Perhaps the most important consideration concerning PhysX in Mirror's Edge is that it remains a purely visual effect, which is presumably why you can find the PhysX toggle lumped in with the other video options. Hardware physics simulations generally don't affect gameplay, meaning you can't hurt yourself or fall on broken glass, and cloth and smoke won't obscure you from enemies. If you're looking for the breakthrough physics gameplay found in titles like Psi-Ops and Half-Life 2, you won't find it here in Mirror's Edge.
To be fair, though, that's not really the point of PhysX—not yet. The goal here is to replace many of the old pre-cooked animations with physical simulations. Is it a crazy idea? Not really. Remember the first time you shot an enemy and his body did a ragdoll slump to the floor, rather than playing through a stock death animation? I spent countless hours afterward finding hilarious locations to kill enemies, whether it involved ledges, stairs, or a myriad of other environmental hazards. It was a great moment for gaming, one that PhysX replicates by bringing that same visceral interaction to a multitude of objects in the game world. The name of the game is immersion, and PhysX helps sell the experience.
Unfortunately, there is a substantial performance trade-off—one larger than those accompanying most other visual settings. In the great balancing act of resolution, antialiasing, anisotropic filtering, texture quality, and shader effects, PhysX may require some larger sacrifices than you're used to. As a side-effect of my frequent console gaming, I've grown accustomed to playing at lower resolutions, so I'll happily make that sacrifice for a bit more action on the screen. Based on where your preferences lie, though, you might not consider PhysX viable without a video card upgrade (like, say, if you prefer high-res visuals with antialiasing or demand a solid 60 frames per second). However, do note that these tests were done on GPU technology that's well over two years old. Newer video cards might see smaller performance hits.
With the number of computers that support hardware PhysX continually on the rise, the chicken-and-egg scenario between hardware and software penetration is rapidly disappearing. Developers have fewer excuses for not supporting PhysX, and Mirror's Edge demonstrates how a AAA-title can use it to good effect. PhysX's future is looking better every day, but it seems doubtful that a blockbuster title will ever require the technology. Not only do AMD graphics cards still lack PhysX support, but cross-platform development is par for the course nowadays, and not all current-gen consoles will be able to handle PhysX effects designed to run on desktop GPUs. The technology may be relegated to the realm of visual effects, but based on what we've seen from Mirror's Edge, it might not need to strive for more.
48 comments — Last by Delphis at 11:45 AM on 02/19/09
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