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Aliens vs. Predator
The new AvP game uses several DirectX 11 features to improve image quality and performance, including tessellation, advanced shadow sampling, and DX11-enhanced multisampled anti-aliasing. Naturally, we were pleased when the game's developers put together an easily scriptable benchmark tool. This benchmark cycles through a range of scenes in the game, including one spot where a horde of tessellated aliens comes crawling down the floor, ceiling, and walls of a corridor.

For these tests, we turned up all of the image quality options to the max, with two exceptions. We held the line at 2X antialiasing and 8X anisotropic filtering simply to keep frame rates in a playable range with most of these graphics cards. The use of DX11 effects ruled out the use of older, DX10-class video cards, so we've excluded them here.

Our AvP scatter plot shows a rather linear progression of price and performance, so we can't really single out a value king. However, two cards do stand out as poor deals: the GeForce GTX 460 768MB and the Radeon HD 5850. The former fails to edge out the identically priced Radeon HD 5830, while the latter is outmatched by the GeForce GTX 470.

Don't pay too much attention to the sub-20-FPS frame rates, by the way. As we said a couple of pages back, we've deliberately used high resolutions and detail settings to highlight raw GPU power. If you look at our GeForce GTX 460 review, you'll see the $200 cards run Aliens vs. Predator smoothly enough at 1680x1050 with antialiasing on. You definitely don't need a top-of-the-line GPU to enjoy this title.

Just Cause 2
JC2 has some flashy visuals courtesy of DirectX 10, and the sheer scope of the game world is breathtaking, as are the resulting view distances.

Although JC2 includes a couple of visual effects generated by Nvidia's CUDA GPU-computing API, we've left those disabled for our testing. The CUDA effects are only used sparingly in the game, anyhow, and we'd like to keep things even between the different GPU brands. I do think the water simulation looks gorgeous, but I'm not so impressed by the Bokeh filter used for depth-of-field effects.

We tested performance with JC2's built-in benchmark, using the the "Dark Tower" sequence.

Now here's something a little less cryptic. We have a vertical progression all the way up to the GeForce GTX 470, a card that offers a pretty sizable performance increase over its $200 cousins—not to mention the slightly cheaper Radeon HD 5850. Nvidia pretty much takes the cake here; unless you can afford the Radeon HD 5970, any GeForce will get you better performance for the money than the equivalent Radeon.

Being a DirectX 10 game, Just Cause 2 also shows us how previous-gen cards fare compared to their successors. As it turns out, our "factory overclocked" GeForce GTX 260 is a better deal than either flavor of the GeForce GTX 460. So much for progress, right? Of course, the GTX 260 won't let you enable all the eye candy in Aliens vs. Predator and our other DX11 games, so it's not exactly a great buy today.