In late June the developers finally answered the demands and solicitations of Crysis fans and released the long-awaited DirectX 11 add-on for Crysis 2. The add-on consists of three rather heavy parts:
- Patch version 1.9 – 136 MB;
- DirectX 11 Ultra Upgrade – 545 MB;
- High-definition textures – 1.65 GB.
The information about it and links to download sources can be found on the EA website. The add-on is also available for download from the Nvidia website irrespective of what graphics card brand you use, but of course the Santa Clara based company, being the game developer’s key technical partner, is proud of this accomplishment and uses it to promote its own products in the first place. Well, let’s see what exactly is packed into the new patch and whether the game’s system requirements have changed with its release. We’ll try to find out if the improved Crysis 2 deserves a second walkthrough by those gamers who have already enjoyed the alien invasion in the DirectX 9 based PC version or on the game consoles Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox 360.
Tessellation and More
Crysis 2 hit the shops on the 22nd of March and made it into top lines in the charts right away. Thousands of fans bought their copy of the game within hours since the launch of its sales. However, many were disappointed at the lack of cutting-edge visual technologies in the PC version. Crysis 2, as it was released on March 22, could not be said to look ugly or even unattractive, but there had already been a few highly anticipated titles that had proved to be a failure due to lackluster visuals. Crysis 2 seemed to follow the disappointing trend, too. The main point on which Electronics Arts was criticized was the lack of support for the latest DirectX API although it had been promised. Many PC gamers felt deceived after getting what was in fact a console-tailored version.
Well, the developer must be given credit for finally addressing the woes of PC gamers. Despite the lack of official announcements, the release of the version 1.9 patch on June 27 is a milestone in the history of Crysis 2 because the changes in the game’s visuals are indeed fundamental. The most important of them is tessellation as we will explain shortly.
The game menu has been revised and offers a more flexible approach to changing the settings. It also allows to enable the long-expected DirectX 11 rendering mode. High-resolution textures are also available for users who have got a graphics card with at least 1024 megabytes of onboard memory. This is the minimum amount you can find on board most of today’s graphics cards, both in the Radeon and GeForce series.
With the abundance of special effects and post-processing filters, you will not note any significant differences in image quality, though. The text on the signboards gets sharper and the surface right beneath your feet gets more detailed, but these seem to be the only improvements brought about by the high-res textures.
So, the key point of the whole add-on is tessellation. This technology allows using Bézier curves to increase the number of polygons in a 3D model almost infinitely. In other words, a triangle is not a static object anymore. Its surface can be filled in with a number of smaller triangles as specified by the game designer. This is a powerful tool if applied properly.
In Crysis 2 with the Ultra Upgrade installed, the tessellation algorithms are used extensively to add volume to various surfaces such as pavement, brick walls, etc. The models of the aliens are also modified this way. The resulting visuals look much prettier but, as is often the case with tessellation, the extra computations can provoke a performance hit even on top-end graphics cards. To avoid this, the game designers and programmers replaced tessellation with parallax occlusion mapping in some scenes.
Displacement maps help the graphics card do relief texturing to achieve almost the same visual effect as with tessellation but with a lower performance hit. Hopefully, other game developers will follow suit and use the two technologies to deliver even more realism in computer games.
Besides tessellation, high-res textures and normal maps, the Ultra Upgrade brings about new special effects:
- Soft shadows with variable penumbra
- Improved water rendering
- Particle motion blur
- Particle shadowing
- Realtime Local Reflections
- Screen Space Directional Occlusion
- Sprite-based Bokeh depth of field effects
The list of changes and improvements suggests that there were two teams working on Crysis 2. One came to the finish first, in full compliance with the schedule, whereas another team wanted to achieve higher quality by implementing cutting-edge technologies and fell somewhat behind. Both approaches have finally brought fruit, though.