Genre: First Person Shooter
Publisher: Artificial Studios & Immersion Games
Developer: Artificial Studios, Immersion Games and Timeline Interactive
Release Date: May 8, 2007
Anyone who recently plunked down three grand or more on a gaming rig likely found themselves equipped with a "PhysX" physics-processing card by Ageia, which seems to come more or less standard on top-shelf computers these days. At present, however, few games take advantage of Ageia's PhysX technology. CellFactor: Revolution, which began its existence as a tech demo, was created to show off the card's capabilities.
For those unfamiliar with Ageia's specialized physics accelerator, it resembles a small video card and plugs into a PCI expansion slot. It is not, however, a graphics processor. Rather, it is a "physics processing unit" (PPU), designed to control how objects can be manipulated in the environment by processing unique physics algorithms. The purpose of the PhysX card is to calculate all of the movement and interaction in a game, enabling more realistic cause-and-effect actions without putting that burden on your computer's other hardware.
If you have even been frustrated in a game by being unable to smash through a fragile picket fence or a stack of crates with your 70-ton M1A2 Abrams tank, you will certainly enjoy the interactivity and freedom that PhysX-enabled games make possible.
CellFactor is primarily a multiplayer shooter set in a robot-dominated future, similar in many respects to the Unreal Tournament titles. The maps are small, and the pace is fast and frantic. There is a single-player campaign mode, but it is little more than playing in multiplayer maps that have been occupied by a few bots. Multiplayer matches consist of deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag, and an "assault" mode that involves one team defending a base while the other team attempts to plant a gravity-vortex bomb. Curiously, multiplayer play is available only by LAN connection. Internet matches are not available.
Players choose from three characters: Bishop, Black Ops and Guardian. The Black Ops kit is the standard soldier and can use both "psionic powers" (which let you control and manipulate objects in the environment) and conventional weapons. The Guardian lacks psionic abilities but can wield two weapons at the same time, even holding a different type of gun in each hand. The Bishop will likely be the class of choice for those equipped with PhysX cards because she uses psionic powers exclusively. She can't drive a vehicle but can lift it up with her mind and hurl it at the enemy. She can fly, too.
First, the good news. CellFactor is available as a free download! The entire game costs absolutely nothing. For that reason, it's recommended to anyone who has even a passing interest in the first-person shooter genre. For the money, I can't think of a title that has offered more hours of 3-D fragging fun (with the notable exception of Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory). So how much fun is it? Well, that's where we get to the bad news.
CellFactor is seemingly designed for those with an undying love for Half-Life 2's gravity gun. Most of us, I suspect, viewed the gravity gun as a curiosity best suited for temporary, isolated uses. CellFactor's entire gameplay, however, revolves around a wide variety of gravity-defying, object-manipulating abilities. It's not so much a shooter as it is a "box tosser." Hurling objects is amusing for a while, but it's unlikely to hold your interest the way shooting an AK-47 does.
Every map, for example, is littered with rows of boxes, crates, containers, and miscellaneous debris. Your job is to toss that stuff around to kill your enemies. You can draw an object to you and blast it forward in classic gravity-gun fashion, but you can also do so much more. You can attract a whole collection of objects, hold them in the air, and then shoot them forward one by one. You can create a whirlwind effect and pull a group of objects into a giant ball, and then hurl the entire ball at your opponent. My personal favorite is the ability to "crush" your enemy by imploding his body, causing a "fireworks display" of red chunks of flesh and bone, presumably rendered on the basis of accurate physics calculations.
Certain player classes can shoot, too, but there is no detectable recoil so the guns are unsatisfying and unrealistic. You can kill an enemy with a pistol from distances so ridiculous you can hardly see your target. (Just shoot in the general direction of that black dot in the distance, and be prepared to bask in the glory of a "headshot!" announcement.)
The graphics in CellFactor are decent but not groundbreaking. Widescreen resolutions are supported, and high dynamic range lighting is available, but you will need a beast of a machine to run the game in its full glory. There is even a nice motion-blur effect when you sprint. The focus of the visuals, however, is not on the beauty of the graphics; the CellFactor developers clearly intended for the player to have fun with the environment by dreaming up new ways to use physics to destroy enemies.
The game's tutorials are weak. Essentially, the "tutorials" consist of a series of short videos demonstrating the proper execution of a particular ability, with superimposed text telling you the default keystroke. If you happened to re-map the keyboard, however, you will be at a total loss regarding how to accomplish certain moves. The number of available moves is overwhelming, and some require relatively complicated keystroke combinations (think Ctrl, right-click, Alt).
The sounds in the game are unremarkable, and the dialogue is mostly annoying. If you throw a box at someone and knock him down, the bombastic voice of the unseen announcer declares that it is a "Physics Kill!" while matching text is displayed across the screen. If you ask me, tossing a box at someone is just not that exciting. In Capture the Flag mode, prepare for a constant barrage of loud, "They're taking our flag!" announcements in robotic voices that never change in tone or pitch.
While a PhysX card is not necessary to play the game, you will want one to enjoy all of the benefits this title was designed to show off. Moreover, the card is necessary to access all five of the maps, as three of them are so physics-intensive that they can't be displayed without the specialized processor.
CellFactor is very demanding on your system's resources, and running it at high settings requires a beefy processor and video card. Supposedly, the game runs more smoothly with a PhysX card installed, though I used one and still experienced significant frame rate issues with my mid-range system. However, if you're the type of gamer who has already purchased a PhysX card, I'd be willing to bet that the rest of your system is up to the challenge of churning out 30 frames per second or more.
CellFactor is best thought of as an intriguing tech demo. It is interesting to watch your screen become cluttered with dozens of boxes, pipes, and miscellaneous junk, and know that your PhysX card is making the spectacle possible, but is it fun to play? Let's just say that you will love it … if your video game collection consists solely of free games. If, on the other hand, you are accustomed to marquee titles that cost $50 a pop, you are unlikely to be impressed.
Does the PhysX card have promise? Absolutely, as CellFactor: Revolution clearly demonstrates that strong games can benefit from the card's enhanced visuals. However, CellFactor alone is not a reason to go out and buy the PhysX card.
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