So you’ve bit the bullet and finally splurged on the latest, greatest RTX graphics card from Nvidia? This is the first consumer series of graphics cards that can do real-time ray tracing. Ray tracing is a rendering technique that uses a simulation of light to create almost photorealistic lighting and shadows. 

It’s the premier technique seen in big-budget CGI films, but is incredibly compute-intensive. The RTX cards have dedicated hardware meant to accelerate ray tracing in games that are specifically created to take advantage of it. That list of games is still pretty short, but it’s growing quickly.

The three games highlighted below represent key titles you can play right now that will make anyone understand the power and impact of real-time ray tracing. If you want to see your shiny new card in action or just impress your friends, this trio is just the ticket.

At the time of writing, in order to enable RTX ray-tracing in these titles, you’ll need to own one of these cards:

  • RTX 2060
  • RTX 2060 Super
  • RTX 2070
  • RTX 2070 Super
  • RTX 2080
  • RTX 2080 Super
  • RTX 2080 Ti

If you have one of these cards, the latest Windows 10 update and the latest Nvidia drivers, you should be good to go with any of these titles.

Quake II RTX

Yes, you read that right. This is the same Quake II that first launched way back in 1997. Quake II RTX takes the core game, with its basic geometry, and renders it with full ray tracing. 

Most RTX games available right now use a hybrid approach, only using ray tracing for select effects, along with more traditional lighting methods. Quake II RTX takes advantage of the game’s lower fidelity to show us what a difference full ray tracing can make. It’s amazing to see the low-polygon world of Quake II rendered in such a photorealistic way and it’s more than enough to encourage a few jaws to drop.

Best of all, you can get it for free. At least, you can get the free demo version of the game which includes the first few levels. Perfect as a tech demo. All you need to do is grab it from Steam. If you already own the full Steam version of Quake II and have it installed, you can import the entire game into Quake II RTX. 

Apart from being a visually stunning showcase, this is still a very worthy shooter. Performance isn’t bad either, with an RTX 2060 and all settings cranked to the max, a very playable 40 frames per second is on offer at 1080p. Unfortunately this version of Quake II lacks the soundtrack, but with a bit of Googling you can quickly learn how to restore it.

Switching between the traditional renderer and RTX is a doddle, so it’s perfect for a quick demo to your now open-mouthed buddies. Here’s hoping the dark and gothic Quake I gets the same treatment one day.

Battlefield V

The latest in a long line of impressive multiplayer first-person shooters, Battlefield V pushed the envelope in many ways. You’ll need a beefy machine to get the most of this WWII-era title, but it’s so worth it when you see the results.

Battlefield V was the first game to showcase what RTX hardware could do, but the initial version of the game released to the public had some serious performance issues. After some deep optimization work, even an RTX 2060 GPU can provide astounding ray tracing effects in this luscious shooter.

At 1080p with an RTX 2060 on the High preset and RTX cranked up, frame rates at or near 60 frames per second are not uncommon. The game looks absolutely fantastic and the RTX effects add a layer of realism that’s never been seen in AAA games.

You don’t even need to buy this game at the full retail price. It’s currently part of the Origin Access subscription service, so for just a few dollars a month you can play this and a large number of other EA titles. The single player campaign is a fun, extensive tech-demo for RTX, but Battlefield’s massive multiplayer component is as addictive as ever too!

Control

At the time of writing, Control is quite possibly the best showcase for ray tracing in a modern AAA title. This is the next generation of gaming graphics and a compelling reason to buy RTX hardware. It also helps that it’s an impressively good title created by the famed Remedy studio known for classics such as Max Payne.

Set in a retro-styled office building hosting the “Federal Bureau of Control”, the player experiences an intense supernatural third-person shooter that fans of the X-Files or Twin Peaks will surely appreciate. While the game is cutting edge without ray tracing, turning the tech on provides visuals that are literally impossible to get anywhere else.

True reflection simulation and architecture filled with varied material surfaces and light sources make for a title that transports you through the looking glass. Nothing else looks this good right now.

It’s a tight 3rd-person shooter, with a great story on top of those amazing visuals. Being arguably the best RTX-enabled game on the market right now is just icing on a very twisted cake. Even better, this game has the best DLSS implementation yet seen.

DLSS is another RTX-only feature that will boost your frame rate using dedicated machine-learning hardware. Combined with ray tracing in Control, it provides the best of both visual- and performance- worlds. What are you waiting for?

Let There Be Light!

Real-time ray tracing is quickly establishing itself as the future of consumer graphics rendering. Traditional methods of lighting scenes in games and other 3D apps have reached their zenith. Developers have gotten tantalizingly close to photo-realism using what amounts to a collection of tricks, illusions and workarounds. 

Now however, the age of graphical shortcuts is entering its terminal phase. True emergent lighting simulation is upon us and those that have gazed upon its glory may find going back to the dull world of traditional game graphics a hard pill to swallow. You have been warned!