The Crysis demo has been created a real stir in the PC gaming community. Most of it is for good reasons—it's a great-looking game, and the gameplay is very well done. But there have been some issues that bring to light a lot of the marketing ballyhoo that Crytek has been spouting, and unless things change pretty dramatically with the final product, a lot of people will be calling b.s.
DirectX 10 a sham?
Perhaps the biggest news spreading throughout the community is that Crysis' much-vaunted "DirectX 10" settiings – the ones only available in Windows Vista under the selection "very high" (the "very high" option is greyed out on the DX9/XP version)—can actually be enabled in Windows XP. Through a simple tweak of the game's configuration files, the settings for the "high" options can be changed to stealthily enable the "very high" features. Not only is there little, if any, noticeable visual difference between the two versions, but these supposedly Vista-exclusive DirectX 10 settings actually perform better on Windows XP. This has a lot of of gamers calling shenanigans, and rightly so. We've been fed all kinds of DirectX 10 marketing, and Crytek has really pushed the DirectX 10 feature set from the beginning.
Now, this isn't the final word on the matter. For one, this is just a beta demo, not the final product. And since DirectX 10 is at least theoretically more efficient than DirectX 9, with a little engine polishing and driver revision, we could be seeing superior performance from the DirectX 10 version. Right now, however, we can at best fault Crytek for releasing a demo with subpar optimization, and at worst start wondering if there isn't some seriously unethical marketing going on.
Quad Core and 64? How 'bout it?
Speaking of subpar optimization, two other notable issues have cropped up. Crytek has always touted multi-threading support for Crysis – hell, it came straight from the big cheese of the company just a couple of weeks ago, when he went so far as to suggest that a quad-core processor would make a better upgrade than a new graphics card. Well, they apparently forgot to include multi-threading in the demo. While the demo for Unreal Tournament 3 easily stresses multiple cores, the gaming community has found that Crysis' support for this feature is conspicuously absent in the demo. We can only hold our collective breaths and hope that, like the DX10 thing, it's an optimization issue and we'll see multi-threading in the final product. Based on how this demo is bringing even the highest-end systems to their knees, we need every ounce of processing power we can get.
Support for Vista 64-bit is another interesting tidbit. Supposedly, the 64-bit version of the game should perform better than the 32-bit version. This is because the game can disable "texture streaming", and instead load all the textures of a level into the RAM. This is supposedly not possible in Vista 32-bit, but then again they said DX10 quality was Vista-exclusive too. Well, I'm running Vista 32-bit, and I used a configuration tweak to disable texture streaming. As many folks running Vista 64-bit have said, there is a noticeable improvement in visual quality, mainly in distant textures. That's a good thing, and I didn't notice any hit on my frame rate... at first. What I did notice is that the game seemed to get progressively slower and slower, going from a smooth 30+ frames per second (high settings, with some tweaks) down to an unplayable 15-20 frames over time. It appeared that the game was just taking up more and more memory, and performance was hurting accordingly.
That may have just been a quirk of playing 32-bit, but when I looked around the Intraweb, it appeared that many people using 64-bit Vista had the same problem. The issue may not be the operating system per se, but rather sheer memory capacity. Fortunately 4GB of RAM is a lot more affordable than it used to be, and Vista 64-bit is a fine counterpart to its 32-bit cousin (which could not be said of Windows XP). But there are probably a lot of folks out there with Vista 64-bit that do not have 4GB of RAM, and who knows how this will shape up in the final product.
Just as there are plenty of gamers thrilled with Crysis, there are a fair share of them who are disappointed that they aren't getting 60 frames per second with "very high" settings and 4x anti-aliasing. On either "high" or "very high" settings, Crysis is undoubtedly a stunner. But while a top-end rig is needed to run the game on "high", "very high" seems to be beyond all but the most outrageously high-end dual-card PCs (actually, it's out of their reach too, since the demo does not support SLI). The settings can be turned down to "medium" or "low", but then the game just ends up looking a lot like Far Cry (which, btw, is still a gorgeous game three years after its release). What a lot of gamers don't realize is that this is on purpose. Crazy as it may seem, Crysis isn't designed to be playable on the uber-high settings with today's hardware. Crytek has stated that they want Crysis not only to look great today, but to scale forward with hardware so it looks great a couple of years from now, as Far Cry does.
This hasn't stopped a lot of gamers from complaining of course, but this is a game that pushes hardware, and it certainly looks the part. Let's just hold off our final judgment on these kinds of issues until the 14th, when Crysis becomes available.