Crysis demo impressions, performance preview

The Crysis single-player demo is finally upon us, and with the game just weeks away we're finally starting to see what nearly two years of hype is leading up to. It's safe to say that most of the hype behind Crysis has had to do with its next-generation graphics engine, and everyone is of course anxious to find out how the game will perform. Of course, Crysis' technical legacy will be quickly forgotten if it's just a brainless beauty. Fortunately, Crysis is every bit as next-generation in gameplay as it is in looks. The amount of things that can be destroyed, and they realistic way in which the react, is truly groundbreaking. There's a real sense of unpredictability in the combat because the environment feels very lifelike and, for the most part, reacts as you would expect it to in real life. The artificial intelligence is also quite remarkable, and the game's wide-open levels allow for tremendous variations in strategy. Most surprising to yours truly, however, is the story; I was expecting predictable sci-fi pap, but the few dramatic sequences are very well done and it looks like it will be a very exciting storyline.

So, how does it perform? Here's the harsh reality: Crysis is a next-generation game designed to scale forward, and there's no way around that. There will probably be some further optimization in the final release, but you can only optimize so far. This is not a game that can be run on high settings on midrange hardware; even medium settings will likely strain a midrange setup. So it's important to approach Crysis with realistic expectations; if you have somthing like an 8600GTS or an 8800GTS 320, don't expect to be playing on high settings in high widescreen resolutions with anti-aliasing enabled. In fact, don't expect any of those features to be an option. Unless you are running a very high-end SLI system, do not expect to be playing this game on "very high".

My rig is an Intel Q6600 at 3.2ghz, an overclocked nVidia 8800GTX running at 648/1566/2000 (core/shader/memory), and 2GB of DDR2 1066 RAM running Vista 32-bit. The game defaulted to "very high" settings, and so excited about this, I went ahead an enabled 4x anti-aliasing. Well... I was greeted with single-digit frame rates. Disabling anti-aliasing brought frame rates into the teens and low 20s, but not smooth enough to be playable.

After fiddling around with numerous settings, I traced the performance to just two main settings: Object Quality and Shader Quality. All of the other settings have a small or insignificant impact on performance, even when set to "very high"; this may be a different story with a lower-end card with less vRAM, however.

Object Quality essentially determines how many objects are in the environment at any one time. At "very high", all objects are visible at all times; at "low", the objects are visible in reasonably close proximity, but

Shader Quality has a huge impact on performance as well, but it is also primarily responsible for the game's stunning visuals. The "very high" DirectX 10 shaders are absolutely stunning, but accordingly take a huge toll on frame rates.

Lastly, at this point, anti-aliasing is not an option for anyone but those running top-end SLI setups, such as dual 8800GTX cards. It may be an option for those running high-end setups who are willing to play the game in very low resolution, but in my experience the game looks better at high resolution without anti-aliasing than in low resolution with it.

I'd encourage you to begin by setting Object Detail to "low", and tweak the other settings to accommodate your setup. Certain settings such as physics may need to be scaled back depending on your CPU. One thing to note is that because of the game's use of motion blur at "high" or "very high" Post Processing, the game feels very smooth even at 25-30 frames per second. Lastly, if you have an nVidia card, be sure to update to the recent 169.01 beta drivers; these drivers are designed specifically for Crysis and provide a very good performance increase.