|Min OS X: Not Supported
Deus EAXThe first game to support EAX on the Mac is one of the finest games ever made--Deus Ex. An EAX-enhanced version of the full game is included in the Sound Blaster Live! package--an especially good deal if you don't already own the game.
The EAX enhancements in Deus Ex are pretty basic. Cutscene conversations use the reverb capability of the EMU10K1 processor that is the heart of the Sound Blaster's capabilities (we'll talk more about the EMU10K1 later). Reverb happens when sound waves hit something solid (like a wall) and bounce back towards you--some people call it echo. Typically it is used to simulate some type of environment. The reverb used in Deus Ex makes it sound like you are talking in some type of hall; it sounds good, but the exact same type of reverb is used uniformly throughout the game--one that is not really appropriate for most of the scenes in which conversations occur, so the effect is not convincing. Using different types of reverb throughout the game to simulate the right type of environment for the place in which each conversation takes place would have been cooler.
Deus Ex benefits more from the other major enhancement provided by EAX--localized sound. Localization is the heart of surround sound. In Deus Ex, you can hear footsteps behind you and to the right; without the Sound Blaster, you can only differentiate between left and right. This feature helps greatly when you are planning an attack on enemies you can't see. It makes the whole experience a lot more three-dimensional.
Future games will benefit a lot more from the use of EAX and OpenAL. Westlake is working on an OpenAL version of Unreal Tournament as I write this review, which should be released in the very near future. It is expected to make greater use of the audio enhancing capabilities of the Sound Blaster than Deus Ex does. An OpenAL version of Rune will likely follow, since it is also based on the Unreal Tournament engine. An increasing number of PC games support audio enhancement technologies; Mac users can expect these features to be included in the Mac versions of these games in the future.
To summarize, the card's main benefits to games include the use of different types of reverb to simulate various environments, and surround sound--the ability to place sounds in specific locations around your head. Reverb can be used to make footsteps echo down a hall, a gunshot ring in a large, open warehouse, or even muffle sounds when you dive underwater. It adds another level of realism to your gaming experience--one whose full benefits are not yet apparent.
Games that do not specifically take advantage of OpenAL or EAX can still benefit from the card's capabilities. Enable the EAX reverb effect of your choice before starting up a game, and all of its sounds will be enhanced with the effect. The reverbs are most effective in 3D games, in that they add depth to the sound. The "Generic" setting works well in many games.