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DirectX 10 - has it delivered?

Article: The big PC gaming revolution. Or is it?

DirectX 10 has now been with us for nearly a year, debuting with the launch of Windows Vista. Since then we've been told numerous times that it'll raise the technology bar and kick-start a whole new gaming revolution on PC. (Almost) 12 months on, has it?

Here's a lovely quote from Microsoft's Games for Windows website: "DirectX 10 will provide an incredibly detailed experience for gamers of every type, and will enable game creators to increase a game's level of realism, enhancing details and complexity in gaming worlds, apply effects like dynamic lighting and weather, and much more."

A bold statement, but to date has it delivered?

To experience the new version of DirectX, PC gamers have to dig deep for a graphics card upgrade which is annoying enough, but what's the real kicker is that out of all the PC games we've stuck on our office ninja gaming rig that have DirectX 10 features, each performed worse in frame rate terms when compared to running them under DirectX 9.

Wasn't DirectX 10 supposed to make our games run better? It's enough to make you cry if you'd just forked out for a graphics card upgrade.

And even if you are running a game under DirectX 10, on certain titles the visual difference is so minimal between that and DirectX 9 you have to stare pretty hard to spot it.

Gears of War DX9 vs. DX10 comparison. Now you see it and, er, now you see it

Epic's Gears of War is an example. It looks fantastic under DirectX 9, so why suffer a hit to frame rate performance for what is in fact no discernible difference under DirectX 10 (try playing spot the difference in the comparison screenshot).

Because you have a DirectX 10-supporting graphics card and you can? Well, that's one argument we guess, but not one we'll adhere too.

The trouble is, it's hard to ignore the promised visual improvements offered by DirectX 10 over DirectX 9 when publishers pump out those lovely comparison screenshots. They're great aren't they?

But for many it's like being tempted with a holiday to the Bahamas but in reality you can only afford a trip to Skegness.

Crysis in DX9...

Crytek's Crysis - regarded as the flagship DirectX 10 game - has probably been responsible for the majority of such comparison media in an attempt to woo us into a dream-state of running amok in life-like environments.

And DX10

Admittedly it's a beautiful game to observe, but holy hell what a monster PC you need to run it in DirectX 10 (let alone DirectX 9). Saying "Here's what you could be playing" but then looking forlornly at your PC in the corner that wouldn't stand a hope of running it is a real kick in the teeth.

We imagine there were a few red faces when it was discovered that a small hack could enable DirectX 10 features and quality settings in the Crysis demo on Windows XP. But we digress.

What's interesting too with DirectX 10 is reactions from developers. While the likes of Epic, Crytek and Flagship Studios - and Relic and Turbine in DX10 updates/patches for Company of Heroes and Lord of the Rings Online respectively - have chosen to leap on board, there remain major players in the PC game development scene that have held back.

Company of Heroes - DX10 impact noticeable in these press images, but hardly blowing our socks off

One is id Software, John Carmack revealing previously that personally, he wouldn't jump at something like DirectX 10 at this current time but rather wait until "there's a really strong need for it". He also thinks that there isn't "any huge need for people to jump right now... All the high-end video cards right now - video cards across the board - are great nowadays".

Carmack has also said that there's no DirectX 10 feature that's going to be driven in id's new game Rage.

Valve Software too is a developer that's so far eschewed DirectX 10 in favour of DirectX 9 - in Orange Box. While it included DirectX 10 features in the three-game wonder, it achieved such by going through driver "back doors". At this stage it's not even saying it'll definitely embrace DirectX 10 for Half-Life 2: Episode Three.

Ultimately then, while we've seen DirectX 10 implemented into games, teething problems are obvious and it remains early days. If DX 10 is a revolution in PC gaming, it's a revolution still waiting to happen.