Alien: Isolation - Video Card Performance Review

We look at performance in Alien: Isolation on several video cards, and compare specific features such as AA, SSAO, GPU-Accelerated Particles, and Contact Hardening Shadows. We will compare between NVIDIA and AMD and SLI and CrossFire and show you some screenshot comparisons to you know what to expect out of this game.


Alien: Isolation was released to eager gamer's October 7th, 2014. This game was developed by The Creative Assembly and published by Sega. Officially part of the Alien franchise of games, this new game is a bit different in that it is classified as a "first-person survival horror stealth game" that follows more closely to the original Alien movie than any other game.

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The Creative Assembly described Alien: Isolation as a survival horror game as opposed to an action shooter, designing the game more in line with Ridley Scott's Alien, as opposed to James Cameron's more action-oriented Aliens. Unlike most other video game adaptations of the Alien franchise, Alien: Isolation features a single Alien for most of the title's duration that cannot be killed, requiring the player to use stealth tactics in order to survive.

Our Goals

We've been playing this game for a month now, and have been enjoying it very much. We recently used this game for the first time in our NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 SLI evaluation. However, we are not going to be permanently adding this game to our gaming suite, and this article today will show you why.

Our goals here today are to look at performance in Alien: Isolation on several video cards. We will perform apples-to-apples performance testing to see how video cards stack up in this game with all the details turned on. Then we will look more specifically at how some of the special features perform in comparison. Finally, we will look at some screenshot comparisons of the graphics and make our conclusion.

A Very DX11 Game

If there is one point we want you to understand about this game it is that this is a "very DX11" driven game. By that we mean this game uses some advanced DX11 features to exploit the benefits of Microsoft DirectCompute and DirectX 11. AMD had a heavy hand in the development of this game in order to push DX11 graphics features and introduce some of AMD's own technology into the game. While some of these 3D graphical effects are AMD created, these are done under DirectCompute so that these work on both NVIDIA and AMD GPUs. There are no proprietary graphics effects in this game, everything can be rendered equally on NVIDIA or AMD GPUs given the proper DirectX feature level support. Please take note of this NVIDIA! This is how you move gaming forward which betters the entire industry, not just the Green stock price!

Your best resource for the in-depth information on what has been implemented in this game can best be found on this page from AMD. This webpage goes into detail about all the special graphical features. We highly suggest reading that webpage first, before going on. We will briefly summarize each point below, but the real meat and potatoes is to be found in this webpage.

Deferred Renderer - This game uses a deferred renderer which allows the dramatic lighting effects in this game. The renderer renders the entire scene in a single-pass and puts all the data in a special G-Buffer. In this way, the lighting can be rendered after the geometry as needed. Lighting layers exist such as the albedo, normal mapping, shininess, and other properties.

Real-Time Radiosity - Via DirectCompute this game uses real-time radiosity. This is exciting because most games use a fake method of light rays by approximation. The developers for this game developed a real-time radiosity lighting engine that bounce the light off objects more precisely. This game is constantly update the radiosity model for the entire scene. All of this is done by DirectCompute so that it works on any DX11 video card.

HDAO - AMD's High Definition Ambient Occlusion is included using DirectCompute. The game does also support standard SSAO. Since HDAO is rendered via DirectCompute any video card can do it.

BC7 Texture Compression - This one is quite exciting. For a long times, and for most games, the type of texture compression used is "DXT" which is a standard in DirectX. DXT isn't perfect though, there is better texture compression out there with less artifacts and errors when compressing the texture which lessens the image quality. DX11 supports a new texture compression method called BC7. This still compresses at the same ratio as DXT but with much less artifacts and errors. This simply means, better performing textures, and better looking textures.

Contact Hardening Shadows - This is another AMD technology, but also using DirectCompute so any video card can do it, NVIDIA or AMD. This technologically basically softens shadow edges depending on the distance of the shadow from the light source. It makes shadows look more realistic.

GPU-Accelerated Particles - This is another new technology which is very exciting for this game, and the industry. Instead of using a proprietary engine like PhysX with NVIDIA GPUs the game developers used DX11's DirectCompute to allow the GPU to accelerate particles on the GPU. By using DirectCompute that means GPU accelerated particles works on NVIDIA and AMD GPUs. The particle effects include fire, smoke, streams and sparks from items in the game.

Silhouette-enhancing Tessellation - Tessellation is not forgotten either in this game. This game adds detail via tessellation based on the distance of objects to the player. The closer the object, the more tessellation it can receive to look better, the farther away, less is needed.