Last weekend, the ever popular Gaming Bunker on London’s Tottenham Court Road became the venue for a dedicated gaming event hosted by NVidia to present some of the latest and greatest NVidia-powered games and hardware. Featuring several big names in gaming like Razer, Ubisoft and Deep Silver, as well as Toshiba presenting some of their NVidia-powered mobile devices, a lucky group of gamers were invited to have a first look at what’s on display.
The warm summer’s day (which was a nice departure from usual London weather) began with a sizeable crowd of eager gamers assembling at the entrance to the Gaming Bunker within Currys PC World, waiting for the event to begin and get their hands on the precious games and gear on display. Around 10 am everyone made their way into the centre, ready to hear about what NVidia and its partners had brought for everyone to enjoy. An introductory presentation began the day’s proceedings, with an enthusiastic NVidia rep running through their short intro talk about the company. They could probably tell many gamers there couldn’t wait to get their hands on the games so luckily the crowd didn’t have long to wait before being set loose onto the PCs and devices laid out around the centre.
One of the highlighted features of the day was the NVidia Shield gaming system being present for its first public appearance in London. Connected to their custom gaming rig furnished with an NVidia Titan among other high-end gaming components, we were able to try the Shield with several android based games and test out its dedicated game streaming feature before it arrives on shelves.
Weighing little more than an Xbox 360 controller + batteries and sporting a somewhat familiar shape, the Shield fits snugly in your hands and feels surprisingly solid, especially with this pre-release version of the hardware. A rubberised matte coating encases the controller grips on the Shield, helping you keep a steady hold on the device when moving about, while the the hinge on the screen was able to keep it held at varying degrees of tilt with no noticeable wobble. Playing on the Shield was also an enjoyable experience, thanks in part to the responsive face buttons and triggers. While a cursory glance would suggest the Shield’s controller design may have been influenced by the Xbox 360 controller, the analog and D-pad positioning deviates from that template by adopting a symmetrical layout for the analog sticks and placing the d-pad opposite to the face buttons.
As for the performance of the hardware, I spent some time playing games like Bioshock Infinite and Borderlands 2 on the Shield via its game streaming, with the game being played and rendered on the host PC and the game play and video being streamed wirelessly between the PC and the Shield. Accessing your library of PC games on the Shield is managed via the dedicated app on the device, which displays the compatible games installed on the host PC. NVidia plans to continuously update the list of compatible games to ensure that the games you will be streaming to the Shield will run properly and work with the controller.
During my session on the streamed games, I was actually surprised how well it worked (albeit with an ideal host set-up positioned several feet away from the device). Playing the streamed games felt as if the games were actually being rendered on the Shield with no major indications that the game was actually running elsewhere. There was barely any noticeable lag between input and feedback from the game and there appeared to be minimal video compression artefacts visible while I was playing. It would be interesting to see how performance for game streaming fares in a household network setting with a more affordable geforce card powering the host pc. According to our friendly NVidia rep, while game streaming is currently only supported over wi-fi, there may be a possibility for streaming from your PC to your Shield over the internet to be added later on after launch.
Built around the Tegra 4 and android, the NVidia Shield also proved to be a decent gaming device for android based games and could even enhance the performance of existing games thanks to it’s processor. While playing currently available Tegra 3 optimized games like Shadowgun and Sonic 4 Episode 2, they performed noticeably better on the Shield over Tegra 3 devices. An app will accompany the launch versions of the Shield which will also allow you enable touchscreen only games to support the controller buttons. Unfortunately we weren’t able to try out this feature at the event, but it sounds like it could be a great way to improve on some android games which may be hampered by their use of virtual joypads by supplementing it with physical controls.
Another NVidia powered portable gaming device we were able to see at the event was the Edge gaming tablet from Razer. Housing an Intel core i5 and an NVida graphics chip, the Razer Edge was presented as a tablet PC you could play real PC games on, with a dedicated controller housing you can clip on to the tablet to give you an integrated physical control pad, complete with buttons, analog sticks and triggers. Having the controller integrated into the tablet meant that you wouldn’t have to plug in an external controller and put the tablet on a stand to be able to play some of your favourite games. Instead, everything you need to play would be in your hands in one unit. The specs of the Edge meant it had no problem playing games like Space Marine or Portal 2 and was still capable with recent releases such as borderlands 2, although, I did notice a slight drop in frame rate on borderlands 2 occasionally.
After spending some time with the Edge, both in the controller housing and just the tablet, I noticed the dock adds quite a bit of weight to the package, partially due to the dock containing a secondary battery for the tablet. At almost 2kg fully loaded, it also put a fair amount of strain on my wrists and arms if I tried to play for extended periods of time holding the tablet in the air, rather than supporting supporting its weight on something external like a table or resting it on my lap instead. Incidentally, that was when I also noticed the back of the tablet can get a bit toasty when gaming, so that would probably be something to look out for.
As it is right now, the Edge seems like it could be a suitable alternative to a gaming laptop for a portable PC gaming experience, but your mileage may vary depending on how many of your favourite games support controllers. If Razer are able to revise the hardware by the time it launches in the UK, it could be even better.
Meanwhile, gamers were also able to experience the power of NVidia’s newest Geforce cards by playing Metro Last Light and the upcoming Splinter Cell Blacklist on custom built gaming rigs. The players at the Gaming Bunker were even able to take part in a time trial tournament in Metro Last Light to actually win one of the new geforce cards to take home. The tournament had two sessions, one for the morning session and one for the afternoon session, with the 1st place winner of each going away with a brand new Geforce 780. The highly coveted first prize made for a sensational tournament, with participants setting top times then returning soon after once another player shaved a few seconds (or even fractions of a second) off their previous ones. After finding the quickest route through the level and being crowned the fastest, the winners were announced at the end of each tournament session.
Overall, the event proved to be an enjoyable day for many like-minded gamers who were able to come down to the Gaming Bunker (some, for the first time ever) to experience the exciting new games and hardware on display, meet other gaming fans and for some, even go home with a few goodies as well.