Contemporary Graphics Cards in Crysis 2 DirectX 11: Crysis 2 Revisited

Textures with highest level of detail, complex shaders, surface tessellation, soft shadows with variable penumbra, super-complex antialiasing algorithms – all these things determine the visual appeal and commercial success of a contemporary 3D game. Therefore, we were very anxious to see Crysis 2 blockbuster from Electronic Arts to finally receive DirectX 11 support.

by Yaroslav Lyssenko
08/10/2011 | 02:32 PM

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:

 

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:

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.

Testbed and Methods

We are going to test the graphics performance using the following universal testbed:

We used the following ATI Catalyst and Nvidia GeForce drivers:

The ATI Catalyst and Nvidia GeForce graphics card drivers were configured in the following way:

ATI Catalyst:

Nvidia GeForce:

The image quality in the game was set to the maximum.

The games configuration files weren’t modified in any way, because the ordinary user doesn’t have to know how to do it. We ran our tests in the following multimedia resolutions: 1600x900, 1920x1080 and 2560x1600.

Here are the cards that participated in our today’s test session.

Premium Category

Performance Category

Mainstream Category

We measured the average and minimum performance using Fraps utility version 3.4.5. Each test scenario was repeated three times and the average value of the three runs was taken for the analysis, as always.

Performance

Premium Category

The premium-class dual-chip products pass the test successfully. The superiority of the GeForce GTX 590 may be due not only to its more advanced tessellation unit but also to the close partnership between EA and Nvidia. AMD’s solution is not very far behind, yet you may have unpleasant slowdowns even on a Radeon HD 6990 at the Full-HD resolution.

The fastest single-chip graphics cards seem to belong to different product categories: the GeForce GTX 580 is 30% faster than the Radeon HD 6970. Although the top-end GPUs from both AMD and Nvidia are packed with cutting-edge technologies, the extra load in the latest version of Crysis 2 does not allow them to deliver a high frame rate even at 1920x1080, let alone 2560x1600. Following the notorious tradition established by the previous Crysis, you have to lower the graphics quality settings in order to make the game playable.

Performance Category

Now we’ve got a game that suggests that the current generation of performance-mainstream solutions calls for replacement. You can’t get smooth gameplay with them. Anyway, we can name the winner which is the GeForce GTX 570. It beats the three products from AMD as well as the GeForce GTX 560 Ti. The average advantage of the GTX 570 over the GTX 560 Ti is 20%.

The Radeon HD 6950 is the only AMD product to compete with the GTX 560 Ti, the gap between them narrowing from 10% to zero at high resolutions, yet both graphics cards are disappointingly slow. The more affordable Radeon HD 6850 is inferior to the rest of the tested cards and cannot give you more than 30 fps at the maximum graphics quality settings.

Mainstream Category

This test was not meant to ridicule these mainstream category products, yet their performance is indeed ludicrously low in Crysis 2. You just can’t play the game normally using a GeForce GTX 550 Ti or Radeon HD 5770. It’s hard to tell which card is the better because both fail this test completely.

Although we didn’t test a GeForce GT 530, the results of its predecessor GeForce GT 430 are quite illustrative. The new generation of Nvidia’s low-end graphics cards doesn’t push the performance bar much higher, as opposed to the Radeon HD 6670, for example. Like in the previous years, playing Crysis 2 on affordable graphics cards is hardly an option.

Image Quality Tests

We used the following settings for the image quality tests:

As our previous tests have shown, today’s graphics cards can hardly cope with Crysis 2 in DirectX 11 mode. You are almost sure to compromise in terms of graphics quality settings. Let’s see what you lose if you step down the quality of the visuals.

 

Well, the new Ultra quality mode is spectacular. Cinematic would be the correct word to describe Crysis 2 running in its DirectX 11 rendering mode.

The system with the AMD-based card is more CPU-dependent than the same system with the Nvidia-based card. The faster processor helps increase the average frame rate of the Radeon HD 6950 by 7% whereas the GeForce GTX 560 Ti is indifferent as regards the CPU.

 

With the Extreme settings turned on, the rendering of the walls and stationary objects becomes considerably different. You can surely note how shadows and textures have changed compared to the Ultra mode. On the other hand, by switching from the Ultra to Extreme mode you can boost the frame rate by 50-70%. It’s up to you to decide whether you want to do so, especially as the main purpose of the Ultra Upgrade is in showcasing the capabilities of CryEngine 3 that are only visible at the Ultra settings.

With the graphics quality settings relaxed, the importance of a faster CPU lowers. It is the graphics card that becomes the bottleneck.

 

If you like the way Crysis 2 looks in the Extreme mode, you may also want to try the Very High settings. As you can see, the difference isn’t huge. We can note the different way of rendering the vegetation and the simpler shadows. Post-processing effects become inconspicuous but this gives you an extra 50% boost to the frame rate, making the game run at 60 fps and faster on mainstream graphics cards.

The CPU doesn’t influence the frame rate much.

 

The Crysis 2 developers should be given credit for making the game look rather pretty even at the High settings whereas the average frame rate grows by an additional 30%. With fewer shadows and almost no special effects, the game still looks good, so the High settings are a possible compromise for users who don’t have a fast graphics card.

The game doesn’t depend on the CPU at the High settings.

Conclusion

Now we can say that Electronic Arts have really done a good job. The DirectX 11 version of the Crysis 2 engine is a new milestone in game development. Just like the synthetic benchmark 3DMark11, EA’s game is an excruciatingly hard test for your graphics card and can stress every single unit of a modern GPU. At last, the game can be said to be worthy of its famous predecessor in terms of 3D graphics technologies.

The first version of the game was released a few months ago, so you may have already saved the world from the aliens and know how exciting the game is, so we will talk about graphics hardware rather than the gameplay here.

It is impossible to name a graphics card which is best for playing Crysis 2. Even the expensive dual-chip GeForce GTX 590, the best card in our tests, is unable to run it at a comfortable speed if you choose the highest graphics quality settings at a high resolution.

Unfortunately, none of the affordable graphics cards can get even close to the 60fps mark, but you can always switch off some of the special effects to get a playable speed. So if you don’t want to upgrade your computer for the sake of playing this game, the popular GeForce GTX 560 Ti or Radeon HD 6950 are going to be quite good. We must acknowledge, however, that Nvidia-based solutions are overall superior in Crysis 2.

So, is the Crysis 2 DirectX 11 Ultra Upgrade worth the long wait? Yes, of course! You will be fascinated by the beautiful visuals, yet also disappointed with the weakness of your computer’s graphics subsystem. It seems that we will only be able to appreciate all the capabilities of the Crysis 2 engine after AMD and Nvidia release their new products in the next few months.