High quality also turns on the game's AA option. It is here that the title's console development roots come into play, as it doesn't seem to allow for hardware AA, instead using what appears to be a blur shader on only some of the aliased edges. Because it doesn't work on all aliased edges, some edges are blurry and others are jagged. Even the edges that are smooth look blurry and out of focus. It's a strange and unfortunate situation that graphics card AA isn't supported, while forcing AA through the GeForce or Radeon drivers has no effect in the game.
However, even with these annoyances, the game looks very good with High Detail selected and the Medium Detail setting also noticeably enhances the graphics. Avoid the low-quality setting if possible, though.
Image Quality: Radeon Versus GeForce
We scrutinized both GeForce and Radeon screen captures and came to the following conclusion: the image quality is identical for all intents and purposes. Even zooming in close provided us with no discernable differences, which is very good.
The AO option in the GeForce 185.85 driver
Nvidia has added a little spice to its latest drivers with its AO option. As we mentioned in our Burnout Paradise performance analysis last month, AO is an illumination algorithm that simulates many aspects of ray tracing. It can illuminate the entire scene globally while highlighting the way that light has a difficult time penetrating confined or closed spaces like cracks, thus creating lighting that appears much more realistic.
The big difference here is that, unlike Burnout Paradise, Dead Space has no built-in AO option. Nvidia has taken it upon itself to add this feature to its drivers and it will work with specific games as long as Nvidia has included support for the title.
It's a shame that this feature can't work globally for every game, but it's hard to complain about a free feature that the competition doesn't offer at all. Fortunately, Nvidia's driver team is fairly efficient about adding profiles for new features. And because Nvidia has close ties with a number of developers, it will likely soon integrate AO support for more titles.
Now that I've built it up past any realistic expectation, here's the difference the AO feature offers in Dead Space:
That doesn't look nearly as exciting as I made it sound, does it? The difference is subtle, probably because Dead Space already makes good use of a lighting model that accentuates shadows and depth.
Having said that, the depth is superior with AO enabled. Pay close attention to the bottom of the character's back and the extra depth that the setting provides. By looking at the walls at the top of the image and to the left, you can see once again that there's definitely some shading added in the deeper cracks and crevices.
Is this a game changer? No. And as we'll see later, it comes with a substantial performance hit. But if you're hardware is powerful enough to turn it on at your gaming resolution, I would definitely advocate doing so.