"Sure your system is fast, but can it run Crysis?" When Crytek first launched Crysis back in 2007, it was so demanding that not even the fastest systems were able to handle running the game without turning down some of the features. It ended up becoming something of a joke, trotted out for every new hardware release over the coming years, for everything from graphics cards to super computers and even smartphones and tablets. And as with all things related to computers, eventually we actually did have systems capable of running the original Crysis at frame rates well above 60 FPS.
Of course by then we had Crysis Warhead and then Crysis 2 to help reset the performance scale, and thus the joke has continued. As the latest game in the series, Crysis 3 ups the ante yet again for computing hardware... though these days there are plenty of other games that can give it a run for the money in terms of being the most demanding game. Regardless of age (Crysis 3 is now nearly two years old -- happy birthday!), including Crysis 3 in our list of benchmarks was something I've been meaning to do, and I've now taken the time to benchmark it on our current collection of GPUs.
Before we get to the performance charts, let's quickly cover a few other items. First, in terms of average review score, Crysis 3 actually rates as the least popular game in the series, checking in at 76% on Metacritic. The original Crysis actually received the best reception at 91% overall score, while Crysis Warhead and Crysis 2 are both basically tied at 84% and 86%, respectively. Perhaps it's that gamers have gotten tired of needing to upgrade hardware to play the games, or maybe it's that the initial graphical tour de force has worn out its welcome and the gameplay is a bit lacking in the modern era. The good news is that Crysis 3 is now available for just $20, which is far more palatable than the original $60 asking price. But what type of hardware do you need to run Crysis 3? Well, that depends largely on what sort of settings you want to enable.
Crysis 3 - Performance and Analysis
Probably the biggest decision you're going to have to make with Crysis 3 is whether you want to aim for the Very High setting, or if you can settle for High or even Medium detail. If you don't feel the need to go after Very High quality, well, short of running the game at 4K resolutions you should be okay with most modern GPUs. For our part, we've settled on High for 4K, Very High (aka Ultra) for QHD and 1080p, and then we have 1080p High, 900p Medium, and 768p Low as usual. In terms of visual fidelity, we'll compare the options below. Let's hit the benchmarks though and see how things fall out.
If you're thinking about running at 4K, Crysis 3 is going to really push your hardware to its breaking point. Even at High quality, the best we can do is merely 38 FPS on CrossFire Radeon R9 290X. Our SLI GeForce GTX 970 configuration isn't any better, and in fact it's actually about 10% slower with a 20% drop in minimum frame rates. In either case that's over $600 worth of graphics horsepower and even one step down from maximum we're still well short of 60 FPS. Ouch. It looks like a couple GeForce GTX 980 GPUs might end up hitting 45-50 FPS, and paired with a G-SYNC 4K display that should prove sufficient, but anything short of that is going to be problematic. And if you want to run 4K with Very High settings...well, we're probably a few years away from having the hardware to do that effectively. (Note: quad-SLI or quad-CrossFire are not an effective solution in my book.)
Stepping down a notch to QHD Very High, things improve quite a bit. The R9 290X CrossFire and GTX 970 SLI end up basically tied for first place, though still shy of 60 FPS -- again, GTX 980 SLI would be needed to hit 60FPS. QHD with High quality however would definitely break 60 FPS with either of these configurations. We can see this by looking at the 1080p Very High vs. High numbers, where performance improves by over 50% with most GPUs by reducing image quality. And that brings us to our next topic....
Crysis 3 - Image Quality
If you look at the above gallery, other than the differences caused by a non-static environment, there's not a huge benefit to running at Very High instead of High. Lighting and level of detail on distant objects certainly improves at Very High, but the performance penalty is arguably too much to justify the improvements. Medium and Low detail on the other hand are a different matter. While the texture quality is still probably acceptable, the lighting really takes a hit -- you can see how in some scenes things are much darker and more difficult to spot enemies and other threats (e.g. Psycho is practically invisible in one of the above image sets). Tessellation also gets disabled (or at least dramatically lowered) at Medium and Low settings. Of course, the performance boost that you get from dropping the quality down is also quite large, depending on your GPU -- our fastest configurations start running into a CPU bottleneck of around 160 FPS with our i7-4770K overclocked CPU.
Overall, Crysis 3 may not be the best game in the series, but if you need something to push your GPU to the limit, it's still one of the best options around. It also happens to scale quite well with multiple GPUs, which is certainly something NVIDIA and AMD appreciate. Perhaps most notably, Crysis 3 appears to be the final game in the series, so while Crytek will now doubt continue to make games, CryEngine 4 will need to look for a new setting before it can bring future GPUs grinding to single digit frame rates.