Crysis

Game Description: From the makers of Far Cry, Crysis offers FPS fans the best-looking, most highly-evolving gameplay, requiring the player to use adaptive tactics and total customization of weapons and armor to survive in dynamic, hostile environments including Zero-G. Earth, 2019. A team of US scientists makes a frightening discovery on an island in the South China Sea. All contact with the team is lost when the North Korean Government quickly seals off the area. The United States responds by dispatching an elite team of Delta Force Operators to recon the situation. As tension rises between the two nations, a massive alien ship reveals itself in the middle of the island. The ship generates an immense force sphere that freezes a vast portion of the island and drastically alters the global weather system. Now the US and North Korea must join forces to battle the alien menace. With hope rapidly fading, you must fight epic battles through tropical jungle, frozen landscapes, and finally into the heart of the alien ship itself for the ultimate Zero G showdown.

Crysis – Review

Crysis Artwork 

Crytek's next-generation opus is finally upon us-and while gamers have undoubtedly been salivating over the near-photorealistic graphics for some time now, if it were to end up a mere brainless beauty, its legacy would ultimately be short-lived, standing as little more than a tech demo for extravagantly expensive PC hardware. Crytek, however, are an ambitious bunch, and the game's protracted development has been used to create a game that not only breaks technical boundaries, but achieves new heights in gameplay interactivity. Far from a brainless beauty, Crysis is a rare gem of a game in which all of its elements gel seamlessly to create an immersive and rewarding experience that has unequivocally raised the bar for all shooters to come. While conceptually it sits squarely in the lineage of sci-fi shooters such as Halo, Half-Life and Crytek's first game Far Cry, it evolves every imaginable element of the genre to unprecedented new heights.

While Crysis is a unique game and in no way tied to Far Cry, the basic design philosophy of Crysis is the same. It eschews the near-ubiquitous funneled level design wherein the player is herded through restricted pathways from one heavily scripted sequence to the next, instead giving players expansive, sandbox-like levels that allow for a great deal of improvisation, strategy and creativity. Utilizing an unprecedented level of interactivity and the most advanced artificial intelligence ever to grace a videogame, Crysis is a game that allows players a remarkable level of freedom for what is otherwise a linear, story-driven game.

Crysis is, without a doubt, the most stunningly realistic looking game ever made. Utilizing Crytek's proprietary CryEngine2 graphics engine, its system-crushing specifications are not to be taken lightly, as this is a game that will strain even the highest-end systems at the higher settings. Fortunately, the engine is quite scalable and can be run well on a mid-range system, but not without some significant concessions in visual quality and immersion. The vaunted "very high" settings are out of reach for all but the highest-end dual-card systems, but then again Crytek has intentionally designed CryEngine2 as an engine that will scale forward as PC hardware becomes more powerful. It's worth noting however that a few clever gamers have found ways to enable nearly all of the "very high" visual settings with a minimal performance impact-all it takes is a little know-how and a willingness to modify the game's configuration files.

Crysis's visual quality is by no means a mere technical feat either. Despite what on the surface may seem like a relatively pedestrian locale-a tropical island-the art design is exceptional. The island's topography is richly varied, from coastal tropics, lush forests and expansive farmlands to the disorienting interior of an alien spaceship and vast frozen wastelands. The levels are populated with a remarkable array of fauna and flora that vary realistically from one locale to the next-schools of fish, crabs, turtles and many other critters populate the coastal waters amid palm trees and dense jungles, while the grassy fields and forests of inland areas are home to numerous birds, frogs, and other creatures one would expect to populate such places. CryEngine2 also sports an advanced physics engine that builds on the basic concepts of interaction we've seen before in games like Half-Life 2 and brings them to a whole new level. All trees beneath a certain size can be shot apart at virtually any point along their length; countless objects in the environment, even animals, can be picked up and wielded as weapons- yes, enemies can be killed by a high-velocity projectile chicken.

Crysis Screenshot

Players assume the role of a U.S. Special Forces soldier who is part of an elite squadron sent to investigate the disappearance of a team of researchers in North Korea who are believed to be held captive by members of the Korean army. It turns out that the researchers have unearthed ancient alien technology buried in the island, and the Koreans are vying to get their hands on it first. What they weren't prepared for, though, is the aliens coming to life and wreaking havoc on the island, enveloping it in an expanding field of -200° ice that threatens to end all life on Earth. Combating a virtual battalion of Korean soldiers as well as gravity-defying aliens is a tall order, but fortunately the Spec Ops soldiers are armed with futuristic nanosuits that enhance their abilities by allowing for enhanced strength, speed, armor, or near-invisibility using a Predator-like cloak. The suit has a limited charge, so the abilities must be used judiciously and strategically. It may sound somewhat gimmicky, but in practice the concept gels naturally with the gameplay because the suit powers are merely extensions of the core game mechanics.

Crysis allows for a remarkable level of interactivity, and although it is of course not limitless, there are countless environmental elements that dynamically affect the combat. The destructible trees, for example, are by no means mere cosmetic enhancements; on at least one occasion, I was ducking behind a rock to avoid suppressive fire from a mounted machine gun, and a nearby tree was struck by some stray bullets and collapsed on me (I was killed). They can hurt enemies as well of course, whether by falling on them or even by being wielded as weapons with the suit's enhanced strength. A collapsed tree may even provide concealment if one wishes to take a more stealthy approach. Vehicles can also be destroyed realistically-a well-placed shot to a vehicle's tire, for example, will cause it to spin out of control in lifelike fashion, while a barrage of bullets to the gas tank will cause it to explode in spectacular realism. Many of the game's buildings can be completely destroyed as well, which can instantly turn the tide of battle and adds greatly to the dynamic feel of the combat.

The enemies are quite keen and while the artificial intelligence is not without flaws, it comes closer to achieving believable human behavior than any other game before it. Soldiers take cover, retreat, throw grenades intelligently, flank, and communicate with each other. Activating the cloak right in front of an enemy would cause them to begin shooting blindly in my direction, before they would assume a cautious stance and trepidatiously search for clues to my whereabouts. Enemies will react to motion in the environment, so if I moved too quickly through a bush or plant and caused it to sway violently, the soldiers would notice and begin searching for me in that direction. They even react with convincing shock and awe to the abilities of the nanosuit, cowering in fear or scrambling frantically for cover at displays of superhuman speed or strength.

What makes Crysis such a success is the way the interactivity, artificial intelligence, weapon design and open-ended levels meld to allow for an unbelievably dynamic experience. I spent hours simply immersing myself in the sandbox-style level design, approaching the levels in different ways and getting creative with my strategies-using different suit powers, trying different weapon customizations, taking different routes through the levels, and utilizing the destructible environment differently. Crysis truly shines as a game that allows players to approach the game creatively and strategically, letting them develop their own playing styles rather than funneling them through a series of linear, tightly scripted sequences with singular solutions.

My only real criticism of Crysis, if it can even be called a criticism, is that it comes up short in conceptual innovation compared to games like S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl and The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay that deal with more complex themes and branch outside of the conventional boundaries of the genre. While it evolves many gameplay elements in spectacular fashion, the tradition of science-fiction shooters is becoming rather crowded. The game's inclusion of mysterious aliens is very well done and the story is as well told as any top-tier first-person shooter, but thematically it does little to distinguish itself from Far Cry, Halo, or Half-Life. I'd like to see this kind of progressive, open-ended and player-centric gameplay applied to other, more colorful thematic backdrops.

Crysis Screenshot

While Crysis' single-player mode is excellent in its own right, the game also sports two multiplayer modes. One is a rather straight-forward and rather forgettable deathmatch mode. The suit powers do add a little bit of depth to it, but otherwise it's basically the same fragfest we've been playing since the inception of the genre. The real star of the show is Power Struggle. Power Struggle is a deep, team-based multiplayer not unlike the Battlefield series. Considering that Power Struggle is part of the retail Crysis package, it's a surprisingly robust game that would hold its own just fine as a standalone multiplayer package.

The game is fairly simple in concept: two competing teams vie for control of assorted tactical objectives, with the ultimate goal of sending the enemy headquarters to the big polygon renderer in the sky with some pretty impressive low-yield nuclear firepower. The maps are suitably large, and the varied terrain and the large assortment of vehicles available provide innumerable tactical possibilities. As with any online team-based game though, the experience can vary pretty significantly depending on the players. Power Struggle can be a little intimidating for new players, since many gamers were playing it during the open beta testing and the learning curve is a little steep. And while I am sure that there are some servers with plenty of teamwork and great communication, my experience was mixed in that regard. While I'm personally not a big multiplayer guy, I think devout mutliplayer gamers will find Power Struggle to be a surprisingly strong addition to Crysis' excellent single-player campaign.

One notable quibble though is that the Crysis multiplayer segregates gamers to different servers based on whether they are running the game in DirectX 9 or DirectX 10. The company line is that DirectX 10 allows for more advanced environmental interaction that enhances the gameplay. In DirectX 9 servers, the destructible environments and interactive plant life are noticeably less robust, and there is no day/night cycle. While this isn't a huge issue as the gameplay remains largely the same, I have to call shenanigans on what I view as a heavily corporate-sponsored decision. The fact is that all of these supposedly "DirectX 10 only" features are not only fully available in the single player game under DirectX 9, but it's already well known that a tweak of the game's configuration files allows virtually all of the ballyhooed DirectX 10 graphics features of Crysis to run in DirectX 9-in most cases with improved performance. With nVidia currently making a big push to sell their DirectX 10 video cards, I can't help but feel that Crytek's decision in this regard had less to do with a gamer-centric design decision, and more to do with the nVidia logo that graces the game's opening. I am not opposed to corporate sponsorship of games-Intel and nVidia's sponsorship of Crysis has helped the developers at Crytek take a protracted development cycle to fully realize their vision-but when gamers start getting shafted or artificially pressured into expensive upgrades, it's gone too far.

Crysis has been a long time coming, and it has been well worth the wait. A near-perfect melding of next-generation technology and interactive gameplay, Crysis is the pinnacle of the evolution of the first-person shooter and is the new standard against which all others will inevitably be compared. Its next-generation engine is demanding, and surely many will be disappointed that it doesn't run smoothly on older midrange PCs without compromising the graphical fidelity rather significantly. However that is the price to be paid for progress, a fact that any seasoned PC gamer should be aware of, and Crysis is the game that will justifiably persuade many PC gamers to upgrade their system. For those willing to invest the time and money to experience Crysis at its fullest, it is the pinnacle of next-generation gameplay and will be remembered not only as a remarkable technical achievement, but as one of the finest first-person shooters ever made. Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Disclaimer: This review is based on the 1.0 version of the game

Crysis – Consumer Guide

According to ESRB, this game contains: Blood, Strong Language, Violence

Crysis Screenshot

Parents should be cautious of Crysis due to its violent content and language. While the gore is not excessive, the game is undoubtedly violent and not intended for children.

PC gamers have on their hands the finest PC-exclusive since 2004, when Doom 3, Half-Life 2 and Far Cry were all released. The game is extremely demanding, and gamers expecting to play in widescreen resolutions on an older or midrange graphics card at high settings will inevitably be disappointed. This game requires at least an 8800GT to be played at high settings, and even that powerful card may not enable smooth gameplay at resolutions past 1280x1024 with settings at "high." The much-ballyhooed DirectX 10, Vista-exclusive "very high" settings are extremely demanding and unplayable for all but those with very high-end dual-card setups or those willing to play the game in extremely low resolution.

There are a number of tweaks available all over the web, including the now infamous "DX10 in XP" tweak that allows certain Vista-only "very high" features to be enabled in Windows XP, though not without similar performance demands. However it is also possible to create a game that is virtually indistinguishable from the "very high" settings by using various tweaks. These tweaks are not for everyone, but they are out there for those who wish to optimize their performance.

Shooter fans, get this game. Period. It is a masterful game that expands on the unique design on Far Cry and takes it to a whole new level. This game is well worth any necessary upgrades to your PC, especially since CryEngine2 is already being used by other developers. This will not be the last game with such demanding system requirements.

Deaf and Hard of Hearing gamers may have difficulty with the game because so much of the in-game action relies on audio cues. For example, some levels have the player being stalked by a helicopter that is difficult to see through the trees; additionally, many of the stealth sequences rely on heavily on audio cues, particularly since the player can alert the enemy soldiers by making too much noise.

Contrasting Crysis and Call of Duty 4: Why emergent gamplay is the future

Without a doubt, 2007 has been a marquee year for first-person shooters. We've gotten Bioshock, Call of Duty 4, STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl, Crysis, Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, Half-Life 2: Episode 2, Team Fortress 2, Clive Barker's Jericho, Unreal Tournament 3, Timeshift, FEAR expansions, and more. Even the lesser games are above-average, and the best are some of the best games we've ever seen in the genre.

Two of the most acclaimed of this whole bunch are Crysis and Call of Duty 4. Both were hotly anticipated and both have been well-received by gamers. But I thought that these two games are an interesting contrast – both are first-person shooters, but represent two sharply contrasting design philosophies. Crysis features large, open environments that are highly interactive and allow players to approach any given situation in a seemingly limitless number of ways – so-called "sandbox" gameplay. Call of Duty 4, on the other hand, is very tightly scripted, utilizing purely linear levels that are designed to emphasize the drama and intensity of the action.

Just listen to the developers. In an interview with IGN, Grant Collier, head of Call of Duty 4 developer Infinity Ward, had this to say about linearity and interactivity:

"[E]veryone right now is demanding sandbox gameplay and total destructibility. We personally don't think that it's that fun, I mean, 'go anywhere! Do anything!' That's just - I think it's a buzzword, it's a badge, it's a bullet-point option, but a lot of games they get in there and they try to do that and then they're like 'okay we have the sandbox, now why don't we try to make the game fun'. And total destructibility, you can really ruin the gameplay. There's so many spectacular moments that you have when you funnel the action into certain corridors.... I think right now it's a fad, and the fad will pass, we're not going to be bite on in it - we want the game to be fun first, and destructibility comes second."

By contrast, here's Crysis lead designer Cevat Yerli on Crysis' open-ended, interactive style of play:

New gameplay emerges out of these systems. I was running with speed power towards an enemy and shooting and another person came across running as well towards me, and he jumped over me, and in the air increased his strength, landed, and punched me to death. I was like, “%*&# you!” (laughs) It was like life straight out of The Matrix.

Another really cool scenario was when I was in the harbor under the water, and under a boat. I had the pistol, and then switched on speed and literally, like a dolphin, jumped in the air, pow pow pow pow – killed him. He was like, “What the #(*%!” He couldn’t see underwater because of the boat, but I could see him as an enemy on the radar.

This is an aspect that I’m proud of because the systems are working everywhere, and it’s not like it’s a scripted moment or event or just me versus a person or enemy. It’s always fresh. That’s the cool part of it and that’s what I mean when I say I want the player to express his intelligence in ideally the most wide range a shooter can offer.

 

So with these two games, we're presented with two highly contrasting gameplay designs: scripted gameplay versus emergent gameplay. While these designs are by no means mutually exclusive (both games contain elements of both designs), in my view the scripted design of Call of Duty 4 represents an aging and increasingly archaic design; Crysis' emergent gameplay, on the other hand, is the way of the future. Here's why (warning – spoilers ahead):

Call of Duty 4 showcases some of the strengths of scripting. At times, the levels are very dramatic and intense. There is a level of storytelling that indeed can benefit greatly from scripted events. However, the contrivances of scripting often hurt the immersion of the gameplay, and a few examples in particular stuck out like sore thumbs to me as I played the game:

* At one point, I was under attack by a helicopter, and the goal was to make my way to a nearby farmhouse, which is heavily guarded by enemy troops. I tried to make it to the house a few times unsuccessfully, being gunned down by the helicopter gunner nearly every time. So I decided to do the most logical thing: I shot the gunner. He fell out of the chopper in dramatic fashion, and it slowly flew away. Finally I could make my way to the farm house and focus on killing the infantry. But wait! The helicopter re-emerged, with another gunner. I killed him, too. This sequence repeated itself numerous times, until it became obvious that the helicopter had infinite gunners – the designers had already decided how I was going to take out the helicopter. Sure enough, once I made it to the farm house I was greeted with an infinite supply of Stinger missiles, and my squadmates instructed me to shoot down the helicopter.

* In another sequence, I was on a mission to assassinate a key character with a sniper rifle. The game factors wind direction into the shots, which is pretty clever. What's not clever is that shooting this character is a pre-scripted event; he is maimed by the shot, losing his arm, but he survives. No matter how accurate I am – I could shoot him in the head or in the foot – the final sequence plays out the same.

* Later in that same level during a massive enemy assault, it is possible to stand in an enemy spawn point, which prevents them from spawning and renders the whole scene a cake walk.

* Scripting also hurts the replayability of the game. When I'm playing any given sequence, all of the enemies spawn at the same spot every time and follow the same scripted patterns. So if I round a corner and get killed by an enemy I didn't see, I know exactly where to aim my gun the next time through. I always know that the guy with the rockets is going to run over that way, and the two guys with machine guns will run this way.

 

Crysis, on the other hand, gave me some very memorable moments of emergent gameplay:

* On the first level, I was pinned down behind a rock, under fire from a mounted machine gun. Stray bullets caught a nearby tree, which fell on me and killed me.

* I decided to ambush a small encampment of enemies. I used the nanosuit's super-strength to jump up a steep rocky hill on one side, rather than walking up the road or creeping through the woods. I mistimed a jump though, and launched myself about fifteen feet into the air above the enemies I'd been planning to ambush. In an amusing moment, they all gasped in unison at the sight of my superhuman ability, and scrambled for cover. So much for that ambush!

* On a number of occasions, I found myself under heavy fire from a patrol boat. I did the logical thing and shot the gunner. The driver would speed off, usually docking at a nearby beach or fleeing into the distance.

* I tried to use the cloak to sneak up on a group of lazy enemies sitting around on a beach. I changed weapons as I approached and suddenly, they were alerted to my presence and started attacking me even though I was still cloaked. At first I thought it might be a glitch, then it hit me: they had seen the flashlight on my gun.

I could go on and on; these are just a few small examples. Because the gameplay is emergent rather than scripted, the possibilities seem almost endless. Peruse any Crysis forum and you're bound to hear many entertaining stories about surprising, amazing, and even humorous emergent gameplay.

I played Call of Duty 4 after I had played Crysis, and Crysis had spoiled me quite a bit. I kept wanting to destroy vehicles, shoot down trees and knock down walls, but everything was static; I wanted to find better vantage points to attack, but there were artificial barriers blocking my path – often as contrived as an impassable wooden fence; I wanted to shoot the gunner in the helicopter, but... well, you know how that went. And while scripted gameplay does allow for some dramatic moments (as exemplified by the mostly excellent Pripyat level), I feel emergent gameplay allows players to discover situations that are every bit as dramatic, but more unique and special since the player's choices are the catalysts.

I believe that games that reward players for creativity and intelligence are the real wave of the future. The problem of course is that it's much more difficult to develop a player-centric game. Many functionalities can clash with each other, and a lot more things can go wrong than in a narrow, scripted environment. Given the escalating costs of videogame development, I feel very few developers will take the risks of using emergent gameplay. It's worth noting for example that Far Cry, Crytek's previous game released in 2004 and a very ambitious game in its own right, has yet to be imitated by other developers despite its success. Ambition is the most costly development expense of all. But every now and then, we see developers taking risks, doing something special and gamers embracing it. In time, I think, more developers will embrace this emergent style of gameplay, and gaming will be better for it.

More on Crysis: Facts, hacks, and shenanigans!

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.

Lowered Expectations

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.

The noob's guide to optimizing Crysis


Crysis Screenshot

We Just Weren't Ready Yet

I don't care what Cevat Yerli says about their "upscaling" game engine, Crytek's partnerships with Intel and nVidia, or the many gamers (including me) who insist that Crysis scales well and runs just fine. The reality is that this is a game that, despite a relatively lengthy development cycle, was probably released one generation of hardware too soon.

Any seasoned PC gamer expects that not every game will grant them 60 frames per second at maximum settings in 1920 x 1200 resolution. But when even the most costly dual-card setups struggle to run Crysis at its vaunted "very high" settings, something is clearly a little out of whack. Sure, Crytek will patch the game, nVidia will continue to improve its drivers, etc. etc., but it is unrealistic to expect any dramatic changes in performance.

Fortunately, Crytek have made their CryEngine2 a very flexible, "tweakable" engine. While the in-game settings provide enough flexibility for most gamers, those wishing for the absolute best combination of performance and image quality will want to dive into the game's intimidatingly vast command variables, or Cvars. I've spent a lot of time fiddling with Crysis settings. I've scoured the 'Net and tried lots of suggestions. And I've found what is, as far as I can gather, about the best combination of performance and quality I can get. So I'd like to share with my fellow PC gamers a few tips and tricks to get the game running and looking its best.

Revise your expectations

I'm running an Intel quad-core @3.2ghz, 2GB of RAM, and a robustly overclocked nVidia 8800GTX on a 22", 1680x1050 display. Yet despite a beefy rig, the only time I've been able to keep this game consistently at 60 frames per second is using the "low" graphical settings. However, Crysis is a very playable game at 25-30 frames per second, mainly due to a well-implemented use of motion blur. I cannot use anti-aliasing in this game without cranking the resolution down, which messes up the image quality far more than it's helped by a little AA. Crysis uses an incredibly advanced graphics engine that is rendering tons of unique, interactive objects in large, open areas. It's simply unrealistic to compare it to games like BioShock or Call of Duty 4 that take place in mostly static, confined spaces. Unless you're willing to play a game that looks like Far Cry, don't expect to see sky-high frame rates. The goal should be a playable, consistent frame rate.

Also remember that in a game where 25-30 frames per second is playable, even a minor improvement in frame rates (say 3-5 frames per second) can make the game feel significantly smoother.

Crysis Screenshot

Know what works

Based on my experience, there are only a handful of graphical settings that significantly affect performances. They are, in order of degree:

1. Shader Quality: This affects both image quality and performance more than any other setting. Turning it to "medium" will speed the game up dramatically, but with a significant loss in visual detail.

2. Object Quality: Often overlooked, Object Quality affects the number, size, and quality of every object in the game world. Turning it to medium or low will produce a significant boost to frame rates, but distant objects will not be rendered, fewer objects will be on screen, and there will be noticeable "draw-in".

3. Shadows: Simply turning shadows to "medium" can produce a nice performance boost with minimal visual impact versus the "high" settings. "Low" simply turns all shadows off, and "very high" creates soft shadowing that is extremely system-intensive. Crysis uses real-time lighting and shadowing across all objects, so even the leaves of every tree cast a realistic shadow. So even at lower quality, the shadowing is extremely complex.

4. Post Processing: This setting controls things like depth of field and motion blur. Contrary to popular belief, motion blur (enabled when Post Processing is set to "high" or higher) does not produce a significant loss of frame rates. In fact, turning off motion blur is a big mistake because although the frame rate might be negligibly higher, it won't seem as smooth. Turning off "hit blurring" and depth of field can improve frame rates during combat.

And that's about it. Texture quality did not affect performance at all on my system, but may if your video card has only 256mb of VRAM. No other setting I experimented with affected the the frame rate to any significant degree, save for water, which will smooth out frame rates when set to "low" ("medium" and above did not provide any difference in performance for me). Physics and sound settings may affect performance if you have a low-end CPU (less than a 2.4ghz dual-core).

Oh, and another thing before we get to the nitty gritty... play the game in DirectX 9, even if you have Vista (in Vista, simply right-click on the game icon to see the option to play it in DX9). It was designed in DirectX 9, and despite the DX10 code being added during development, it's still just a hair more choppy than its native DX9. There also seem to be more odd performance glitches in DX10.

Crysis Screenshot

Tapping the Cvars

The secret to making Crysis look and perform its best lies in the command variables. To find them, go to C:>Program Files>Electronic Arts>Crytek>Crysis>Game>Config>CvarGroups. The first thing you must do is make a backup of this folder. However, do not store the backup in the same folder. For whatever reason, I found that my tweaks didn't work until I moved the copy folder out of the "Config" directory. I simply stored it in the Crytek folder. Open these with Notepad. Notice that the commands are organized into a top group marked "= 4", then three groups labeled "[1]", "[2]", and "[3]". These are, respectively, very high, low, medium, and high settings.

Alternately, you can create a file using Notepad, and save it as "system.cfg". Store it in the "Crysis" directory. You can put the relevant commands here, and the game will utilize them automatically.

"Very High" look without the performance hit

There are a few system settings that can make the game look virtually indistinguishable from the "Very High" settings, with virtually no performance impact. In order to do this, your PC will need to able to run the "high" shaders at roughly 25-30 frames per second. Otherwise, disregard this section and use "medium" or "low" shaders.

First, under the Cvar titled "sys_spec_Quality", scroll down to the [3] section, and change the following command:

q_renderer=3 This doesn't do much by itself, but it's necessary for a couple of key effects. Save and open the folder titled "sys_spec_Shading". Under the high settings, change the following commands:

r_SSAO=0 This is alters the lighting slightly, but is virtually unnoticeable. Setting it to zero provides a nice boost to frame rates.

r_usePOM=1 This enables parralax occulsion mapping, which makes textures look much more realistic with little to no impact in frame rates.

Next, go your Post Processing Cvar folder. Change the following values under the "high" settings:

r_colorgrading=1 This dramatically changes the color depth of the game, so it looks like "very high" settings.

r_useedgeAA=2 I like to add this one in. It won't affect performance, but it reduces the shimmering effect on distant trees for a more pleasing overall look.

r_sunshafts=1 — This is strictly optional, as it does tax frame rates a little, but not drastically. This setting adds "god rays" to the sunlight. I generally prefer it off, as even though it looks cool, I'd rather keep those 2 or 3 frames per second.

r_motionblurshutterspeed=0.03 - This is simply a favorite of mine, an optional command to add. It increases the motion blur effect slightly, making the game appear more smooth. It does not affect performance.

Crysis Screenshot

Next, go to the Object Detail folder, which controls the Object Quality setting in the game. This is a bit of an ace in the sleeve, one that most folks overlook, that can really improve performance. The problem with the vanilla settings is that they scale poorly—reducing Object Quality to medium or low not only reduces the number of objects and view distance, but leaves players with a lot of unsightly draw-in. With this tweak, the goal is to reduce the density of relatively insignificant objects (brush and the like) while preserving view distance and draw distance. Under the "low" quality group ([1]), make the following changes:

e_view_dist_ratio_detail=60

e_view_dist_ratio_vegetation=60

e_vegetation_min_size=1

e_detail_materials_view_dist_xy=2048
e_detail_materials_view_dist_z=128

ca_AttachmentCullingRation=200
e_terrain_occlusion_culling_max_dist=200

Lastly, open the "shadows" folder. While I recommend that shadows simply be set to "medium" for the best combination of performance and quality, you can alternately copy the "very high" specs over the "high" specs, then alter the shadow map size and blurring as:

e_shadows_max_texture_size=512

r_ShadowBlur=1 (or 0 to disable)

This will preserve the distant view and soft shadowing of the very high settings, while reducing the overall performance impact.

For all other Cvar groups (textures, particles, game effects, water, physics, sound, and volumetric effects), you can simply overwrite the "high" specs with the "very high" specs. The performance impact will be negligible, if there is one at all.

Put it all together

Now simply boot the game, and select all "high" settings except for Object Quality, which should be set to low, and Shadows, which if you are not using the tweaks should be set to medium. Now remember, you can either alter the original Cvars, or simply copy all the commands into a single "system.cfg" file stored in the "Crysis" directory. Both work just fine.

The game will still be quite demanding, make no mistake. This will not magically give you 60 frames per second. But it will give you a game that looks virtually indistinguishable from the default "very high" settings with only a fraction of the performance impact. And even if you can't run the shaders at a "high" equivalent, you can still get a great performance boost with the Object Quality tweaks. Enjoy!

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.

Crysis delayed?

Cevat Yerli, president of Crytek, has recently issued a statement that the hotly anticipated DirectX 10 game Crysis will be released "a little later than planned." Since they never confirmed even a general time frame for the release date in the first place, it's a little difficult to know what exactly that means. Some folks are speculating that this will put the game's release as far back as Summer or even Fall 2007. I'm inclined to believe that a spring release is still most likely. Crytek has never commented on speculation over the release date of Crysis, though it was known that the game was originally supposed to come out this year. 

This brings to mind another issue. On one hand, it's actually better when developers take their time and get it right. Buggy games like Neverwinter Nights 2, Gothic 3 and Dark Messiah Might and Magic are all too representative of a disturbing trend of games being rushed to release before they're ready. But, on the other hand, some games can be delayed so much as to make the final product pale in comparison to its contemporaries. Anyone remember Daikatana?

One can only wonder what's happening with perpetually delayed Duke Nukem Forever.