Review: Unigine's Valley benchmark gives you room to roam

At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder Valley Basic

    PCWorld Rating

    Valley's Skyrim-sized sandbox makes this benchmark worth checking out.

Unigine's gift with benchmarks has always been the deft, artful touch they lend to their number-gobbling glitter engines. From the candlelit crypts in 2007's Sanctuary to the blue skies of 2011's Heaven, they have a long history of serving up the stats with an extra helping of eye candy. With their latest benchmark, Valley, the new twist is size and plenty of it. Think Skyrim meets granola bar commercial, and you're starting to get the picture. They've squeezed a national park into this one.

Vast environments set Valley apart from other benchmarks.

Heaven fans will feel right at home, as the interface remains unchanged in Valley. Startup presents an attractive options window that offers language selection and visual effects customization. DirectX 9 and 11 APIs are supported, along with OpenGL. Screenshots are saved via hotkey. Most startup options are also available inside the application via a row of buttons along the top of the screen.

You can access most startup options ainside the Valley benchmark.

The Valley benchmark itself consists of 18 different scripted runs through the environment, from flowerbeds to mountaintops, through rainstorms and dappled sunshine. The depth of focus changes, shadows lengthen, leaves flicker and drops of water splash against the lens of your imaginary camera. It's all quite beguiling. At the end you're presented with a raw score and the FPS numbers (avg/min/max). That's not a lot, but it's enough to gauge gaming potential in a general fashion.

As in past Unigine offerings, you can also opt out of the canned benchmark runs and explore the environment at will, either gravity-bound on foot or as a floating camera. While this was a fun sideline in Heaven, Valley's enormous size makes nature hikes through its meticulously designed forests a true holodeck-style pleasure.

Rainstorms show off advanced water and light rendering techniques.

Nice as Valley is, it's a bit rustic in more than just theme. The benchmarking world is moving beyond simple framerate numbers, and a graph with frame time in milliseconds to track stuttering issues would be a welcome addition to the Basic or Advanced versions. It can be quite useful to see the number of frames that spend 50 ms or more being rendered. That information hides inside of avg/min/max framerate formats, but significantly alters quality of play. While the Pro version features deeper analysis, it also sports a $495 price tag clearly meant for professional developers.

More on point are several visual miscues; the most serious among them is noticeable scenery pop-in even at the highest levels of detail. In some areas, the flowers appear to jump out of the ground to greet you as you pass by. In a benchmark that takes its fashionable look so seriously, that's an inexcusable Wal-Mart moment.

This vista isn't just wallpaper. You can walk every inch of it.

These shortcomings don't ruin the ride, however. If you're looking to test or show off your high-end gaming steed, Valley is a fine companion to Heaven and a welcome addition to Unigine's stable.

Note: The Download button on the Product Information page takes you to the vendor's site, where you can download the latest version of the software.

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    Valley's Skyrim-sized sandbox makes this benchmark worth checking out.

    Pros

    • Beautifully realized environment
    • Enormous area
    • Flexible usage

    Cons

    • Scenery pop-up
    • Light on result details
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