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Introduction to Crysis 2 Graphics Guide
Three years after its release, Crysis remains the most technologically demanding video game ever made. There is still presently no CPU and Graphics Card combination that can run the game on its highest settings at 1080p and v-synced 60FPS. Crysis in many ways was the embodiment of the idea of the PC as the benchmark for cutting edge graphical innovation.
The announcement that Crysis 2 would be a cross-platform release, available on the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 as well as PC, therefore came as a shock to many gamers. Financial reasons may have played a part in forcing the decision upon the developers CryTek. PC-only game development is increasingly difficult to justify in an era of massive budgets topping the $100 million mark. What compromises has supporting the aging console hardware forced upon Crysis 2, and what does this tell us about the future of the PC as the home of the ultimate gaming visual experience?
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Crysis 2 Graphics and the New CryEngine
Crysis 2 is being built with CryTek's new game engine, CryEngine 3. Designed from the beginning to be cross-platform, the developers are clearly hoping that the engine will prove as popular as the game itself, taking a bite out of the console development market that the Unreal Tournament 3 engine has had pretty much to itself over the last three years.
There's no doubt that, on its own, CryEngine 3 is a technical triumph. It features an innovative real-time design system, meaning that graphical changes to geometry and texturing are instantly rendered as the game is running, and across all three platforms. Great pains have been taken to ensure that the engine has been optimized to make the most of the aging consoles tech. CryTek also promise that the engine is scalable far into the future, ready for when the next generation of consoles come to market.
With all this emphasis on the underlying engine, the actual content of Crysis 2 itself has gone under the radar. Has it been designed to surpass the first game in the series in graphical prowess? Or have corners been cut to ease the strain on the consoles? The first clue is in the setting for Crysis 2. Gone are the lush tropical environments of Crysis and Far Cry. Welcome to New York City.
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Compromised by the City?
CryTek have gone to great pains to state that the reason for moving the setting of the new Crysis game into an urban environment was due to such a setting being more emotionally affecting. But there have been doubts raised. The original Crysis was predicated on its stunning wide-open island vistas, not just graphically but in gameplay terms as well. The massive draw distances these visuals required were punishing for most PCs, and an impossibility on the current generation of consoles. Cities, however, make the consoles life a lot easier.
By using occluding geometry such as buildings as a fundamental part in its level design, Crysis 2 massively reduces the required draw distance the platform has to render. But worse is to come. CryTek have confirmed the levels in Crysis 2 will be significantly smaller than in the original. They will probably be more linear as well. The designers will also not be including room geometry in every building, simply because the scale of attempting to lay out every office block in a city would be immense. The destructible nature of buildings will therefore also have to be limited.
The change in setting therefore strikes at what was one of the key points of Crysis, both graphically and in gameplay terms-the open nature of its world. The striking level of visual detail in Crysis often distracted from its superb free-form gameplay. The player was free to roam and take on situations how he or she saw fit. Combined with the intricate detail put into modeling even the smallest of objects, and the superb physics engine, Crysis had the feel of a living world going on around you. The simple act of changing the location of Crysis 2 to a city to make console development easier may have fundamentally altered what the game itself was about.
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Crysis 2 System Requirements
PC owners may derive some benefit from the cross-platform nature of Crysis 2, though. Crysis was an infamously demanding game, with steep hardware requirements to get the game running at anything close to its potential. Optomisations for the memory-limited consoles, as well their multi-core CPUs, may fold back into the PC development. This means there is the distinct possibility that Crysis 2's minimum system requirements will be lower than for the original.
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Crysis 2 DX11 Enhancements
CryTek have been cagey about what DX11-only content Crysis 2 will feature, saying only that they will reveal more as the late 2010 release date nears. DX11 features may even be patched in at a later date. Certainly, they are unlikely to be anything major, for fear of splitting the user-base. Crysis 2 will almost certainly support DX9.0c out of the box this time, as this is what the Xbox 360 uses.
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The Future of Graphical Innovation on the PC?
There is no doubt that Crysis 2 will look stunning on the PC - CryTek's identity as a developer is too bound up in the idea of visual excellence for this to be cast aside. The thought of how this first-person shooter may have turned out if it had been a PC-only title will undoubtedly linger in some quarters, though.
Publishers and developers increasingly look to the consoles as their main profit stream. PC games development, thanks to the issues of piracy and DRM, has begun to take a backseat in their plans. Where once the consoles would receive a scaled-down port of a PC title, the last couple of years have seen PC gamers forced to wait for poorly optomised ports in the other direction, often saddled with punitive DRM schemes. The situation is unlikely to improve in the near future. The present generation of consoles are nearly 5 years old, and in previous times their replacements would be nearing launch. Economic conditions, and the massive cost of R&D, mean that both Microsoft and Sony will be hoping to get another 5 years at least out of their present tech. With consoles the lead development platform, we may see a period where graphical innovation stalls as developers are held back by outdated technology.
On top of this the PC market itself is fragmenting. The rise in netbooks and affordable laptops, often featuring integrated graphics cards that can barely run games from the mid-2000s, has seen desktop sales decline. We may be witnessing the end of an era of games developers pushing graphical fidelity as the cutting edge of games design.