I’ve only dropped a few hours into the campaign of Borderlands 2 thus far, which is why I’m not here to offer any definitive opinions about its quality (that’ll be forthcoming, courtesy of Mr. Tim Li). What I will say about the game (and about the series in general) is that I like its aesthetic. With its cel-shaded design and hilariously transgressive characters, I’ve found Borderlands 2 to be pretty funny as well as visually stunning. Speaking of visuals, much has been made of this game’s use of Nvidia’s PhysX Technology as an enhancement of the primary game experience. I did some messing around with it, and you can check out my findings after the jump.
To start, I should introduce my computer to you. Here’s what I play on:
CPU: Intel Core i7-3770 CPU @ 3.40 GHz
RAM: 8 GB RAM
GPU: Nvidia Geforce GTX 555, 1GB VRAM
In English, what this means is that my PC is pretty high-end. The graphics card is one of the better ones, but certainly not cutting edge. That said, I have yet to encounter a PC game that I can’t run smoothly on the highest settings.
As for the question of ‘What is PhysX?’ Here’s the nutshell version: It is a technology developed by Nvidia for its Geforce graphics cards in which it takes over effects that are normally handled by a computer’s CPU. These kinds of effects are things like explosions, particle dispersion, and randomly moving parts. Basically, these kinds of effects require the computer to do complex calculations and can grind even a good CPU to a standstill. With PhysX, those calculations are diverted to the GPU which not only relieves the strain on the CPU and keeps frame rates high but creates a far more realistic representation of physics in-game.
While playing through Borderlands 2, I did a little bit of experimenting with the settings. Here are a couple of pics of what the game looks like of an explosive pistol being fired with PhysX turned to ‘Low':
No particle effect at all. Now, here it is on ‘Medium':
Now we’re talking. There’s some residue flying out from the impact, but it fades away instantly — this is common in most games. Here it is with PhysX turned up to ‘High':
The shot explodes into a mess that becomes strewn about the ground randomly. Not only that, but you can watch the sparks hit the ground, glow for a few seconds, and extinguish on a bed of snow. Wow!
I was definitely impressed to see the difference between ‘Low’ and ‘High’, but man oh man was I blown away by its presentation in battles. Admittedly, early on I found myself thinking “Okay so it makes a few extra sparks. Big deal”. Then I ran into some bullymongs:
The environment is pristine. Now look what happens when shots start firing:
Chunks of snow have been thrown by the bullymong, and the ground is covered in particles from bullet impacts into the enemy as well as the environment. It’s a nice little touch, but what’s really amazing is what happens after the battle is over:
Look around. The whole area is covered in ash, bullymong chunks, snow, and other random crud. I played through this particular area about six times and the area looked completely different each time. Once again, none of this debris is disappearing either. This kind of graphical detail adds a completely new layer of (with apologies to Medal of Honor) authenticity to a game world. It’s one thing to have explosions going on all around during a battle (and this game features plenty of those), but it’s something else entirely for the environment to persistently react to your actions. Nothing says ‘power fantasy’ like clearing out an area of enemies and surveying the path of destruction in one’s wake. It makes me want to scream “YOU SEE THAT, HANDSOME JACK? YOU’RE NEXT!”
There are a lot of ‘ifs’ that go along with this recommendation, but if you have a gaming PC and if you have an Nvidia Geforce card and if you are interested in Borderlands 2, then get ready to be amazed. At the end of the day, does having a PC that can handle PhysX Technology on its highest settings essential to your enjoyment of Borderlands 2? Absolutely not. This technology is pure frosting, and to be honest this game still looks pretty nice without it.
I’ll be damned though if it doesn’t make an already pretty game look downright phenomenal.
[+Amazing physics] [+Effect of technology is clearly seen] [+Cultivates unique, immersive gameplay experience] [-Need a decent gaming PC] [-Not essential to overall experience]