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The question that must be answered: Steam Deck - can it run Crysis?

No, it can't. Yes, it can!

The baptismal fires are waiting. Steam Deck, like countless initiate PCs before it, must be christened: as with every new piece of hardware, one question must be answered. Can it run Crysis? The answer is no, it cannot. The original 2007 release locks up with a black screen. Crysis Remastered though? It boots, it runs, it plays - and with handheld-optimised settings you can get a great experience that almost sustains 60 frames per second. Looking for fidelity over outright performance? It'll do a great job of running at medium settings too at native resolution, effectively putting this portable rendition of the game up there with the original release running at its very high preset - and running at native 720p too.

But this is Crysis and as such, the options are there to bring Steam Deck to its knees, with the 'Can It Run Crysis' mode flipping the measurement of performance from frames per second to seconds per frame - akin to running the original Quake on an ancient 386 processor. Of course, the Deck is a resource-constrained device - and we have to be mindful of that. Ray tracing support in the game has a software fallback, meaning it does run on SteamOS, but it's really not a good idea. Getting decent performance and/or extending battery life is all about a new form of optimised settings - not just the best 'bang for the buck' but also not being afraid to compromise still further. Similar to Nintendo Switch, the smaller screen makes significant cutbacks to fidelity less noticeable during the run of play.

It turns out that there is a good degree of headroom here to the point where I had to wonder - could we actually get Crysis Remastered running at 60 frames per second, or at least close to it? To put this to the test, I used the second level that culminates in a base attack that concludes with dozens of AI and a couple of tanks descending on your position. It's a great place to stress CPU limitations earlier in the game, and we also used it as the crucible for testing performance when we overclocked Nintendo Switch in an attempt to boost frame-rates on the other handheld rendition of the game. Even with low graphics settings - giving more power and performance to the CPU - the big battle sees Steam Deck drop into the 40s.

Video evidence of Steam Deck's 'can it run Crysis' credentials.

Using custom variables to move down to lower-than-low settings could see us move back closer to 60fps, but at this point, the visual compromises become unacceptable: shadow quality and pop-in look pretty poor and the transition of objects from 2D sprites to 3D objects becomes hilariously obvious. Another way to increase CPU performance is - bizarrely enough - to reduce resolution. Crysis Remastered's CPU burden increases with resolution, presumably with pixel count scaling with level of detail. So, dropping from 800p or 720p down to 540p helps both CPU and GPU - but it also impacts readability during the game. Short and medium range encounters are fine, but long range visibility is impacted, even on the handheld screen, and there's nothing that Steam Deck's system-level FSR support can do to help with that.

We tried. We fought and battled for a portable 60fps experience with Crysis, but ultimately, all roads lead to a 30fps set-up for an optimal balance of image quality, performance and fidelity. I'd recommend using the 30fps cap offered by SteamOS at the system level - which delivers a more consistently frame-paced experience than any of the console builds. And while Crysis Remastered does support full 1280x800 resolution, I'd also recommend dropping down to 1280x720 - yes, that introduces 40 pixel borders top and bottom, but they're not especially noticeable in the thick of the action and you gain additional overhead to sustain 30fps, or a touch more battery life.

As for specific settings, the medium preset is closest to the original Crysis at very high, with additional tweaks higher to surpass the OG rendition of the game. Set post-processing to high to allow access CryEngine's really nice per-object motion blur, which greatly enhances the flow of the 30fps experience. This also gives access to other enhancements such as screen-space reflections, which really help out the fewer shinier surfaces in the game. I'd also recommend the high vegetation setting, which gives us far better foliage coverage than the original Crysis.

What's Steam Deck's closest challenger in terms of a handheld Crysis experience? That'll be Nintendo Switch, tested here with custom settings and overclocking.

The medium preset also engages select extra features that weren't in the 2007 release, including screen-space shadows for smaller objects in the world, while grass casts shadows too. Crytek's real-time global illumination system - SVOGI - is also present, giving us a really nice simulation of light bounce. All of this combines to produce a Crysis Remastered experience that looks very handsome indeed. For my money, it's the sweet spot in terms of performance and meaningful fidelity - I ran through the first four levels of the game in their entirety on the higher difficulty level and 30fps was kept throughout, classic Crysis checkpoint stutter apart. There are also some minor problems, seemingly with the SteamOS 30fps cap, where 50ms frame-time can crop in - but thankfully it is infrequent.

By capping performance and not pushing the processor to its limits, we also get decent battery life - I clocked in 2.5 hours of continuous play. Bearing in mind that pushing Steam Deck's Van Gogh APU to full performance sees battery life drop to a low of 1.5 hours, that's pretty good going. And of course, the option is still there to reduce settings still further if you must play for longer - or you could drop resolution down to 960x540, using FSR to upscale back up to 720p.

So, can Steam Deck run Crysis? Of course, it can. But more to the point, I think it can actually run this challenging game pretty well. Of course, resolution is lower than the last-gen consoles (it's a handheld!) but you're getting a visually improved experience compared to PlayStation 4, especially in terms of vegetation density, plus more consistent performance. The compromise that hurt most from a PC perspective is the capped 30fps. Valve is working on adjusting the refresh rate of the display and I reckon the settings here should be good for 40Hz/40fps. In terms of frame-times, this puts us at a mid-point between 30fps and 60fps, meaning a smoother experience - but the hit to battery life will be significant and inevitable. Regardless, if and when official adjustable refresh rate support comes to Steam Deck, we'll be looking closely at it.

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About the Author
Alex Battaglia avatar

Alex Battaglia

Video Producer, Digital Foundry

Ray-tracing radical, Turok technophile, Crysis cultist and motion-blur menace. When not doing Digital Foundry things, he can be found strolling through Berlin examining the city for rendering artefacts.

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