Can modding and overclocking improve Crysis Remastered on Switch?

Pushing CryEngine harder with a faster Tegra X1.

Few games have an almost legendary reputation for monstering gaming hardware in the way that the original Crysis does - which made its recent release on Nintendo Switch all the more remarkable. Not only does it comfortably outperform the last-gen PS3 and Xbox 360 versions, it does so while bringing in enhanced effects found only on the latest CryEngine tech revisions. It's an impressive piece of work, but it's not quite perfect. Even today, a game that hails from 2007 can still cause problems for today's hardware - but I thought it might be fun to run Crysis Remastered on an overclocked Switch and in the process, I made some modifications to the config files to see just how far this rendition of CryEngine can be pushed.

Running the game on an exploited Switch also means we can monitor and improve system performance via some very useful homebrew tools - all accessible in-game via the Tesla overlay system. SysClk allows for CPU, GPU and memory controller overclocking, while ReverseNX switches you between docked and mobile game modes without taking the Nintendo hybrid out of the dock. Most crucial of all is System Monitor - which is effectively Riva Tuner Statistics Server for Switch. This monitors CPU and GPU utilisation, memory usage, temperatures and fan speed. These are the tools we have that are very useful in profiling the game, but before we go on, it's worth stressing that any attempt to hack/exploit the Switch or install homebrew software, runs the very real risk of getting your console banned from Nintendo online services.

Using System Monitor, it's pretty clear that Crysis Remastered handles graphics duties well, whether you're running in mobile mode or playing while docked. Dynamic resolution scaling is well implemented, with different resolution ranges for each mode. Shadows are also pared back for handheld play, which is not really noticeable in-game, but quite apparent when using ReverseNX to software-switch between the docked and mobile modes. The game runs equally as well in both situations for the most part and System Monitor reveals why: throughout gameplay, one CPU core is pretty much always running in the high 90s in terms of CPU utilisation. It's the best evidence we have that performance is held back by the 1GHz ARM cluster in the Tegra X1 processor. In the heaviest scenes - the village at the end of the Recovery mission being a great example - all three available CPU cores can hit the high 90s or even 100 per cent. That's when performance really drops.

Can it run Crysis? Yes, it can. But can it run better with mods and overclocked hardware? Let's find out.

The village was the focus for most of my CPU testing and at its worst, performance can drop beneath 20fps - but it's important to put this into context and to stress it's not indicative of performance across the whole game. For starters, even on stock clocks, my tests show that this level comprehensively outperforms Xbox 360 version of the game. Secondly, running the original (albeit fully patched) PC version of Crysis on a Ryzen 9 3900X shows that even a modern computer cannot run this level at 60fps - we drop to a minimum of around 45fps. The stock Switch runs its CPU cores at 1.02GHz, but the system can run at a maximum of 1.785GHz - a 75 per cent improvement once SysClk is brought into play. In the case of this level, I noted a 38 per cent improvement in performance by running the CPU faster. It's not enough to run the village at 30fps, but it's a night and day improvement over the stock experience. Other tests in the level didn't see as much of an improvement - big explosions may well be bottlenecking due to lack of scalability in memory bandwidth. Outside of the village and in normal play, Crysis is smoother overall but not radically so.

I was still impressed with the achievement in the village level, mind you, because while we're overclocking the Tegra X1 based on Nintendo's clock speeds, 1.785MHz is actually the stock Nvidia configuration as found in Shield Android TV - and I hadn't even tapped into the higher GPU clocks either. Here, Nintendo runs the graphics core at 768MHz while the Nvidia spec offers 20 per cent more: 921MHz. That's where our attempts to mod came into effect. Config files are available on the Switch version and settings can be tweaked. Shadow quality, level of detail settings, water quality and vegetation can all be adjusted but having tried various user tweaks plus an attempt to max out all setting, actual gains to the experience are limited.

I think that by and large, Crytek and Saber Interactive got the overall balance of settings right. Parallax occlusion mapping and advanced volumetrics are absent from the Switch port and unfortunately, tweaking the config here doesn't seem to help. Crytek is looking to add new features back into the Switch port - and POM for docked mode is a possibility - so it'll be interesting to see how that shakes out. I went into this project with the crazy idea that by ramping up CryEngine settings, I may bring the Switch port closer into line with what Crytek is planning for PS4 and Xbox One, but in a recent interview with Nintendo Everything, the developer suggests that the Switch game was put together by a different team than the other versions, using a different pipeline.

The Digital Foundry tech review for the 'stock' release version of Crysis Remastered.

So, what about addressing Crysis Remastered's odd frame-rate profile? Interestingly, Switch modders have suggested a frame-rate cap change from the stated 30fps to 29fps to compensate for the game's 31fps max performance level. I found that this did indeed remove most (but not all) of the extra frames added by the wonky fps limiter and while it worked out fine for the run of play, I do wonder whether more dropped frames are being added as a result. I guess that if this fix works as it should, Crytek may consider adding it but I'm really hoping for a more comprehensive look at how Crysis Remastered presents its 30fps throughput - not just on the Switch version but potentially for the other upcoming ports, if the same issue (first seen on the last-gen versions) affects the PS4 and Xbox One games too.

Ultimately, in overclocking Switch and tweaking config settings I'd hoped to radically improve Crysis Remastered, but really, the end result is a smoother rendition of the game with only iterative graphical improvements - and I'd hope for more from the upcoming releases for PlayStation, Xbox and especially PC. With that in mind, I ended up gaining more appreciation for the game that was actually delivered - which is terrific and should be better yet once Crytek delivers its promised updates.

And I really do recommend trying out Crysis Remastered for Switch. CryEngine always looks quite unlike any other game technology out there and when you look at the video content on this page, it's remarkable to believe it's running on a handheld. And while the emphasis in Crysis discussion is always about the graphics, putting some time into the game reminded me of just how good the level design is - stages like Recovery and Assault effectively demonstrate the massive scale of the game and deliver something quite unlike any other FPS. In terms of pushing the technology further, in enhancing the Crysis experience for modern consoles and gaming PCs - well, we're waiting with bated breath for what Crytek is cooking up for us.

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About the author

Richard Leadbetter

Richard Leadbetter

Technology Editor, Digital Foundry

Rich has been a games journalist since the days of 16-bit and specialises in technical analysis. He's commonly known around Eurogamer as the Blacksmith of the Future.

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