Few games can claim to possess the legendary status of Crysis - a title so far ahead of its time when it launched in 2007 that enjoying the fully maxed experience on even the most high-end hardware of the period was a pipedream. Built in an era before the many-core CPU paradigm was firmly established, it's still impossible to play the game through completely at a locked 60fps - even on the fastest PC hardware available today. The franchise has been dormant since 2013's under-performing Crysis 3, but last week's reveal of Crysis Remastered has got us genuinely excited. We've been hearing the occasional rumour for a while, but now it's real, it's actually happening and we can't wait.
Quite why the series hasn't been rebooted before now remains something of a mystery. Crysis is synonymous with the technological state of the art but more than that, the original game itself is brilliant. The stealth, power, speed and protective powers of the nanosuit working in combination with the wide open play spaces allow users to take on a range of combat scenarios with what feels like unlimited options. Over 12 years on from release, the wide-open approach to combat feels fresh and original, in contrast to the linear campaigns in today's first-person shooters.
There was something special in the way Crysis played, and from our perspective, it was only let down by two factors: AI and performance - areas where we hope to see the remaster radically improve on the original. Enemy intelligence in the original game was limited to say the least and somewhat frustrating. The brilliant stealth mechanics were compromised owing to a kind of 'binary' AI that saw all enemies gain awareness of your position even if you were spotted by just one opponent. Meanwhile, the AI itself was based on Lua scripts - so not only was behaviour simplistic, it would also hammer the CPU.
It's impossible to run Crysis at 60fps from start to finish, even on today's hardware - but ironically, it's not the graphics side of the equation that is the problem but rather the CPU. The Ascension level (omitted from the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions) can run under 40fps, even if you try to power through with a Core i7 8700K overclocked to 5.0GHz. Meanwhile, encounters with a good amount of enraged enemy AI can likewise hammer frame-rate hard, something that has more impact on first and second generation Ryzen chips. Back in 2007, Crytek built a game designed to scale with single-threaded performance with only cursory support for more than one CPU core - and that's the key reason why a remaster is so welcome. Crysis can finally take advantage of modern processors in the way its sequels did so well.
Scaling across cores is something CryEngine has been rather good at since Crysis 2 emerged in 2011 and it's at this point that we should remember that the original Crysis has already been remastered. It arrived on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in later on in 2011 and as it was built on CE3, scaling across more CPU cores happened as a matter of course. The port wasn't exactly super-performant (running under back-compat on Xbox One X is the best you're going to get) but perhaps the biggest tragedy is that Crytek never released this updated version for PC users. Meanwhile, Crysis 3's release in 2013 showed even more impressive CPU scalability - to the point where the game still shows performance increases on today's many-core processors that many other modern titles can't match.
Seven years on from Crysis 3, the new remaster looks promising. Running under CryEngine 5, the new release taps into all of the new functionality that Crytek has added to its proprietary engine over the years, carrying across the necessary CPU optimisations that should ensure we get a smooth ride in the here and now, while opening the door to extreme graphics features that should still be capable of posing problems for today's most powerful GPUs. That's the tightrope that Crytek and partner studio Saber Interactive need to negotiate: to ensure continuity to the 'can it run Crysis?' tradition, it needs to be impossible to max out on today's hardware while paradoxically running well on both mainstream PC hardware, consoles and even Nintendo Switch.
Thankfully, the limited PR we have to hand combined with our experience of recent CryEngine titles, demonstrates how this may be possible. Elements we'd expect from a remaster are all present and correct: there are HD textures and improved art assets and a screen-space directional occlusion method for approximating real-time global illumination. The somewhat basic anti-aliasing in the original gives was to a temporal solution, which Crytek has handled very well since 2013's Ryse: Son of Rome for Xbox One. But where we can expect to see the tech pushed hard is via Crytek's real-time software ray tracing and also its higher-end SVOGI-based global illumination solution.
The latter aims to deliver more realistic scene lighting via accurately mapping light bounces - and as you can see from this YouTube video, the effects can be transformative. It looks stunning in Kingdom Come Deliverance, and certainly to begin with (before transitioning to consoles) this form of lighting was instrumental in delivering the unique sense of atmosphere in Hunt: Showdown - a game we highly recommend that you check out. We've covered Crytek's software-driven ray tracing solution before via the firm's impressive Neon Noir demo - but we've not seen it in a shipping game.
Crytek's RT works without hardware acceleration (though it could see a potential 4x performance boost if implemented, according to the firm itself) and the basic principle sees geometric detail injected into the SVOGI pipeline to allow for glossy reflective surfaces. It's expensive from a computational perspective but Crytek optimises in two ways. First of all, the distance at which detail is injected is more limited, with approximations used instead for further off detail. Secondly, surfaces with a rougher texture that are still reflective don't get ray traced detail (Battlefield 5's hardware-accelerated reflections does something similar on lower settings) which again, makes the workload lighter. For software-based RT, there may well be plenty of internal variables Crytek could offer to make the game scalable onto GPU hardware for years to come, while still delivering a good experience on the high-end GPUs of the here and now. Really though, we'd love to see hardware-accelerated RT added as an option - embracing the state-of-the-art in graphics technology is Crytek's signature, after all.
Curiously, the Crysis Remastered PR does seem to suggest that all platforms are enabled for ray tracing but based on Neon Noir at least, this seems highly unlikely. Even a basic benchmark scene sees mainstream GPUs like the GTX 1060 and RX 580 struggle somewhat, so the notion of this technology rolling out for PS4 and Xbox One, let alone Nintendo Switch, is somewhat optimistic to say the least. So where does this leave the consoles generally?
I'm not too concerned about the fortunes of Crysis Remastered on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, because for the most part, CryEngine titles have transitioned across well to those platforms this generation - especially when Crytek itself has been involved. Indeed, going back to 2013 for the launch of Xbox One, Ryse: Son of Rome was one of the most impressive-looking games around and still looks impressive today. Moving forward to Homefront: The Revolution, after a shaky start, the game ended up looking and running well on both consoles - and the Xbox One X patch is a particular highlight.
But really, it's the recent release of Hunt: Showdown for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One that illustrates how good a potential Crysis remaster could be. The excellent environments there give idea of how beautiful and how performant a Crysis Remastered port could be (30fps locked does not seem too unlikely based on Hunt's showing) while also delivering many of the features promised in the PR, including parallax occlusion mapping and screen-space reflections. We don't expect to see SVOGI lighting or software ray tracing, but these features could be held in reserve for future ports to Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5.
How the game transitions to Switch is the big unknown as the only CryEngine title we're aware of is a port of free-to-play shooter, Warface. It looks fine and runs fairly well, but it's clear to see that it's running a subset of the full CE5 feature set. With that said, Crytek itself did put together a Crysis 3 multiplayer demo for Nvidia Shield (which was unfortunately cancelled) which ran on the same processor as Switch. On top of that, Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of Crysis exist, which could form the foundation of any prospective conversion.
More promisingly though, Crytek's partner studio for this project is Saber Interactive, responsible for the excellent conversion of The Witcher 3 for Switch. Our big concern in getting a Crysis game running on the console hybrid would be CPU utilisation and Saber has invaluable experience in optimisation in this area for Tegra X1. Ray tracing on Switch though? We'd love to see it, but don't get your hopes up. The notion of Crysis appearing at all on Switch is certainly exciting though - and speaks to the scalability of the modern CryEngine.
There are other oddities and question marks presented by the Crysis Remastered press release. For example, Crytek talks about Crysis single-player campaigns in the plural, when the original game only shipped with one campaign. Is this an implicit hint that the often-overlooked Crysis Warhead may also be getting the remastering treatment? Perhaps we're reading too much into what is a somewhat vague piece of marketing - and to be honest, with a project as enticing and as exciting as this one, it's perhaps too easy to expect too much from this conversion, and to inject too many of our own hopes for the project into the information vacuum.
But at the very least, a remastered version of a PC classic that does run well on modern systems, while embracing Crytek's latest technological innovations sounds great to us. A couple of years back, in our celebration of the original Crysis, our best hope was that Crytek would release the PC rendition of the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 port with all of the CryEngine 3 bells and whistles on top. What Crytek and Saber Interactive are promising looks a lot more ambitious than that - and our hope is that it'll pave the way for a full-on reboot of the franchise with next-gen hardware very much the primary target.