GeForce GTX 980 Review

GeForce GTX 980 Review

Ready For Next Year

As usual with PCs, every year games come out that demand more from the hardware so the companies are only too happy to oblige with new components for PC enthusiasts to buy. 2014 is no different, and as we come to the year’s close, NVIDIA puts out a new crop of graphics cards of which the GTX 980 firmly belongs on the high end of the spectrum. This is the graphics card that will do everything you’d expect of nice, shiny new hardware prepping itself for another year of punishingly demand games. It just won’t do much beyond that.

The Incremental Improvement

Graphics card manufacturers have been splitting their resources a lot in these past years. The prominence of the desktop PC has eroded a LOT, with more of an emphasis being put on phones, tablet and other mobile devices. Even game consoles have become more important as both Sony and Microsoft gave up on producing their own in-house graphics processing units and have gone to AMD for the graphical needs, leaving NVIDIA out in the cold. NVIDIA, of course, is doing just fine even without powering the latest console generation as their Tegra line of chips has been working hard conquering the mobile space, which is the most rapidly growing market in computing devices these days anyway.

So where does that leave graphics cards? Not in the same position of prominence they once enjoyed, benefitting from Moore’s law of roughly doubling in computational power with every new generation. Thanks the de-emphasis on the desktop PC as the king of computing, less focus has been given to these monsters and as a result, graphics cards do improve every year, but they haven’t doubled in performance power in a while. The latest GTX 980 card is no exception to this new state of affairs.

Now, that’s not to say that it’s a bad card. In fact, by current market standards it’s still the GPU that PC hot-rod enthusiasts will buy without hesitation and stick in their machines. It’s just that the improvements to PC graphical performance will be far from a straight up 100% increase in all areas. Even with new CPUs that can take advantage of multiple GPUs, the processing ability doesn’t suddenly double up. So what are users getting when they shell out $550 for a new GTX 980? The two key features are a bit more power and better efficiency.

The 980 brings its own brand of super-sampling to the table, dubbed Dynamic Super Resolution with Multi-Frame Sampled Anti-Aliasing. Basically, it renders an image at 4K resolutions, then downsamples it to present it on standard 1080p monitors to give normal users a taste of what 4K graphics look like without having an expensive 4K display. This is all thanks to the new Maxwell architecture in the 980 that is replacing the old Kepler based NIVIDIA cards that have been on the scene for a few years now.

In rough performance terms, this means the 980 is about 40% more powerful per core than the older, comparable graphics cards, but is also uses less power; 165W compared to the 230W of predecessors like the GTX 770 and 780. This translates into a card that’s ready to rock and roll with anything you can throw at it in today’s gaming library. Old resource hogs like The Witcher 2 took only inconsequential, marginal dips below 60 frames per second, with everything on “ultra” settings, including enabling super-sampling. The same held true for even the more modern, resource intensive games such as Metro: Last Light, where the ultra settings equivalent, or “Very High” settings held steady at 60 fps, with only the slightest, briefest dips even in tessellation/physics  heavy areas like the opening swamp level. The GTX 980 is a graphics card that can handle any modern game you throw at it, and it will be interesting to see how near future releases such as Grand Theft Auto V and Assassin’s Creed Unity will take to this card’s robustness. Then, of course, there’s virtual reality, which is one of the few areas where having two GTX 980s—or even four—all strapped into a new CPU begins to make more sense, as high framerates and low latency are absolutely critical to preventing nausea.

At about $550, the GTX 980 already costs more than a console, and, combined with the expense of the other components needed to run it at peak performance, like a powerful CPU and plenty of RAM, it’s not the cheapest choice on the market. But for people that are looking for the next generation of graphics cards, it’s the only choice, and for that kind of PC gamer, price was never an object to begin with. The GTX 980 is a powerful card that really does improve on its predecessors, and but it’s a high end component, that will probably be beyond the budget of many PC gamers. Still, it’s nice to know it’s out  there…

Scribblenauts Unlimited (Wii U) Review

Scribblenauts Unlimited (Wii U) Review

When the collection of Wii U launch titles was announced, Scribblenauts Unlimited probably wasn’t one that caused potential early adopters to dance a jig of delight. However, having spent a little time diving into the creative sandbox that 5

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Cell whipped up for our enjoyment, I have to say it’s a pleasant surprise slotted in amongst the explosion of new titles. This isn’t a game that wows on story, maximizes the potential of the two screen gaming system, or even shows off the graphic horsepower of what the Wii U is capable of. However, it is a surprisingly deep and creative game that thrives on allowing players to let their imagination run wild while interacting with the world and creating their own toys to play with. Ever wondered who would win in a fight between a T-rex, Cthulhu, and a dozen zombie kittens? Well, Scribblenauts Unlimited will finally answer that question that has plagued man for centuries. That it does so in a colorful cartoon fantasy designed primarily for children ensures that this is at least something guaranteed to get an entire family of gamers excited.

If you haven’t dabbled in previous entries in this series, here’s the basic mechanics in a nutshell. You play as the precocious kid Maxwell in a 2D side-scrolling cartoon world. You’ll wander around and jump like a normal platformer, but Maxwell has a special gift that allows him to draw and create any object or creature at any time. You’ll do it by typing what you want to see into the gamepad. Maxwell then draws it up and in a flash you’ll have a vampire or a dead dog right in front of you. The lengths that the designers went to ensure that absolutely anything you imagine can appear in a flash is simply mind-boggling. Aside from trying to create a naked lady, booze, or gory remains, you really can come up with anything. Nintendo even allowed licensing for the first time, so folks like Mario, Luigi, or Link can pop up if you wish (though sadly nothing from the WB catalogue, which is a bummer because seeing Batman fight some Gremlins and Freddy Kruger would have been nice). You can also toss any adjective onto your objects, so if you want to see a sleepy tiger or a crying clown, you’re but a few clicks away. 5th cell has even added an Object Editor system this time, so if you wish that gorilla you created can be purple, 20 feet tall, and have a tiny head with googly eyes, it can happen. The object editor is easy to use, but a little tedious. However, the magic of online gaming means you have access to anything other gamers have created worldwide.

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The most fun to be had in Scribblenaughts Unlimited comes simply from messing around with this mechanic and creating wacky objects. The purpose within the game is puzzle-solving. As you wonder around as Maxwell you’ll encounter strange problems and come up with even stranger solutions. If a lawn needs to be cut, you can go the conventional route and use a lawnmower or just light it on fire with a flamethrower. When a vampire asks for something to eat in a restaurant, a glass of milk or a baby will get the job done just as well. It’s a simple mechanic, but a fun one and the designers have come up with all sorts of creative puzzles to solve (at one point I entered a firehouse assuming I’d just be helping build a firetruck, but ended up building a giant robot to machine gun down zombies…true story). Unlike previous entries in the series, you won’t be forced to progress through the puzzles linearly. Nope, you gradually unlock the massive world and can then float around to solve puzzles any place you please. Possibly even more than GTA, this game perfectly embodies the concept of sandbox gaming. The world the designers created is yours to explore and modify and more joy comes out of messing around with the seemingly limitless possibilities than progressing through the puzzles. There’s also a story this time that involves Maxwell doing good deeds to save his sister from turning into a statue and you can find and unlock a variety of his brothers throughout the quest. But honestly, this served to be more of a distraction than anything else. Scribblesnaughts is made for creating and playing, not for following a narrative or even pretending to care about the characters (seriously, when you can clean a room by creating a black hole or bring in God to help with your problems, who cares about logic or storytelling?).

In a weird way, it’s both a deep and shallow game. Within the basic creation mechanics the possibilities seem limitless, but at the same time you’re really only doing one thing and it does get old after a while no matter how many mock superheroes you set on fire and strike with lightening. Also, while the game does have a gorgeous presentation that looks good on an HDTV, it’s maybe not the greatest franchise for a console. Since gameplay occurs simultaneously on the gamepad and TV screen, you’ll spend 95% of the time staring at the controller. That’s where all the creation happens and more often than not you’ll forget that the thing is even playing on your television. It’s a problem that’s becoming an increasing issue on the Wii U and something that’s particularly tough here. Unlike a DS or 3DS where both screens can occupy your field of vision at once, the Wii U set up really depends on gamers favoring one screen over the other. That’s something that opens up an equal number of design possibilities and challenges, so we’ll have to wait and see how it turns out over the console’s lifespan. In terms of Scribblenauts Unlimited, the presentation is flawed, but that never detracts from the fun too much. I suppose it’s an ideal game to play on the controller while someone else is watching the TV. Overall, it is quite a fun game and one geared to a younger crowd with enough creative possibilities to grudgingly bring over some semi-adults as well. It’s not a killer app for the system or even a future cult classic, but it can be a hell of a lot of fun to goof around with. So if you’re looking for a Wii U launch title that you won’t just toss aside in a few weeks, you could do far, far worse than this.