And so we return to the Crysis Grail Quest. For those who don't know, the aim is simple: to get the most technologically taxing video game ever made running at 1080p at a sustained 60 frames per second... on the highest settings possible. The rules of the game: one CPU, one graphics card, v-sync enabled, every setting at max, DX9 or DX10 both fair game though the emphasis is on the former. The point? To celebrate a technical milestone where gaming hardware has finally caught up with the most graphically ambitious game money can buy.
Initial try-outs of Crysis on a Core 2 Quad system were disappointing, with around 35-40FPS achieved on average. I then moved onto Warhead, where results were improved, but not markedly so. The latest upgrade was effectively a brand new system – Core i7 technology at the stock 2.66GHz, combined with the same NVIDIA GTX295 graphics card.
As my copy of Warhead appears to have gone walkies (and probably perilously close to having its SecuROM activations maxed out), I went back to the original Crysis, fully patched up, running on 32-bit Windows Vista with 3GB of DDR3 RAM.
Initial joy that the game was indeed running at max refresh rate was tempered by the fact that hardcore gameplay soon saw the results drop back to the low 40s. But when it does at 60FPS... oh boy! Gamers talk about Crysis's motion blur system making it "feel" like it's running at a smooth refresh rate than it actually is, and to an extent this is true. But true 60FPS is something else entirely. Ultra-crisp response, physics that feel real, gameplay and graphics combining to produce something messianic in its total magnificence. As it is, despite the many frame drops, the average here still clocked in at around 53FPS... impressive.
Slotting in that second GTX295 for SLI action would probably be a one-stop solution, but it's against the rules of the game. And I do have to wonder if my power supply would cope. So the next stop? Perhaps the much-rumoured AMD 4890x2... or maybe whatever NVIDIA's 300 series will come up with to replace the GTX295. The question is, will the next generation supply the 30 per cent rendering power boost I reckon will be required to make the Grail Quest complete? Or perhaps the release of Crysis 2 will see the establishment of a new 1080p60 benchmark?
Update: Due to what can only be described as incompetent boobery on my part, the video was offline for some time yesterday. In order to make amends, not only has the link been fixed (!) but I've also slightly bent the rules of the game to allow for some overclocking activities. So, CPU speed on the i7 is up from the stock 2.66GHz to an Extreme Edition-beating 3.33GHz. The GTX295 has also been tweaked with the core speed up from 576MHz up to 652MHz, while RAM goes from 999Mhz to 1167MHz. All components stable and within thermal tolerances. Nice.
Our survey says? Another 53FPS average. While it's fair to say that there is a palpable difference for the better during actual gameplay, certain sections (such as the village attack) produce a more taxing situation than in the first video, and frame rate suffers accordingly. And herein lies what may be the real problem: sustaining 60FPS in any eventuality. Games like Call of Duty 4 are budgeted to run at the fastest refresh rate. Crysis isn't. It's wired for ultimate flexibility regardless of the load it'll put on your components, especially on the settings I'm running. So once again, the Grail remains elusive. NVIDIA meanwhile have got in contact, so when there's next gen GPUs to play with, hopefully I'll be high up on the list to try them...