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Reloading...

Reloading... Rage Against the AMD

Updated Mon, Oct 10, 2011 by Ethec

Welcome to our 90th attempt at Reloading...!

 I’m Jeff Woleslagle and I’ll be impersonating John Hoskin today. Starting with a quote and a YouTube video:

“Hardware works best when it matters the least.” – Norman Ralph Augustine

Everyone can use a feel good moment to start the day.   Let’s go with this…



id Software played a significant part in my gaming past and likely yours, directly or indirectly. Ah the memories, some going back to grade school.... hunched over a Tandy rubbing elbows with the neighbor girls blasting our way through Commander Keen, the junior high comp sci teacher looking the other way as we played Wolfenstein after school, and my first networked game experience: whiling away the summer of 1993 playing 2-player deathmatch Doom over a tragic 2400 baud connection. I never considered myself an id Software fanboy, they simply made the games that everyone played.

After a long lull, id is back with Rage, built on a brand new id Tech 5 engine. Given my history with their games, I snatched at the chance to review the game,and am about 11 glorious hours in. The old-school, no cover system gameplay, imaginatively conceived character models, gorgeous environments, vehicle combat, enemy AI, and RPG hooks are abundantly satisfying. I was expecting a high quality Mad Max-inspired shoot 'em up and got the collection, crafting, and story of a less retro-inspired Fallout and the vehicular multiplayer-capable mayhem of an Auto Assault or Twisted Metal thrown into the bargain.

But the full review comes tomorrow. And, despite my enjoying the game immensely, Rage has also been one of the most frustrating games to play and review in recent memory. From what I can tell, it's not even the fault of the game itself. It's the drivers, and specifically the ATI 11.9 drivers.

A lot of folks complain about texture pop-in, which is actually one of the features of the engine. The game manages your memory and processing resources carefully and loads as much of the game as your system can handle. If you can get past a slight blur in the environment when a new area is loaded, you're rewarded with a custom tailored graphics environment, smooth framerates (now that the graphics issues are resolved, I'm consistently pegged at 60 frames/sec on a mid-range system), and brief loading screens.

Rage's visuals and overall smoothness are a treat.

Rage's detailed environments are a treat. Almost everything you see is open for exploration.

That is, if you can stay in the game. Let me begin my rant by saying that I scrupulously did everything you're supposed to do prior to embarking on a game of this magnitude, to the point of uninstalling my graphics drivers, using Driver Sweeper to clean up the last vestiges, then installed the latest distribution of ATI's Catalyst Control suite. I defragged twice for good measure, and even carefully blew the dust out of my Radeon HD 5770 card last week to hopefully prevent heat issues. I thought I was ready.

I wasn't. My first experiences with the game offered paltry framerates in the low teens and frequent loading screen crashes, but due to the quality of the game experience I soldiered on. To its credit, crashes aside, the game was playable, even enjoyable. One "fix" on the Steam boards recommended the 11.10 preview drivers which, for me, improved framerate immensely, but didn't solve the crashing issue and created some nasty artifacts and UI flicker.

Fortunately, a day after launch, AMD released a Rage Performance Driver which, at first, didn't work for me until I repeated the entire uninstall -> Driver Sweeper -> multiple restart sequence. But this story has a happy ending; I'm now Raging across the wasteland without a graphical hiccup or crash.

You might say that my first mistake was going with AMD when a majority of devs use Nvidia to develop their games, and a few years ago I would have agreed. AMD-based cards (formerly ATI) used to be a hot mess. But a suprisingly candid interview (yet also a thoroughly unprintable interview, given my level of hardware knowledge and Ten Ton Hammer's content focus) interview at GDC 2011 convinced me that ATI is on the end-users side when it comes to the age-old battle between standards-based and proprietary hardward. Nvidia I'm less sure about. They still has the better marketing presence and the edge in 3D, but from my layman's perspective, AMD still wins on cost even if performance is about equal in the DirectX 11 environment.

Dogs vs. cats, macs vs. PCs.... what's your take on the age old battle between AMD / ATI and Nvidia?

As always, you can contact us a number of ways:
Until later,
Jeff "Ethec" Woleslagle
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