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Crysis Remastered: the good, the bad and the broken

PS4, Xbox One and the enhanced consoles under the microscope.

We've established that Nintendo Switch can, in fact, run Crysis - but what about PlayStation 4, Xbox One and their enhanced equivalents? At the tail end of last week, Crysis Remastered finally appeared - and it's safe to say that we were not quite prepared for how unpolished the final code would look. Crytek told us to expect imminent patches and Xbox One at least did receive an update last night, but the reality is that the experience is still not good enough. In fact, the patch may have even made the situation worse.

From the outside looking in, it's difficult to accept that a title that runs beyond expectation on Switch should under-perform on much more powerful consoles. There are several reasons for this, perhaps most notably that the Switch game was developed by Saber Interactive in Sweden - in fact, we understand it's produced by the team that delivered the incredible port of The Witcher 3. All other versions were produced by a separate wing of Saber working with Crytek, and it is effectively a bespoke rendition of Crysis Remastered. The result is a version of the game which looks decidedly unlike any other - this is not just an upgraded Switch port here - there are significant differences.

As things stand, Crysis Remastered supports all variants of current generation consoles. On the enhanced machines, this means users have access to three distinct modes on each. Firstly, there's the quality mode, aiming for a dynamic 4K on Xbox One X (with a 1080p minimum). The PS4 Pro equivalent there is a dynamic 1800p, with a 900p minimum - though I should stress that the minimums seem rather rare. Next up is the performance mode - this uncaps the frame-rate while reducing the maximum resolution to 1080p on both enhanced machines. Lastly, we have ray tracing mode. This enables Crytek's impressive software-based ray tracing solution applied to select objects. In this case, on both machines, maximum resolution is dropped to 1080p while minimum is 900p. The vanilla consoles deliver the performance mode's visual feature set with a 30fps cap - got it?

Obviously, ray tracing on the enhanced machines is a huge inclusion, though its usage can be somewhat subtle in many levels. The alien structures midway through the game and final carrier section, however, really showcase what is possible. Skinned models aren't reflected, as is possible on PC - so you won't be seeing your Nanosuit reflected in reflective surfaces - but the result is still impressive. Next, HDR has been added to the mix enabling a much wider range of luminance when engaged.

Our complete lowdown on Crysis Remastered for Xbox One and PlayStation 4, covering a total of eight different rendering modes and the new patch for the Microsoft consoles.Watch on YouTube

Screen-space reflections have been added and are used in conjunction with ray traced reflections and planar reflections. Crysis utilises these techniques in tandem to cover reflections across many types of materials ranging from the water of the ocean to metal plating but the big boost fidelity comes from SVOGI - or sparse voxel octree global illumination. Crytek's solution to indirect lighting is implemented across the board and at a higher precision than the Switch release. Additionally, screen-space direction occlusion or SSDO, has been implemented in this version of Crysis. This allows lights to be included in the ambient occlusion pass, enabling colour from local objects to be considered in the process. It simply enables more realistic contact shadows and is a feature that was not available on Switch. Beyond this, texture resolution is massively increased with up to 4K textures used across the game world and on objects, while shadow rendering is enhanced to include soft shadows with variable penumbra. Both features are new to this version of Remastered.

That's a lot of comparison points then, but what struck me straight away is that there are many differences at the core between the PS4/Xbox One releases and the Switch game. For example, in the second mission, while time of day is comparable, the way in which the scene reacts to light differs significantly between the two, effects work is different and on the PS4/Xbox One games, the world is bathed in a strong greenish hue not present on Switch. While in many respects I prefer the way that the Switch handles the material, there's no doubt that draw distance and density of vegetation is much higher on the more powerful consoles. Textures are much more detailed, as are the dynamic shadows. Even SVOGI manifests very differently owing to different lighting conditions, though the effect generally is of a much higher quality on PS4 and Xbox One, with less light leakage. Ocean rendering, however, is more curious. In this case, I prefer the look of this area on Switch by a slight margin, but it serves to demonstrate how implementation varies so dramatically between them.

And yet, certain flourishes on Switch just seem to look subjectively better to my eye. Specifically, with the outdoor scenes, I've grown to prefer the lighting and general look of the Switch version: it's more nuanced and less garish. Of course, there is also much less detail on Switch along with lower overall performance and resolution, but I'm starting to feel like starting from the Switch base may have been preferable. This extends to some other aspects of the presentation too. For example, per-object motion blur is a huge part of the visual appeal of Crysis, going back to the original release. With the Xbox, PS4 and even PC version of Remastered, however, the effect appears somewhat speckled and of lower quality overall compared to any other version. We've raised this with Crytek and hope that a fix will be possible but it's not yet clear.

There's some beautiful technology in the PC version of Crysis Remastered, but the performance and feature compromises can be brutal.Watch on YouTube

Unfortunately, beyond the visual differences, there are some more profound issues. During my testing, I encountered numerous issues ranging from an occasional crash bug on PlayStation 4 and stutters which occur regularly only when using the ray tracing mode to more bizarre problems like your feet not moving when looking down at the ground during traversal. I'm also not fond of some of the visual changes. The motion blur shutter speed use for player movement and camera, for instance, isn't to my liking. You can fix this on PC but not on the console versions. The artwork changes aren't always to my taste either and the game is still missing various techniques found in the original 2007 game. Explosives no longer impact foliage movement and destruction is simplified - cutbacks made for the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions that weren't properly restored.

Perhaps most disappointing of all is performance. PlayStation 4 and PS4 Pro are perhaps less heavily impacted overall. Looking at Pro first, the performance mode uncaps the frame-rate while limiting the resolution to 1080p. It simply runs as fast as it can on the hardware and, if I'm honest, it's not half bad. I don't like uncapped frame-rates at all but this manages to stay between 40 and 60fps most of the time. But it can drop lower in the busiest scenes and you don't feel like you're getting much of a performance boost at all there. Maybe PlayStation 5 can use this mode to power past the Pro's system limitations.

Switching to quality mode, however, we encounter our first real issue - the 31fps bug I reported in the Switch version, which is back with a vengeance on all PS4 builds. Yes, the frame-rate is effectively 31fps as opposed to 30 fps due, most likely, to the way in which vertical sync is handled - and yes, it was the same on the original PS3 and Xbox 360 versions. This means that there is a near constant judder present during gameplay. It never feels entirely smooth even if the performance never dips below this level. By and large, this mode works fine otherwise and it's stable. It's simply not targeting a refresh rate divisible by a 60Hz monitor, and it looks constantly jerky as a result. And yes, the ray tracing mode has the same issue - as well as a bad stutter bad that affects all RT modes on PS4, Xbox One and even PC. There is no 'best way to play' because all modes suffer from various issues - and yes, the 31fps cap is present on vanilla PS4 too.

We'll always have Switch. It may not be perfect, but there's something magical about a good port of Crysis running on a handheld.Watch on YouTube

This is why the Xbox One build is interesting. As it uses adaptive sync - locking to 30fps then unlocking v-sync if performance drops - there is no 31fps bug. When the game launched, it was immediately clear that quality mode wasn't where it should be with constant, ugly screen-tearing, along with consistent performance dips. Performance mode was much the same, with constant screen-tearing mixed with unstable frame-rates lead to an unpleasant experience all around. Thankfully, the RT mode fared a lot better. It still has RT-related hitching, but it managed to hold 30fps relatively consistently in many areas. With that said, at its worst, the barrage of RT hitching, checkpoint stutter and actual dips in performance was rough. The same was true of the base Xbox One, which runs even more poorly than Xbox One X - in fact, I'd say it's atrocious.

Just as we were about to publish our coverage, the long awaited patch dropped! Hoping for the best, I was concerned to see the same screen-tearing manifest over the introductory logos. Once back into the game, it was clear that the patch hadn't improved matters - in my opinion, it had made them worse. The adaptive vertical sync has been adjusted to behave differently, reducing tearing in the process, but the root cause of the performance issues hadn't been addressed. We know that by simply reducing the resolution target slightly via dynamic resolution scaling, there is likely enough performance headroom to reach 30fps - at the very least, duplicating the PS4 Pro settings would achieve this, I'd imagine. However, instead we're left with serious lurches in performance. Quality mode is still unusable - perhaps even more so now.

Performance mode, however, is slightly improved indeed but ultimately not great either - this is a mode I'd recommend saving for Xbox Series X where brute force power should get us all the way to 60 frames per second. Ray tracing mode, of course, remains similar but the change in vertical sync behavior results in larger drops in performance so it winds up feeling slightly less stable overall. The same is true of the vanilla Xbox One version too - it's just not in a good place at all.

Ultimately, performance is very strange across the platforms. The PS4 version is not bad, aside from the 31fps issue, but Xbox One really is in dire straits now. It was at launch and the patch has arguably made things worse. I think it's fixable both in a patch for current-gen machines and by deploying next-gen hardware via backwards compatibility but, in the here and now, it's disappointing. If you want to play on Xbox, the ray tracing mode is currently the only mode I'd consider playable.

So that's Crysis Remastered on consoles and I can't help but feel disappointment about the final release code. There are many impressive elements in this version of the game - software-based ray tracing is great, as is SVOGI - but the performance problems really drag down the experience. Fixing this is of crucial importance, but beyond that, I also hope that the team goes back and works to restore the many compromises and cutbacks made for PS3 and Xbox 360 that have somehow made their way into the PC/Xbox One/PS4 builds we have nine years later. In many respects, it's attention to detail that made the original game stand out and why it still holds up today - to see it diminished in the remaster just doesn't seem right.

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