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Crysis: Maximum Everything

by Odysseas Kourafalos

Intense Game Play, Power Issues, and High Frame Rates Lead to Long Road for Crysis

After a short swim with speed mode enabled, you emerge on the beach next to the outpost. You crouch behind a large rock and disable speed mode. You scan with your visor for enemy patrols you might have missed while your nanosuit recharges.

Eavesdropping on enemy soldiers’ small talk for clues, you miss the hostile on your eight. Initially frozen in wide-eyed disbelief, he snaps back to reality and starts shouting the equivalent of “A DEMON, A DEMON!” in Korean as you fumble to enable cloak mode.

Caught off guard, you set your suit to strength mode. With your nanosuit’s energy rapidly depleting and almost out of bullets, you react instinctively. As the North Korean starts shooting, the outpost alerted and a tank and two jeeps coming your way, you grab a turtle and throw it towards his face. You have him by the throat before he can realize what’s happened, launching him towards the barrels in the path of the incoming jeeps.

You’re a soldier. A predator. An unflinching hybrid killing machine.

In a quick one-two combo, you spend half of your remaining energy in maximum speed mode, jumping towards the tank. You switch mid-air to armor mode and land with a bang. You eliminate its driver, take control and give the enemies a taste of their own medicine amidst fiery carnage and panicked screams.

All at a glorious 10 frames per second.

This was Crysis on the day of release–a title that, over a decade later, remains as impressive as when we first met it. A game that many still can’t run properly on their computers. Crysis was both an open-world experience like no other and a meme that asked if your hardware was worthy of its magnificence.

Original Cover for the PC Version of Crysis
Original Cover for the PC Version of Crysis

Being Human

On the surface, Crysis ain’t cyberpunk. It’s a science-fiction military shooter. It starts with Nomad, a soldier with a super-powered exoskeleton suit, investigating North Korea’s military presence on the fictional Lingshan Islands. Soon he’s trying to stop an alien invasion that started eons ago, before our hairy ancestors dropped from the banana trees they used to call home. You could safely say it’s more War of the Worlds than Johnny Mnemonic.

But that’s if you don’t dive into the specifics or look at the grand picture.

Warning: here be spoilers.

Crysis could very well take place in the same world as Blade Runner or the Deus Ex series. Its future doesn’t look bleak and dystopian, and it skips the mixing of crude hardware with flesh. Instead of placing the player among scum in dark and rainy cityscapes, it throws them in a lush jungle against military combatants and eventually, aliens.

As the story and action progress and even more so in the two sequels that followed, it asks the same questions as most greats in the cyberpunk genre: Can humans fuse with machines? When will that happen? What will define human nature? What makes us who we are? Is it our conscience? Our psyche? Our ghost?

All the while in the background, mega-corporations try to grab advanced tech to gain an unfair advantage over their competitors and control the masses.

Like J.C. Denton in the first Deus Ex, Crysis‘ characters don’t need crude robotic enhancements. They’ve jumped directly to the better option of nanotechnology. Crysis skips the fight between metal and flesh and goes directly to the next phase, both fused into something new as alien as the actual threat in the title. As a cyborg, the limits of man and machine are visible, perceptible. With nanobots coexisting with blood cells and the mind controlling both, the body only a vessel, a shell, what defines the self? Can you be more or less human? How crippling would a return to pure flesh-form be for everyone upgraded?

And how can alien squids fly?

Augmentation Emulator

This intro was genuinely representative of Crysis‘ action, but nothing can convey the feeling of actually playing it. It’s all about the suit.

The brilliance of Crytek’s design starts with the nanosuit’s four distinct modes: strength, speed, armor, and cloak. Those already familiar with first-person shooters can jump straight to the action without having to learn new concepts.

RPG View in Crysis
RPG View in Crysis

Unlike titles like BioShock, Dishonored, and Prey, Crysis’ nanosuit superpowers offer typical power fantasies and easy to understand archetypes. You don’t have to read a manual, watch a tutorial, or be Ken Levine to understand that “speed = you run faster, armor = you take less damage,” and so on.

But they share the same power source and you can switch between them on the fly.

Those two elements add an incredible level of micro-management and planning to its action, with Crysis demanding you both pre-plan and strategize in real-time to survive.

You can take time to note enemy positions and patrols at an enemy base, then hatch a plan on how you’ll use the jungle as your cover, estimating how much energy you’ll spend on this mode before you reach spot X and swap to that mode. And when there, you expect to take advantage of Y items in the environment: gun turrets, vehicles, gas barrels, and even roaming chickens.

Or you can go guns blazing, armor mode enabled, and hope for the best by relying on your reflexes and suit’s superpowers.

The freedom of choice extends to the weapons you use, as you can configure them to your heart’s content with extras. Want to add a laser scope to a machine gun, however ridiculous that combination might be? Done. Would you also like a silencer for your rocket launcher? OK, maybe not that far, but close.

Crysis offers access to a large selection of weaponry from pistols, rifles, and submachine guns to grenade and rocket launchers. And that’s without counting the experimental and alien options, or the excellent bow in the third sequel. Or that you can modify each weapon and carry two primary ones at any given time, as well as explosives.

Or if you’re hardcore enough to alternate between strength, speed, and back to strength modes, you get up close and personal with the enemies to punch them in the face.

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Can You Run Crysis?

The primary reason for the popularity of Crysis is the same one that made it a financial failure: its impressive technology and its ridiculous demands to power this technology. We are in 2020, and even though Crysis hit the market in 2007, some modern PCs might still struggle to run it at its highest settings.

At the time of release, Crysis couldn’t run on anything over medium settings, even on top of the line hardware.

Crytek’s justification was that it was supposed to be a future-proof title that you’d replay after each hardware upgrade.

Crytek found out the hard way this wasn’t the best way financially to design games, since most gamers preferred to postpone buying Crysis until their next hardware upgrade. And when they saw it still didn’t perform as they’d expect, the next one and the one after that.

Crysis ended up used mostly as a benchmark, with no GPU or CPU being able to present it in all its glory at high frame rates. With each new hardware release, the question that became a meme was “Yes, but can it run Crysis?”

It took a decade, but finally we’re there. GPUs have stopped being a bottleneck for Crysis for almost a decade. Anything over a GeForce GTX 680 or a Radeon 7970 will allow you to run Crysis at high settings and over 60FPS. A mid-level GeForce GTX 1660 would perform even better.

Crytek made another mistake with Crysis in betting that CPU clock speeds would keep improving at a steady rate. Instead, both AMD and Intel gave priority to multicore designs. So, although today’s CPUs can be up to 20 times faster than what was available in 2007, that’s only if you look at their whole feature-set. Their clock speed is, at best, only two to three times faster.

In some cases, that’s not enough for Crysis. When the action gets too hectic and there are too many enemies and explosions on screen, the frame rate might stutter. It’s not the GPU who’s to blame. Those dips in performance usually happen because of the game’s enemy AI and its physics engine that accounts even for how bullets hit tree trunks.

As far as Crysis goes, single-core clock speeds are more important than the number of cores or the rest of your CPU features. In other words, an Intel i3-9100F might perform as well as a much more expensive Intel Core i5-9400, purely because of its higher clock speeds.

Maximum Graphics

On April 16, 2020, hours after its existence leaked online, Crytek officially announced a Crysis “remaster” with a short teaser video. The updated title will take advantage of the improvements in CryEngine since the game’s initial release, based on what was revealed in the announcement video and some minor extra details from interviews and press releases. Those improvements include multicore support, temporal anti-aliasing, screen-space reflections, and as would be expected from a title that used to melt PCs, the latest fad of ray-tracing. Strangely though, that’s not likely to happen again. The melting, that is.

The original Crysis was designed for the best of the best hardware of its era, and that meant PCs and only PCs. It took years for Crysis to make the jump to consoles, and those versions felt inferior. PC gamers accused the sequels of holding back to also release on consoles.

Crysis Remastered isn’t expected to push current tech’s limits for the same reason: it will be released for PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. With the Switch’s hardware being the equivalent of a medium-level smartphone, Crysis Remastered will probably run just fine on current PCs.

The updated title is a joint effort between Crytek and Saber Interactive. Although this is more or less all we know for now, we expect more updates soon if not an actual release.

Maybe this time, everyone will enjoy it in all its glory at 1080p and a silky-smooth 60FPS without having to spend maximum cash.

Hey, chum. These posts don't write themselves. If you wanna stay in the know, it's gotta be a two way street.*

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