is actually great. Ok it is laggy as hell, the frame rate seems to be low no matter what graphic settings you choose (despite the single player running perfectly smooth) and the fov feels like 75? But despite this, I kept at it and I must admit I’m slightly addicted (spliced up?).

I think its the Call of Duty style killstreak, trials and loadout array that keeps me playing, or maybe the games for windows live achievements? Heck I’m trying to find an excuse but the truth is freezing enemies with one hand whilst you line up some headshots with your pistol on the other hand is just pure entertainment.

And then there’s the big daddy mode. The big daddy suit makes Quad Damage feel like bringing a knife to a gun fight. Randomly a big daddy suit will appear in the battlefield with a player wide notification, this is when you search like mad and find the glowing gold goodness. Once suited up, you gain all the benefits of the big daddy, lots and lots of armour and a really powerful rivet gun, with a secondary grenade launcher. You can walk around stomping the ground (just press jump to take out splicers nearby) or fire the rapid and powerful rivet gun at swarms of splicers racking up huge killstreaks. Everyone does seem to want to take you down when your the big daddy (I wonder why?) but for the minute or so you wear this suit its a great experience.

My favourite mode though is Capture the Sister, your basic Capture the flag style game mode but with a twist, a lovable little sister has to be protected or captured. This results in hilarious sprints across the weird and wonderful world of Rapture with a little sister hoisted on your back, whilst being attacked by strangely outfitted, pyjama clad and lunatic spliced up men and women shouting outrageous swear words whilst simultaneously photographing dead bodies for research bonus mid fight. Something you cannot resist stopping to do despite knowing someone is bound to attack you from around the next corner.

BioShock 2 single player was a bit of a let down, it felt like BioShock but with very little change. The first BioShock was award winning when it first came out, but in 2010 it just feels like the same game. But this time around you have this witty multiplayer mode to keep you occupied and exploring Rapture for a while longer. Will it revolutionize professional multiplayer gaming? No, but it will make you smile, and that is what makes BioShock 2 multiplayer worthy of your time.

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Tinker Review – Free Achievements & Gamerscore

Download this game for FREE, get FREE gamerscore

Games For Windows Live is throwing a second surprise my way this week. A free puzzle game available on the front page of the GFWL client, complete with free gamerscore! Tinker, although slightly buggy and a tad puzzling at first (ed; it is a puzzle game), this game became great fun and can easily help you lose a few hours.

The idea is to navigate Tinker the robot through increasingly more difficult puzzles by turning, moving forward and pressing switches within time and power constraints. With these limited controls you can navigate the most complex of levels, melting ice blocks with lasers, detonating bombs and teleporting, all whilst taking in the view of funky surreal landscapes and a cute robot.

Everyone loves robots, and since Braid, everyone loves puzzle games. I guess Microsoft put two and two together and decided to cash in on the indie puzzle genre, without cashing in, and offering it for free? Whatever the idea, this is a great game, with cute artwork and addictive gameplay. And of course did I mention you get free gamerscore with this? 200g is up for grabs, but I challenge anyone to get all of these achievements without punching a mass effect sized hole in their monitor. This game becomes painfully difficult once you pass the first couple of sets (20 levels per set) and most sane people will give up trying to get the ‘Perfection Achieved’ or ‘Mastermind’ achievement.

Not quite as genre defining as Braid or a World of Goo replacement, but certainly worth a go if not for the fact that its free, but for the gamerscore, that’s also free!

8/10 Free Gamerscore! Worth a download just for that.

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Batman Arkham Asylum – Games For Windows Live 75% Sale

My first Games On Demand purchase, congratulations? erm thanks Microsoft?

So I finally bought a full game from Games For Windows Live. I feel like I have betrayed Steam. I’ve been a loyal customer for a long time, check my profile if you don’t believe me. But today I tried a new PC digital distribution service, and how could I not? 75% off Batman Arkham Asylum is a HUGE leap for Microsoft at grabbing custy’s from Steam.

When I first saw the news of the Batman sale I didn’t even read the small print, I went straight to my Steam client to look for the 75% off, alas it was nowhere to be seen? So I returned to the news article and to my disbelief it said Games For Windows Live. I loaded up my GFWL client and nothing, £39.99 normal price for the game. Not impressed.

So I waited, either for Steam to retaliate with a similar price drop (still no retaliation?) or for GFWL to push out the new price tag, and 8 hours later it’s been dropped to the bargain price of £8.75. The process is very simple, my GFWL client is already setup as I have previously used it for Fallout 3 DLC and of course Xbox Live. A few clicks, the money is automatically taken from your account, and the game is added to your download queue. Simples. 4% downloaded, I guess I should start BioShock 2 whilst I wait as its been sitting in my shiny new ‘opt in beta’ Steam list since release and not been touched, Rapture is waiting.

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BioShock 2 Pre Order & PC Requirements

BioShock 2 and Games For Windows Live

So BioShock 2 is up for pre-order on Steam at the discounted price tag of £26.99, which also gets you a free copy of the original BioShock. Not bad, but what convinced me to part with my GBP was the PC requirements revealing something more than a dual core CPU. That’s right, a Games for Windows LIVE login, is a MUST, unless you do not want to save your game progress? A harsh way to force PC gamers to use this service, but Valve enforced the installation of a little program called Steam with Half Life 2 many years ago, and it worked for them. Microsoft are learning from the best, hoping to take back some of that market share that Steam have cornered.

The more people forced into using Games for Windows LIVE the better, yes it is another piece of software running in the background hogging your gigabytes of RAM, but it builds communities, and that is what keeps us happy and playing, and of course, keeps us increasing our gamerscore. Bring on Windows Mobile 7 with LIVE & gamerscore intergration!

BioShock 2 PC Requirements

Recommended:

■Processor: AMD Athlon 64 X2 5200+ Dual Core 2.60Ghz, Intel Core 2 Duo E6420 Dual Core 2.13Ghz

■Memory: 3GB

■Graphics: NVIDIA 8800GT 512MB graphics card or better, ATI Radeon HD4830 512MB graphics card or better

Other Requirements:

■Initial installation requires one-time internet connection.

■Ability to save game, earn achievements, receive title updates and online play requires log-in to Games for Windows LIVE.

■Software installations required including Microsoft Visual C++2008 Runtime Libraries, Games for Windows LIVE client, Games for Windows LIVE Client Patch, Sony DADC SecuROM, Microsoft DirectX.

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Games On Demand vs Steam – Digital Distribution Wars

GFWL games on demand, a contender to knock steam off the podium?

GFWL games on demand, a contender to knock steam off the podium?

December the 15th 2009, the date Steam’s only possible contender is born? Games For Windows Live will extend its wing to digital distribution for PC games with its Games On Demand service, similar to the Xbox service launched not so long ago.

GFWL has been a touchy subject amongst PC gamers, personally I am all for the integration with Xbox. Increasing my Gamerscore when I play PC titles like Fallout 3 or GTAIV rather than having to slug through the Xbox slower and lower detail versions on a controller is a huge reason to play the title on mouse and keyboard. I will admit though, the GFWL software could do with a Steam makeover. Microsoft can learn masses from the Steam client, which has evolved with countless updates over the years.

Steam obviously already has the huge CS fanbase, as well as other Source engine Half Life & L4D franchise’s locked down, and now Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 it would appear to be a monopoly on digital distribution (seriously, who uses Direct2Drive?). I even made the move a few years ago to only purchase my games from Steam and thus unplugged my energy consuming DVD drive from my PC. Having all my titles in one place, stored for me in the cloud and integrated with my community of gamer friends, why else would I venture out into the cold and buy retail? I held off buying Mass Effect AND Mirrors Edge until late 2009 because they were not available on Steam, that is customer loyalty to the point of fanboy!

So Microsoft clearly have a lot of catching up to do, but what they do have is the money, power and Xbox experience to make this work. If I had the choice, if it meant extra Gamerscore I would definitely choose Games on Demand from Microsoft over Steam despite my years of loyalty. There is something about a large Gamerscore on my Xbox dashboard that keeps me coming back to games just for the achievements. And rightly so, some achievements make you explore a game in areas you might have missed, areas the developers spent forever and a day coding and crafting, rightly so these areas deserve to be explored even if it is for a mere 20G.

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