The original release of Crysis was a huge deal way back in 2007. Developer Crytek had built up a load of goodwill with PC gamers after the outstanding debut of Far Cry in early 2004 and then signed a deal with EA to publish the follow-up game. That game would become Crysis, a spiritual successor to Far Cry that aimed to push the technical envelope in a way that was common for PC games in the early days of 3D but had fallen out of style by the mid-2000s. The biggest audience for gaming was strongly centered around consoles and the AAA PC exclusive game was all but extinct by the time Crysis would release.
Crytek had a lot riding on the success of Crysis as another big hit would help them with licensing their CryEngine technology to other studios at a time when Unreal Engine had not quite yet begun to dominate the market. The development team shot for the moon, building what still remains as the last earnest attempt at building a big-budget action game exclusively for the PC (this may change should Star Citizen ever actually release).
Crysis arrived on the market with an earth-shattering thud, offering a graphical presentation that was years ahead of its time and an open-ended campaign design that exists in stark contrast to the linear, set piece-focused motif first pioneered by the original Half-Life and then relentlessly pulverized into a semi-playable movie by annual Call of Duty releases. Thanks to its unforgiving hardware requirements and a PC gaming market that had yet to be revolutionized by Steam’s digital distribution platform, Crysis failed to meet its nearly insurmountable expectations. It remained relevant for years as a benchmark tool for PC hardware enthusiasts and as a meme to many for its failings. Crytek made a hard pivot in its design philosophy for the sequels, which had reduced scope and were built for the console market.
Taming an untamed beast
Bringing back Crysis for old fans and those too young to have been around for its launch makes a lot of sense. The original PC version of the game still looks good enough that it could release today and not be laughed off the market. It’s campaign design is different enough from its contemporary peers that it offers value outside of its visuals. Nearly fifteen years later, it still remains a curiosity for PC hardware buffs though its age and incorrect assumptions made by Crytek on the future of PC hardware hamper its performance potential. In 2007, Crytek made a bet that future CPUs would continue to gain higher clock speeds but the reality was that multi-core CPUs would become the norm. This meant that the original game could only improve performance if desktop CPUs operated at 6, 7, or 8GHz. A remaster offers the opportunity to rework the game’s code to better use modern CPUs so that it can actually make use of the power provided by GPUs made after 2012.
What we ultimately get with Crysis Remastered and what kind of value proposition it provides depends on lots of factors. Based on reports from reputable gaming outlets, the versions of Crysis Remastered vary greatly depending on which system you buy the game for. Rather than make a single version of the game and adjust the settings quality or resolution to fit the platform, Crytek appears to have contracted out multiple teams to get the final product, each delivering unique versions of the game. For an in-depth analysis of the various console releases of Crysis Remastered, please refer to Digital Foundry’s outstanding video. I spent my time with the PC version of Crysis Remastered and will be offering my thoughts on it while directly comparing it to the original PC release.
Crysis Remastered brings back the original game with many improvements that are built on the various advancements made in video game technology since 2007. It has higher resolution textures than the original, a more realistic lighting solution, increased draw distances, improved reflections by way of screen-space reflections and a software-based ray tracing system, and finally the ability to use more than a single CPU thread. These are all welcome additions for the most part, but the implementation of these new features work together to offer a combined visual presentation that is sometimes a clear upgrade over the original and other times seems to be a downgrade.
Right off the bat, I think it is fair to say that Crysis Remastered is going to be a big letdown for big fans of the original PC release and for a number of reasons. What could have been the definitive release of the game instead exists as a curiosity that will lead to more indifference than excitement. First off, this PC version of Crysis Remastered is not built on the back of the original PC version, but rather than a reworking of the game first made for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 many years ago, therefore it carries many of the same drawbacks.
Multiplayer is nowhere to be found. The original game was not known for its multiplayer modes and carried the stink of GameSpy integration, but it would have been nice to have, even in a limited form. Crysis Warhead, the standalone PC-only expansion to the original release is nowhere to be found. Its absence is a real bummer because of how it improved the mission design and performance from the base game. It arguably contains the best levels in the entire franchise and is sorely missed. Even worse, those responsible for this remaster couldn’t even be bothered to include the entire single-player campaign from Crysis. Just like the butchered Xbox 360 version, Crysis Remastered completely omits Ascension, the level where players travel the island in a VTOL towards the campaign’s climax. The absence could be excused for the Xbox 360 port due to technical limitations but is unforgivable here. Are 2020 PCs incapable of running this level that worked on 2007 PCs? Would you be happy with a Super Mario World remaster that simply left out Chocolate Island? The wonderful CryEngine Sandbox also fails to make the cut, meaning players have no way to tinker with the level editor and all the fun that it brought with the original game.
As someone who has played the original Crysis countless times, I am very familiar with how the game looks from start to finish. Crysis Remastered offers newer technology but fails to put it to good use. The time of day settings for many of the missions has been altered in a way that can drastically change how a scene looks, making direct comparisons to the older version difficult. Where the sun was just rising as you crest a hill overlooking the first coastal encampment in the opening mission has been altered to take place at high-noon. The gradual transition from pink and orange hues to normal daylight is gone and is replaced with a subjectively less impressive look. The way light hits palm leaves has been changed, resulting in a flatter overall look to most outdoor scenes. I prefer the original presentation, even with its reduced draw distance on foliage. Most of the greenery is bright and vibrant to the point of looking fake. Object motion blur, a feature that the original release pioneered somehow looks worse now. Parts of the game that once looked incredible now have weird errors, like the giant seams added to the frozen sphere at the start of the mission Exodus.
Village hut and building interiors fare much better in the remaster thanks to the inclusion of global illumination simulation and are one of the standout improvements you’ll come across. I can’t really say the same for textures. While there is no arguing they are higher resolution, they are also just different, rather than upgraded versions of the originals. The Nanosuit textures got an upgrade, but also now appear to be slathered in olive oil, glistening all the time when the original game’s suit had a matte appearance. I’m not sure if the reworked explosions are an upgrade and the same goes for volumetric lights and fog. Some sections are simply missing volumetrics that were included in the original game and others have so much extra that you can’t even see level geometry during key cutscenes or encounters. NPC faces are objectively worse this time around as they don’t make use of the new lighting techniques and are missing sub-surface scattering. They either look flat or photoshopped into scenes in an off-putting fashion. HDR output has been added, though the value it offers is negligible when it only serves to accentuate the incredibly uneven visuals.
A lot of this could be forgivable if it was possible to finally enjoy Crysis at high resolution with high framerates. Sadly, many may find the experience to be akin to the struggles encountered back in 2007 when trying to play on mainstream PC hardware. While my test system won’t be confused for a supercomputer, the overclocked Core i9-9900K processor and GTX 1080 Ti GPU should be up to the task of silky-smooth gameplay for a title more than a decade old. Crysis Remastered ships with five graphical presets (though each individual setting can be adjusted). These presets are Low, Medium, High, Very High, and Can It Run Crysis?
The game auto-optimized my settings to match the High preset. In this configuration, I was unable to get a smooth 60Hz output at 1080p. Lowering to the Medium preset mostly did the trick, though I still experienced hitches and stutters. The game does not seem to make use of more than 4 CPU threads. I attempted the Can It Run Crysis? Preset in the name of science and it went about as poorly as you’d expect. This preset subjectively offers no meaningful benefit in visual fidelity to the point I feel it apt to be labeled placebo. I wouldn’t have been as salty about it had the rest of this “remaster” not been so disappointing, so I hesitate to laugh it off as the joke is likely intended to be. For the record, the highest preset in the original game upped the visual quality to staggering heights and easily justified the sky-high hardware demands.
As it stands now, Crysis Remastered feels like a limp-wristed attempt to cash in on whatever name value and nostalgia the franchise might have had left. From its nonsensical omissions, including the removal of manual saves and loads for a dreadful checkpoint system, to the visual upgrades that manage to downgrade the overall look, Crysis Remastered falls flat. It looks and plays worse than the original release, defeating the entire point of a remaster. That it manages to still run poorly on modern hardware is dumbfounding, even in the face of its improved reflections and texture quality. The price of entry here is only worth it for the chance to rubberneck at the roadside accident on display. If you’ve never played a Crysis game and wonder what the fuss is all about, stick to the original Crysis/Warhead PC release. If you are after graphical fidelity, go with the PC port for Crysis 3, which still scales very well with new hardware and is arguably as good-looking as most AAA titles released this year.
These impressions are based on the Epic Games Store PC version of the game. The game key was provided by the publisher. Crysis Remasted is available for PC, Xbox One, PS4, and Nintendo Switch.
Chris Jarrard posted a new article, Crysis Remastered impressions: Optimized Disappointment
I quit after a few hours because of glitches and the graphics looked pretty bad - does anyone know if they are going to patch the game any time soon?
There is hope that a lot of the issues will be patched out. Fingers crossed anyways.