Battlefield 3 Single Player Performance and IQ Review

Battlefield 3 was released last week to throngs of anxious, eager gamers. The PC version shows PC gamers some love with some awesome lights and DirectX 11 effects. In this article, we're looking at Single Player Campaign gameplay performance and image quality with 8 of the best video card solutions on the market right now.


Graphics options in Battlefield 3

Battlefield 3, being a proper PC game, has lots of graphics options. In fact, it has quite a few more options than its predecessor, Battlefield: Bad Company 2. There is a total of 19 options. The first 6 options are standard things we see in most games: Display select, Resolution, Fullscreen toggle, Brightness slider, Vertical sync toggle, and a Field of View selector. The rest of the options are unique to this game.

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Motion Blur Amount : The motion blur amount slider allows gamers to adjust the intensity of motion blur in BF3. Some gamers love motion blur, some don't mind it, and some really hate it. Gamers who love it can have more, gamers who don't care can leave it alone, and gamers who hate it can disable it.

Graphics Quality : The graphics quality option is a macro option. Changing this option changes all of the options below it. Selecting "Ultra" will automatically enable the highest available in-game settings, with the possible exception of the two Anti-Aliasing options.

Texture Quality : The texture quality setting changes the resolution of textures used by Battlefield 3. In our testing, we never needed to touch this option, but gamers with limited quantities of video memory may need it.

Shadow Quality : This setting changes the accuracy and softness of shadows. The higher the setting, the more detailed the shadow will be, and also the softer the shadow edges will be. During our testing, modifying this setting had a small impact on performance.

Effects Quality : This setting affects the quality of effect objects, such as smoke and explosions. Again, this setting didn't have much of an effect on performance.

Mesh Quality : The mesh quality option controls the detail and draw distance of object meshes (also known as models). At low settings, decorative objects disappear earlier as the player's viewport moves away from them, and objects are shown with less geometric detail at closer distances. At higher settings, objects remain visible further in the background and are shown with full detail up close.

Terrain Quality : This setting modifies geometric detail of terrain. We did not find this option to have a significant impact on performance.

Terrain Decoration : The terrain decoration option controls how many decorative objects (tires, bricks, plants, etc.) are shown on screen. Again, this option had a light impact on performance.

Antialiasing Deferred : Deferred Anti-aliasing is the traditional MSAA option in Battlefield 3. Options are Off, 2X MSAA, and 4X MSAA. We found MSAA to have a greater-than-expected impact on performance in BF3.

Antialiasing Post : This option enables FXAA, a post-processing anti-aliasing shader developed by NVIDIA to be a faster alternative to 4X MSAA. FXAA and MSAA can be used together in this game, but there is really little reason to do so. We'll have more on that later. There are four settings in this option: Off, Low, Medium, and High. Our testing revealed that FXAA has a negligible impact on performance, regardless of which setting was chosen.

Motion Blur : This option toggles the game's motion blur effect. It doesn't hurt performance very much, so unless you just don't like motion blur, we found little reason to turn it off.

Anisotropic Filter : We're glad to have an in-game texture filtering option, which is something that has been missing from games for a long time. Available options are 1X, 2X, 4X, 8X, and 16X. Selecting 1X AF essentially disables Anisotropic filtering.

Ambient Occlusion : The ambient occlusion option has three settings: Off, SSAO, and HBAO. HBAO stands for Horizon-Based Ambient Occlusion (link to PDF). It is simply a more advanced, higher quality version of Screen Space Ambient Occlusion, or SSAO. This feature approximates traditional AO, which allows surfaces to occlude ambient lighting, which causes shadows to appear around proximate objects and some geometry intersections. We found this option to have a large impact on performance, sometimes as much as 15 FPS. However, during our testing, performance was good enough that we never had to change it.

Testing Battlefield 3

To test the single player campaign in Battlefield 3, we first played through the game in its entirety. At the end of testing, we found that the first complete mission, Operation Swordbreaker, offered the most challenging graphics and lowest performance. To test that level, we used FRAPS to record framerates for approximately the first nine minutes. During that time, the Marine team of which we were a part moved through a densely detailed urban area in Iraq. There was plenty of combat, both indoors and outdoors. We ended the test procedure with the destruction of a hotel to silence an insurgent sniper.