I’ve been a relatively harsh critic of Ageia and its PhysX technology; not because I don’t believe in the concept of hardware-accelerated physics, but because I think Ageia has done a poor job of making a case for its own product. But a hands-on demo of Ubisoft’s Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter 2 at this weekend’s Showdown LAN 2007 has rekindled my interest.
I found the recent CellFactor: Revolution demo to be a major disappointment because it didn’t offer a compelling reason as to why you should buy one of these cards. Redirecting lava flows to turn my enemies into crispy critters with my character’s “psi power” was fun, but the graphics were pedestrian at best—and the gameplay was utterly banal. GRAW2 is a different matter. Ageia tells me all the physics in the game were created using its PhysX SDK, but only one level (dubbed Ageia Island, appropriately enough) requires a PhysX card—you can’t unlock the level without it. Could this be just a marketing ploy? I guess it’s possible, but I’ve never seen such detailed physics in a game.
My impressions are based a brief demo with pre-release code in Ageia’s booth, but this is the clearly the direction in which Ageia needs to move. Nearly everything in the game environment is destructible, and objects exhibit realistic properties. If the enemy catches you hiding behind a wooden fence, for instance, they can plink away at the boards until your cover is completely destroyed. The guard tower is even more remarkable. You can act with stealth and take out the enemy soldier with a sniper rifle, or you can launch an RPG, blow the entire structure apart, and watch him tumble down to his death. The first time you try this, you’ll undoubtedly get blown away yourself because you’re too busy watching the destruction unfold before you.
The effects are persistent, too. Blow up a hut or take down a tower, and the debris will be there every time you return to that spot in the game. This should help keep the game fresh and new, especially during multiplayer bouts. And as odd as it might sound, the weather effects in GRAW2 are almost as impressive as the explosions. The wind blows so many leaves and other debris around the environment that it sometimes obscure your vision. These are the types of particle effects that I’ve been waiting to see move from Ageia’s lab demos to real-world games.
I want to see hardware-accelerated physics thrive, and I think a dedicated processor is the way to do it. While one level in one game isn’t going to sell the thousands of PhysX cards Ageia needs to move in order to attain critical mass, GRAW2 looks like it will be a crucial step in the right direction. The PC version of the game is scheduled for a July 2007 release.
Here are some screenshots showing the watchtower being demolished.