Contemporary Graphics Cards in Crysis 2

Today we are going to take a look at one of the most highly anticipated ??? titles of 2011 - Crysis 2 First-Person Shooter video game. The predecessor is still the benchmark to beat even for the latest AMD Radeon HD 6990 and Nvidia GeForce GTX 590 dreadnoughts and the second part is expected to raise the performance bar even higher

by Yaroslav Lyssenko
04/23/2011 | 11:12 AM

A Crysis from Far Far Away

Some may think that Crysis is a relatively new project, only to step in its second generation, but in reality just like Doom and Half Life video games before it, it can already be considered the grand daddy of the FPS genre. The first product from the German based Crytek Studios arrived back in March of 2004 with big ambitions but not a lot of advertising.

 

 

The Far Cry first-person shooter video game came from nowhere when no one was expecting new players in the FPS playground. The game had taken both hardcore as well as casual gamers’ hearts by storm. Followed by a number of console ports and even a movie, and with over 3 million copies sold since its release the question of its grand-daddy status is not to be discussed. It is carved in stone, don't you agree?

 

 The Far Cry game engine, originally developed as a tech demo for Nvidia, was also a quiet revolution for its time. Game designers only started to exploit the idea of big outdoor scenery and seamless indoor-outdoor locations. As it turned out, CryENGINE was already capable of doing just that. The engine core code itself proved quite robust as it was capable of dealing with Xbox, PS2 and GameCube-like console hardware as well as the latest advancements in standalone graphics cards market with full DirectX 8/9c API support.

View distance of up to 2 km, innovative physics models, complex shaders, large open areas, HDR lighting, advanced AI algorithms - even by today's standards the list of features is still quite formidable. As all good things in this world, the engine itself as well as the games based on it aged with the time and a replacement was due three years later.

Crysis Unveiled

A lot has changed since the victorious march of Far Cry game across the globe. Ubisoft took its own approach to the release of the future Far Cry 2 branded products, while Crytek signed a partnership agreement with Electronics Arts and started working on a “brand new title made by the old team”. The result still serves as a benchmark of the gaming industry in every aspect: innovations across the board, storytelling, plot and last, but by far not the least - game engine graphics capabilities.

 

Developed by the same Crytek Frankfurt, Germany, and published by Electronic Arts in late 2007 it managed to completely decimate hopes and dreams of gamers across the globe as it presented unmatched demands towards computer hardware. To be fair we have to say that in-game jungle was probably the closest thing to the “Lost” series scenery you have ever seen, and so far there hasn’t been anything more realistic out there.

Crysis was the first game to be released from the announced trilogy of a science fiction first-person shooter franchise. A spin-off game, Crysis Warhead, was released on September 12, 2008, and depicts similar events as the original Crysis but from a different character perspective. In order to survive the game, you need to adapt. 

 

 The Crysis game story happens in the near future, when a conflict between US supervised black ops, North Korean armed forces and extraterrestrial Aliens unravels on a remote fictional island near the coast of the Philippines. The main story-line of the single-player campaign is wrapped around an operative with the US Delta Force squad. The super solder abilities come from the cutting-edge Nano Suit, inspired by a real-life military concept, and this unique technology becomes the basis for the entire game play.

The second generation CryENGINE 2 game engine for Crysis games got a substantial upgrade thanks to a genuine DirectX 10 API support. It may have been four years since its launch, but even today it is still quite an impressive piece of computer graphics scenery, which often looks good enough to be used for a modestly budgeted Hollywood movie production. Despite this fact, a brand new game has been released, and the story and scenery aren't necessarily the only major things that have changed.

Crysis 2: The Game

The doomsday scenario starts on sunny New York City streets in a not so distant year 2033. An Alien invasion or some sort of an advanced virus is on the loose in downtown Manhattan and only the protagonist is capable of stopping this invasion/disease spread. You may expect to have squad support on your side, but unfortunately, you are on your own. The only help you can get is from the military R&D department. Thanks to the latest advancements in nano-technology and micro computing as well as composite material manufacturing you have your very own Nanosuit 2.0. 

 

 

Since you are the only one in a fancy suite, you are going to have an edge over endless opponents, or as Electronic Arts puts it:

  

 

These pictures cannot really show the atmosphere that the game unleashes on you. Many expressed their opinion that the major appeal of the Far Cry and original Crysis video games was Philippines tropical jungle scenery. It is rather pleasing to see that concrete jungle of The Big Apple is a good match for the tropical dream resort. Some may like it, others may prefer previous sets but it is definitely going to be a memorable experience for everyone.

For those already familiar with the Nanosuite warfare for the previous games, we are glad to report that overall experience has been polished and updated. Treat it as a newest firmware release for your Google Android smartphone. It is the same OS just that bit faster and better than the previous one. Once again you are expected to constantly switch between different modes in order to prevail on the battlefield and overcome obstacles. Back are the upgrades and weapon customization and if you let your nanoskin feast on a DNA sample or two you might get a substantial bonus in return.

 

 

 All in all the game is a solid performer with impressive graphics scenery that is going to take some time equaling. The plot is also on a level, although do not expect something revolutionary in its respect. Treat Crysis 2 video game as a well-known brand of champagne. You don't really want its taste to be revolutionary but you do want it to make you smile, and Electronic Arts' latest creation does just that.

Crysis 2: The Engine

It is estimated that on average humans perceive around 70% of the surrounding information through their eyes. This fact partially explains the recent obsession with photorealistic game graphics and life-like CG scenery. Unfortunately, a lot of good-looking titles have come and gone due to poorly executed plot and overall feel, but since we know that Crysis 2 is going to be at least as good as it predecessor, then the only question is about the graphics.

There might be some confusion but the second Crysis video game is based on the third generation CryEngine3 video game engine. There are a lot of great features in it and it is fully compatible with DirectX 11 API specifications. Here is a brief list of supported features:

This is probably the first time that the hyped photorealistic scenery can actually be achieved with the help of a game engine. Surprisingly, according to the developers, the main feature of the latest CryEngine is not necessarily its ability to generate detailed pictures, but its scalability. Game engine engineers leave it up to game designers to decide what kind of features and how much load they would like to implement in a given game or situation. It is quite a bold move, considering that cost-cutting is the main agenda for game studios and an engine that can run both: console hardware as well as cutting-edge desktop monsters, is a true gem. Hopefully, such user-friendliness is going to pay off and we are going to see more than a couple of titles based on this ingénues technology.

With all the above mentioned possibilities to load up your graphics card, let’s find out what kind of hardware you will actually need to run this highly anticipated title.

Testbed and Methods

We are going to investigate Crysis 2 graphics performance using the following universal testbed:

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

ATI Catalyst:

Nvidia GeForce:

Unlike previous Crysis video games, the latest Crysis 2 offers almost no graphics settings at all. There are only three fixed profiles, and the differences between them aren’t described anywhere. Please keep in mind that this part of our article covers only the DirectX 10 enabled video game, since Crytek decided to start supporting highly anticipated DirectX 11 features in an upcoming patch.

The summary testing was performed in “Hardcore” mode and there were 15 testing participants:

Premium Category

Performance Category

Mainstream Category

We ran our tests in the following standard resolutions: 1600x900, 1920x1080 and 2560x1600. The testing consisted of a run inside and outside as well as intensive combat fighting. We measured the average and minimum performance using Fraps utility version 3.4.2. Each test scenario was repeated three times and the average value of the three runs was taken for the analysis.

Performance

Premium Category

If you are interested in the fastest solution for your Crysis 2 experience, then you are probably going end up spending $699 on Nvidia GeForce GTX 590 graphics card. Its dual chip design coupled with more refined SLI drivers delivered the highest performance possible. The dual GPU solution from AMD follows closely behind. It seems that Radeon HD 6990 may provide better fps in the future, but for now it looks like CrossFireX profile needs a bit more tweaking.

The fastest single-chip solution for your Crysis 2 gaming rig will have to be GeForce GTX 580 graphics card. It manages to pass the magical 60 fps threshold, which is unattainable for the competing AMD Radeon HD 6970 power plant.

Please note that none of the participating graphics cards delivered comfortable performance level in the highest resolution. You are going to sacrifice some quality on virtually any standard graphics card setup available on the market.

Performance Category

 

 Performance Mainstream category is dominated by Nvidia-based solutions. If there is a chance to get your hands on a brand new GeForce GTX 570 graphics card, then it is definitely the best choice. Just as in the Premium group, this is the only solution that has enough horsepower to get past the 60 fps mark. If you accept some image quality sacrifices, then the more affordable GeForce GTX 560 Ti is also a viable candidate. It is actually only 12-20% slower than the bigger and pricier GF110 based card, but it still manages to outperform or at least be as fast as anything AMD has to offer.

The game clearly prefers Nvidia over AMD, as both Radeon HD 6950 and Radeon HD 6870 are struggling to catch up. It seems that Crysis 2 favors the now outdated 5-way VLIW architecture used in the Radeon HD 68x0 graphics cards as there is really a surprisingly small difference in performance between Cayman and Barts based products. The last place is occupied by a lonely Radeon HD 6850 which is clearly struggling against competition, so you will have to give up a lot of image quality in this case.

Even the performance category segment of the market is clearly struggling with the loads generated by the Crysis 2 game. Don't be alarmed though, because we have already been through the same ordeal when the original Crysis came out. If we had to make a recommendation here, we would suggest that you should stick to Nvidia based products, as the game clearly prefers their GPU architecture.

Mainstream Category

 Remarkably, the difference between AMD and Nvidia solutions is really minuscule in this particular market segment. The now outdated Radeon HD 5770 stands its ground and mirrors GeForce GTX 550 Ti performance across all resolutions. The replacement Radeon HD 6790 is clearly going to be faster and thus a more desired purchase, but until we get our hands on a sample of the latest AMD graphics card, we must record a tie here.

Besides the above mentioned solutions, every single participant is struggling with Crysis 2 video game. We didn’t expect a miracle here, but if you are really on a tight budget, we would suggest getting a Radeon HD 5750. It is going to be the only affordable graphics card capable of handling the load at lower quality settings and with disabled FSAA.

All in all, entry level products are not going to please you, unless you are a big fan of a slideshow experience. Everyone expected Crysis 2 video game to be hard on the hardware, so hopefully you managed to save a few extra dollars for your upgrade, as you are going to need them bad.

Instantaneous Performance and Image Quality

All rumors and original expectations have proven to be true. The latest Crysis 2 video game is extra hard on the hardware and needs a really powerful system to run smoothly. Now let’s check how well the game scales up in terms of graphics settings and how different quality profiles may affect the frame rate and image quality. We will take a few screenshots using two popular cards: an AMD Radeon HD 6950 and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 560 Ti. While both of them are quite affordable, they deliver high performance in most of today’s games and are, in fact, the most desirable purchase these days.

Besides the traditional picture quality comparison and investigation of preset profile effects, we are also going to check how gaming performance depends on the CPU clock frequency as we compare similar test runs on systems built around Intel Core i7-920 and Core i7-975 Extreme Edition processors.

The test sequence includes an indoor and outdoor scene, a run through decimated warehouse, as well as a short walk in the park and the harbor. It should cover most situations the gamer may find himself in during the actual gameplay. Just like before, we measure the frame rate using Fraps version 3.4.2. We also use this utility to capture screenshots for image quality comparisons.

Since the majority of users are going to experience “out of the box” gaming, we decided to check only the preset profiles. Anyone interested in fine-tuning the game will have to use third-party utilities or an in-game console.

 

Since Crysis 2 currently lacks DirectX 11 support, the first preset profile we are going to look at will be the “Hardcore” one. It uses a lot of DircetX 10 shaders as well as advanced ray tracing model and soft shadows. As you can see from the graph, overclocking your processor makes little sense as overall performance is limited by your performance-mainstream graphics card and not the CPU. 

 

The next profile available to you is the “Advanced” one. “Advanced” usually means that end-users with experience have the option to fine tune in-game graphics, but not this time. This mode uses a slightly simplified ray tracing model, less complicated shaders and a lot less post-processing blur. Sometimes it makes the picture look even better and sharper compared to the “Hardcore” profile. Unfortunately, the picture also loses full-scene antialiasing, which is probably is the biggest loss at this point. As a bonus, the second profile offers an almost 50% boost in performance, and now both GeForce GTX 560 Ti and Radeon HD 6950 can provide you with a 60+ fps gaming experience.

Once again we must conclude that CPU power has almost no effect on the way Crysis 2 runs. You can stay at default frequencies or settle for a more affordable processor, since in Crysis 2 you are not going to get the expected return on your LGA investment.

 

The last profile is called “Gamer” and it offers even lower picture quality than the previous two. There are no shadows, water looks more like a plastic bag rather than fluid substance, there are less details and objects in the scenery, and vegetation begins to look like Lego pieces rather than actual nature. Since there are so few effects, the lack of FSAA becomes even more painful. Don’t be too upset though, as the overall picture is more than tolerable and you are still going to play Crysis 2 and not some Wolfenstein 3D remake.

Faster CPU is still unable to make any significant impact. You really don’t need a lot of computing power for this game. Instead, try to invest more into your graphics card. If that fails, “Gamer” mode brings another 40-45% framerate increase.

Conclusion

There were a lot of new gaming titles launched in the year 2010. The most highly anticipated games in general proved to be worth the wait even though such titles as StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty took their time in getting to the market. If you thought that Blizzard likes to tease its fans, wait till you actually see Duke Nukem Forever later this year (fingers crossed), as it will be around 14 years since its initial announcement. Maybe a bad joke, but there is still some time for this schedule to be postponed.

Speaking of postponing. Originally we were planning to complete this review as soon as Crysis 2 hit the market. When it became apparent that the delayed DirectX 11 patch is not going to arrive any time soon, we decided to hold the review. But due to a significant number of email-requests from our regular readers, we decided to share the comparison results we’ve got so far. Although they should probably send those emails not to us, but to CryTek, asking why there is still no DirectX 11 support available and when it is going to arrive.

Until then we are glad to report that Crysis 2 turned out to be the exact monster everyone expected it to be. It might be quite hard on the hardware but in the end the Crysis 2 experience is going to be more than rewarding. If we disregard somewhat disappointing texture quality, the game is quite stunning even at the lower image quality settings. The only major shortcoming in our opinion is the way single-player levels are designed. This is definitely a step backwards for game developers at CryTek, as at times the game feels remarkably similar to close quarters design featured in Doom III and Quake 4 video games. I have to stress once again that constant save/check points limit sidestepping and free exploring.

The original Crysis raised the quality bar so high that even the latest generation of graphics cards is still struggling with loads from back four years ago. Crysis 2 is going down the same road and continues to set new quality and performance milestones for the GPU designers and end-users.

The recently launched high-end Radeon HD 6990 and GeForce GTX 590 graphics cards are probably the only no-compromise solutions for your Crysis 2 gaming rig. AMD based cards are currently noticeably slower than their Nvidia based ones, but it may as well change when the DirectX 11 patch or better tuned drivers come out. 

If you don’t have unlimited graphics card budget, feel free to consider a Radeon HD 6950 or a GeForce GTX 560 Ti graphics card. Both are capable of handling Crysis 2 calculations with minor picture quality tradeoffs. Unfortunately for users on a budget, there is little hope for a sub $100 graphics card here. Even with the lowest quality settings your best bet would be a Radeon HD 5750 graphics card.

Despite its complexity, the CryENGINE 3 feels quite at home on any quad core CPU and insufficient CPU power will hardly ever become a bottleneck. Save you money here and invest it in the graphics department. 

 Until the highly anticipated eye-candy feature-filled DirectX 11 patch arrives, enjoy the Crysis 2 video game as it is and stay tuned for our “Crysis 2 Re-visited” review in the near future.