ARMA III Video Card Performance and IQ Review

ARMA III is our focus point for today. It features a large open world environment designed on a massive continent measuring 270 square kilometers. To go along side this massive continent is a max visibility range of 20km. Combine this with ARMA III's impressive looking graphics and we have a game that demands performance.


On September 12th, 2013 ARMA III was released. ARMA III is an open world tactical shooter, and the sequel to ARMA II which was released back in 2009. Arma II was used here as part of our testing suite for a while and proved to be one of the most demanding games of its time. Arma III is developed and published by Bohemia Interactive. It received a Metascore of 73/100, and a user score of 6.6 out of 10. It is solely designed for the PC, which makes this game very unique, and very PC oriented in many ways. We will talk about that below.

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There are currently no single player campaign missions in ARMA III; the campaign missions will be added as free DLC content in October for owners of the game. We do have the ability to play showcases though. There are 15 showcase missions. These showcases put us into different combat scenarios, including ground, vehicle, underwater, and helicopter gameplay. There is of course multi-player support. ARMA III hopes to expand beyond ARMA II which was known for its ultra realistic combat simulation, and for having great graphics at the time. When we tested ARMA II those many years ago, we had trouble with SLI and CrossFire scaling as these it barely worked at all. This time, those problems have been fixed for ARMA III, and we will see how SLI and CrossFire performs, this is certainly the kind of game that needs it. We will be using a GeForce GTX 780 SLI and Radeon HD 7970 GE CrossFire configuration to evaluate if this has improved.

Bohemia Interactive uses its proprietary Real Virtuality 4 game engine in ARMA III. ARMA II used the previous version of this engine, Real Virtuality 3. Real Virtuality 4 delivers several new features compared to previous ARMA games. We now have support for DX10 and DX11, which allows the latest graphics on the PC and should help with performance optimizations. All of these features below are new] for ARMA III compared to the previous ARMA II.

Enhanced mission editor - Support for DirectX 10 and DirectX 11 - 20 km view distance - Ragdoll physics - Physics enabled vehicle handling and environmental objects - Underwater environments, vehicles and diving - Weapon and uniform customization - Volumetric clouds - Render to Texture - Improved lighting engine - Support for six degrees of freedom with a new stance modifier system Improved radio chatter (previous games used radio chatter that was clearly several sound files placed together. ARMA 3's radio chatter is more fluid.)

As we stated above, this game is solely developed on the PC. This is not a console port, and therefore this game can utilize the PC to its full potential. This allows a ton of graphics options, the highest view distance ever in a game, and incredible texture quality and fidelity. ARMA III makes big improvements in the engine compared to ARMA II.

ARMA III Graphics Options

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Overall Quality: This option enables a preset series of settings in the graphics settings. It's a way to globally set all your options very quickly with preset values. If you are going to manually change options, you can ignore it. If you just want an easy way to set the options, then use "Ultra" or "Very High" or "High" or "Standard" as is playable on your system. In our testing we didn't have to lower the overall quality below the "High" setting. If we made any additional tweaks after selecting overall quality it will be noted.

Full Screen Anti-Aliasing (MSAA): FSAA, which utilizes MSAA, is one of the more demanding graphics options. This is your standard multi-sampling AA which only works on objects. FSAA can be disabled, or set to 2X, 4X and 8X. In order for us to utilize "alpha to coverage" we have to have at least 2X FSAA enabled. This is going to be our primary source of anti-aliasing.

Post Process Anti-Aliasing: This setting has several options. First, FXAA is available at standard, high, very high, and ultra. It does not have a very large impact on performance. The second available PPAA option is SMAA, which is available at standard, high, very high, and ultra. It requires less performance compared to FXAA, but the image quality is blurrier. In fact, we have found FXAA is "sharper" than SMAA and MSAA by themselves. There seems to be a sharpening filter at play when FXAA is enabled. We'll talk about this more, but in this game, FXAA is a feature you want to turn on for the best IQ.

Alpha to Coverage: ATC can be disabled, enabled on grass, ARMA II trees, ARMA II trees + grass, Arrowhead trees, Arrowhead trees + grass, all trees, and all trees + grass. There is actually a deficiency that occurs when enabling Arrowhead trees, Arrowhead trees + grass, All trees, and All trees + grass. We keep ATC set to Arma 2 trees and grass, which provides the best overall visual quality. It has a small performance impact. We'll talk about this more, but this option basically sets an alpha coverage mask on grass and trees if selected, reducing aliasing. Far Cry 3 had a similar option, though not as many available settings.

SSAO: Screen space ambient occlusion is the only version of ambient occlusion included in this game. It can be set to very high, high, standard, or disabled. It has a large impact on performance.

Visibility: There are three sliders listed under visibility; overall, object, and shadow visibility. This setting has an extremely high impact on performance. Overall and object visibility settings can increase up to 12,000, but are set to 3,800 and 3,200 with "ultra" quality settings respectively. Shadow visibility can increase up to 200, and did not have as big of a performance impact. This improves from ARMA II which only had a maximum range of 10,000. This setting alone is what makes the ARMA games so unique on the PC.

Quality Settings: Beyond those settings, there are the granular quality settings. These options can all be changed manually: Texture, Objects, Terrain, Shadow, Particles, Cloud, PIP, HDR, and Dynamic Lights. Texture Quality affects the texture resolution and fidelity level. Objects Quality affects the geometry and complexity of objects and number of objects in the scene. Terrain Quality affects the smoothness of the terrain surface and edges. Shadow Quality affects the shadow resolution. Particle Quality affects the particle count and quality of particles. Cloud Quality affects the volumetric cloud quality. PIP Quality (Picture-in-Picture) affects the quality of things like mirrors, cockpit screens and so forth. HDR affects the HDR quality. Dynamic Lights affects the number of dynamic lights. All of these options can be change from: "Low" to "Standard" to "High" to "Very High" to "Ultra." HDR only has a "Low" and "Standard" option. The Global Quality drop-down-box affects all of these settings and sets preset values if you don't chose to set these manually.

Testing ARMA III

To test ARMA III we first played through all available showcases. We looked for scenes, levels, or areas which produced lower framerates than others. Our run-through takes place on the showcase "Commanding." We start our testing procedure after launching the showcase, as soon as we load into the helicopter. There is over a minute ride in the helicopter. We spend time in first person and third person view inside the helicopter and look as far inland as we can. This provides some helicopter and long view distances gameplay. After it lands, we have to load our squad into a truck and drive to a nearby village. There is about a 2 minute drive to the village, which gives us some ground vehicle simulation while we drive across continent. When we arrive in the village we first sweep through it firing at any enemies and checking inside a home. When we get to the edge of town we spend the remainder of the time walking up through a dense forest. This is where performance becomes the most demanding due to the vast amount of vegetation and view range. Our testing procedure takes 6 minutes to complete. We found most video cards are playable with smooth animation when averaging between 45 and 50 FPS. There are a few instances where slightly lower framerates were playable, but require certain video settings in order to be considered thus. Therefore, for this game, our goal an average above 40-45 FPS.