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CellFactor: Revolution

Date: May 8, 2007
Author(s): Greg King

It seems like we have been waiting on CellFactor forever, but the day has finally arrived. AGEIA has been touting this game for quite some time as the one to showcase all that their PhysX card is capable of. Was it worth all those delays?



Introduction


Well, for those of you who have been waiting, it’s here. It’s finally frickin’ here. Cell Factor hits the streets today and in a surprising move by Immersion Games, Timeline Interactive and Artificial Studios; the game can be downloaded in its entirety completely free and more often than not, free is good. Usually.

For those of you who might be new to SmartKevin, we have given Ageia a considerable amount of coverage since their announcement of the PhysX platform at the 2006 GDC in San Jose. Since then, they have been on somewhat of an emotional rollercoaster with PhysX taking heat for the lack of games in its stable but at the same time, being garnered with praise for the incredible potential that the technology holds. At the GDC, in their suite, various members of the press were given sneak peeks at not only the cards themselves, but of the games that are enhanced by using their technology.

In what can only be described as an incredible tech demo, we saw Cell Factor in action, being driven by monster Alienware PCs equipped with Ageia’s PhysX PPU (physics processing unit.) In that meeting, the vast amount of objects on the screen being interacted with was amazing. Either by high tech weaponry or by “Bishop’s” psi powers, these objects were blown up, shifted around and impressively, used as blunt weapons. This meant that on multi-tiered levels, a pair of combatants could be throwing down on the top level and as they fight, they knock a stack of pipes down onto the lower level. If you happen to be on that lower level, look out. Using that same scenario, if you happen to be playing as one of the characters with psi powers, you can catch that object and either hurl it back in the direction it came from or even more resourcefully, at the closest opponent to you.

At the end of GDC, there was a significant buzz surrounding not only Ageia, but around Cell Factor as well. Not only did it look amazing, but with the Ageia PPU, it added a whole new dimension to game play and did so for the better. As time went on though, the game looked more and more like a tech demo and less like a game that would eventually see the light of day. As the excitement surrounding Cell Factor waned, so did the enthusiastic reception that Ageia initially enjoyed.

With only a select few games available that actually used the PhysX card, it was becoming increasingly difficult for sites like ours to recommend the purchase of the card. We were fed GRAW, which really wasn’t all that impressive with PhysX enabled and up until today when Cell Factor is released, the only enjoyable game which is truly enhanced by the PhysX card, was a small game available on Valve’s Steam called RoboBlitz. Now we have Cell Factor and in this editor’s opinion, not a moment too soon.

The back-story isn’t exactly a new one. Not unlike most other sci-fi storylines, the world has been taken over by a mega company called LIMBO. Rather than ramble on and on, let’s get it straight from the horse’s mouth.

“After a series of cataclysmic events, the planet is now dominated by a superpower, known as the L.I.M.B.O Corporation, dedicated only to the advancement of technology – no matter what the human cost. This technology forms the basis of a cybernetic-enhanced humanoid army – the Technocracy, whose telekinetic powers are used to maintain order across the planet. A scattered human resistance fights for one last shred of freedom, tapping into psionic abilities in an attempt to conquer what appears to be an invincible enemy. The gamer can play as characters from both sides of this war.

There you have it. In a nut shell, the world has gone ten ways to hell and it’s now up to you, the player, to save the day, defeat L.I.M.B.O. and while you’re at it, get the girl. I think that’s how it goes. This sounds like a rather compelling storyline and the bad guys actually have a cool name, but how deep can we stick it in the man with only 5 levels and when all of those 5 levels are basically multiplayer with bots instead of human opponents?

Let’s take a look…



Closer Look

For starters, the press was given demo disks roughly two weeks ago and the disk contained the install file of a very late beta version. By the time you read this, the minor bugs –should- be corrected and the release version will be the one you all will be downloading.

With that said, we start out with an 800 MB install that unpacks to just under 2 GB. For that disk space, as mentioned before, you get 5 levels, each unique in their settings and objects. Ageia strongly recommends a dual core CPU, 2 GB of system memory and at least a 7800 class video card with would have an ATi equivalent of an x1800. From our tests, a dual core CPU isn’t as important as the video card and RAM. On an average, when in the game we were using between 1.1 and 1.3 GB of RAM. That’s a pretty hefty footprint in memory. Our test machine includes:

While lacking 4 cores and an 8800 GTX, this test bed falls well into the recommended specs and should prove adequate in our testing.

Once installed, we are presented with our system settings. Here is where we can choose our resolution, lighting and most importantly, whether or not we enable PhysX acceleration. With this disabled, the Card might be installed and it’s still detected by your PC, but it’s basically consuming power because it certainly isn’t doing anything for the game. In our testing we will try out the game with the PPU turned on as well as with it disabled.

The entire game is centered on the use of the Ageia hardware. While you can use it without, 3 of the 5 levels will reduce your experience to a slide show and personally, this isn’t what most would consider enjoyable. To use the PPU to its fullest, the in game characters can certainly be used to stress the PhysX card.

Cell Factor gives the user the option of three different classes of playable characters. As with any decent game, the characters must be evenly matched or the game becomes unfair for those not using the most powerful character. The attributes of each class displays a bit of give and take and as we describe them, it will become apparent who is who.

First there is the Black Ops. This character is your run of the mill, average player. Wielding a single weapon, the black ops character also has the ability to channel his psi power and control his surroundings. This psi power can be used to push objects towards his opponent, block bullets and can cause great harm when an opponent is directly in front of the player. The Black Ops can be compared to a paladin if you will. Kind of a mix of abilities with none of them being as powerful as those who only rely on power.

Next up is the Guardian. The Guardian is a robot with the ability to carry two weapons. This power is held in check by the fact that the guardian does not have any psi abilities so while he can’t push objects and deflect bullets, he is made of metal and with a pair of weapons, and he can blow anything in his path to pieces without prejudice. In a RPG, he would be the barbarian.

Finally we get to the highlight of the game, Bishop. She is a genetically altered human with unreal psi powers. She can grab an object, regardless of weight and hurl it at whatever she chooses. She can block bullets and pick up massive amounts of objects and throw them one at a time or all at once for extreme damage. Oh yeah, she can fly to. Pretty intense stuff. While she seems invincible, she doesn’t take to kindly to bullets and rockets so keep her away from close combat if possible. We can safely call her a mage or sorceress if we continue with the gaming parallel theme.

With the character classes introduced, let’s get into the weaponry available in Cell Factor. As we have covered, two of the available three playable characters have the ability to manipulate their surroundings with their psi powers. Of those two, only one is completely dependent on their powers of the mind. The Black Op and the Guardian both have the ability to tote weapons that are capable of damage on a massive scale.

There are four weapons in cell factor and they cover the main classes of weaponry in other games so nothing revolutionary there. Calling them by name, there is the Phlegethon which is a high powered sniper rifle, the Acheron which fires rockets and the trusty old auto rifle that doubles as a grenade launcher called the Styx. The Black Op also starts with a single shot pistol called the Lethe. Each of these weapons acts as one would expect and each one has their advantages/disadvantages. The aiming is unique in the sense that instead of looking down the barrel of the Phlegethon and Acheron. The aiming crosshair will turn red when your opponent is in the sights. When a hit is made, the sides of the crosshair will show how much life the target has left. If the shot is timed right, the Acheron will score a one shot one kill.

Secondary weapons also include gravity grenades and proximity mines. These are only available to the Black Op.

The arenas are all different and make good use of the PhysX hardware. We should all be familiar with the Fuel Depot level by now as it’s the same arena that we have all seen time and time again but there are four new level this time around. These levels are:

Each of these arenas is different and some are indoor while others out outdoor. Each of the levels uses the PhysX PPU considerable but there are 3 “extreme PhysX” levels. These three are the Weapons System Control, the Storage Facility and the Reactor Processing Core. In the Reactor Core, there are numerous objects to manipulate as well as lava flows that can be thrown at your opponent for maximum damage. The Storage Facility is ideal for vehicular mayhem and in the Weapons System Control arena; the vast number of objects can tax even the most powerful of PCs not using an Ageia PPU.

The vehicles in Cell Factor are entertaining to say the least and each one has its own advantages and disadvantages. There is the hover mech that uses machine guns and rockets to rain death from anywhere it can hover. There is the Death Stalker which is like the Warthog for those of you who enjoy Halo. The Goliath is a giant mech that can mow down opponents with its twin Gatling guns and can hover for short periods with its “limited-use flight boosters.” The final vehicle is the Dusk Hawker. This aircraft has a pair of Gatling guns to shred its enemies with ease and all from the air.



Multiplayer, Final Thoughts


The final aspect of Cell Factor is the types of multiplayer games that can be played. Supporting up to 8 LAN players, as well as 10 AI bots, there are four different types of games that can be setup. These game modes are Assault, Capture the Flag, Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch. In assault, the mission is to plant a psi bomb in your enemy’s base. One the bomb explodes, it emits a psi force that creates a psionic vortex and pulls everything around it into the unknown.

Capture the flag is a fan favorite and is the same as most other games. The only difference in Cell Factor is that the flag much me moved using psi power. This leaves the Guardian out in the cold but he can ram it if needs be. He is best used as protection unless it’s necessary to take the offensive. Deathmatch is a no holds barred slug fest with the best player remaining at the end. Team deathmatch is just like normal deathmatch but with teams… who would have figured that?

Game play was smooth thank in part to both the hardware used as well as the PhysX card from Ageia. In our test machine, we used an Asus PhysX P1 card but should you own or are interested in owning a BFG card, it will operate the exact same. Frame rates did drop where was a lot going down on the screen but running FRAPS, we averaged a very a playable 36 FPS overall. It did dip into the high teens but didn’t stay there for long and if anyone would like to play the extreme PhysX levels without a PhysX card, good luck.

Another thing that could possible help Cell Factor along is that editing tools will be available for free with the game and will allow modders to tweak the existing levels and even create their own. Perhaps a Counter Strike effect can occur here… who knows?

As you read this, more and more people are going to jump into line to download their free copy of Cell Factor and while it’s a large file, it will be worth the wait for those of us downloading. Judging the game completely independent of our feeling of Ageia, if that’s possible since they have gone hand in hand for so long, it leaves us both impressed and disappointed. The additional levels are killer and the game in its entirety brings more to the table than every other game to date. It’s too bad that it’s so short.

As it stands it still feels like an extremely polished tech demo but it does succeed in showing off just how well a game can play with Ageia’s PhysX PPU. Playing though the game, it’s nice to finally see something, anything come to life for Ageia. Does this mean that Cell Factor will sell Ageia thousands upon thousands of PPUs? As much as I hope it does, I doubt it will. This is not a game that would make a person run out and shell out $150 for an adding card that can only at this time, run this one game. I know there are others out there but Cell Factor is the only game that would make me even consider purchasing a PhysX card at this time. What I hope it does do is show developers just how powerful this card is and turn them on to using it in their future games.

As a standalone game, Cell Factor gets an 88 out of 100. It’s one of the more enjoyable games available and the fact that it’s free is amazing. With the PhysX card, I would even say that it kicks ass. There is something to be said for playing as Bishop and decimating your opponents with anything and everything that isn’t nailed down. I mean, how do you fight a wall of debris? It’s incredible and considering that the game is free, I highly recommend everyone download this regardless of if you have a PhysX card or not. It definitely worth the wait and I hope that if it does well, because as it stands now, it feels like a very complete multiplayer game with little to no single player value at all. LAN parties could be a great way to spread the word as the game is free and can easily be shared among the attendees, Ageia card installed or not.

Good game Immersion Games, Timeline Interactive and Artificial Studios but it’s only a start. I would like to see a stronger single player title in the future but you have a small hit on your hands with this one. Good going. For those interested, here are a few gameplay videos I put together.

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