In 2006 I was fortunate enough to attend what back then was the largest get-together of the gaming industry – the Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3. Among the much awaited hardware and software launches, I was there with a specific target in mind: to prove that the Crysis trailers released up until then were pre-rendered. Even then, the game was running on plasma displays in impressive resolutions (the last level, ironically enough), backed up by what was probably the best hardware configuration at the time. Unfortunately, my goal was not achieved because the nice gents at Crytek did live what I didn’t think was possible: they were playing something that seemed close to photorealism without a care in the world and with a decent framerate, answering questions and shooting a palm tree to bits piece by piece, as requested by the journalists present.
And even though the game wasn’t available for public testing, I was literally stunned when I saw the kind of graphics Crysis presented. Of course, the physics wasn’t too shabby either, and the possibility of destroying the huts in the jungle or the vegetation seemed to be taken straight from the distant future. Amazingly enough, everything I saw there was included in the final release of the game, and although some water has run under the bridge, no other title, either announced or launched, has come close to what I’ve seen in this game.
The graphics is definitely the first topic of discussion when it comes to Crysis, and many times it’s not even mentioned that it’s Far Cry’s spiritual child (especially now when there will be an official sequel is being developed by Ubisoft). The launch of the game practically established it as a benchmarking tool, and Nvidia joined forces with Crytek, participating in media events and launching special drivers, all in the name of fighting off the rivals from Ati; therefore, lots of opinions were expressed according to which Crysis is nothing more than a technological demo launched to generate more revenues for the hardware industry.
From certain perspectives this is true, because Crysis runs poorly on almost every system with the details set on High, but this is justified by the fact that it offers the most realistic reproduction of reality in a game so far, at least at a graphical level. The Very High option is also available, one that the producers consider to be the only one that really uses DirectX 10 functionality, when run on Windows Vista. However, through some tweaking in the game’s configuration files, most of these effects were “unlocked” on Windows XP as well, but this was later denied by Crytek’s CEO, who claimed it’s just emulation and not “real” next-gen effects. Regardless of these issues, the way water is rendered, the way the sun rays come through the leaves and many other graphical effects, turn the experience into something completely stunning from a visual perspective. The only debatable part is the way explosions and fires are depicted, which seem a bit old and granulated. There is also a frozen area in the game, which is one of the most impressive levels in the history of FPS games, especially considering the transition between areas and the way the blizzard is simulated (I got chills just by looking at the monitor).
Still, Crysis isn’t just a rendering exercise. Despite the fact that it’s so pretty its screenshots could be used as post cards, the producers didn’t overlook the gameplay. The scenario is not one of the most original pieces of writing though; the action is based in the near future (in 2020 to be precise) when you, as part of the US special forces, are parachuted on an island in the Philippine Sea for a mundane rescue mission that goes to Hell rather quickly after the game starts. This approach suits the FPS genre, but for those that have already saved the world several times, there is little incentive to be excited, story-wise.