EA recently invited the gaming press to a hands-on preview of the most anticipated—and most hyped—game of the year: Crysis. The company pulled out all the stops, hosting the event onboard the USS Hornet, the retired aircraft carrier depicted in one of the game’s early levels.
Crytek CEO Cevat Yerli was there to thank each of the companies that have had a hand in funding and/or helping to develop Crysis. EA’s Global Manager, EA Partners David DeMartini; Intel’s Senior Director Software & Solutions Bill Kirby; and Microsoft’s Global Product Manager for Games for Windows Heidi Rademacher stood up in succession to make brief speeches praising Crytek and sharing their excitement about how close the game was to shipping.
During his speech, Nvidia’s senior vice president Dan Vivoli let slip that Nvidia intended to “launch new hardware to coincide with Crysis’ launch.” Vivoli didn’t elaborate, but the rumor mill has been predicting that Nvidia would ship a new top-end GPU right before the holiday shopping season, just as they did with the GeForce 8800 last year.
Nvidia has been working closely with Crytek throughout the life of this project, according to Vivoli, who told the press that Crysis is “the most advanced game ever developed.” Comparing Crysis to Dinosaur Island, the tech demo that Crytek eventually turned into Far Cry, Vivoli claimed that the new game performs “3,000 operations per pixel, compared to 30 operations per pixel in Dinosaur Island.” He said Crytek had created “85,000 shaders for the game, about the same shader complexity as today’s animated films.”
Each weapon can be customized with scopes and other accessories.
But after having the opportunity to play one level of the single-player game for an hour, “power struggle” (a variation on capture-the-flag) for about 90 minutes, and “instant action” (a variation on deathmatch) for another hour, I came away from the event wondering if the Crytek team can deliver on its lofty promises when it finally ships the game on November 16. (Note: we were allowed to play the DirectX 9 version of the level titled “Assault” on Windows XP machines; both multiplayer sessions were played on Vista machines using DirectX 10.)
Now it wouldn’t be fair of me to judge the game before it’s shipped, but I can tell you what I saw and heard during the event. In an all-too-brief one-on-one discussion with Cevat before the hands-on sessions, Crytek’s CEO told me he thought they’d “shown too much of the game too early,” and that they had “built up people’s expectations.” But Yerli quickly returned to form and began boasting of the game’s visual flair. The game will exhibit a high degree of visual fidelity, he said, with extensive use of high dynamic-range lighting and HDR applied to depth of field. There will be 3D color correction and parallel occlusion mapping.
When I asked Yerli what differences gamers with DX10 hardware would see compared to and those with DX9 hardware, he reiterated that the two experiences wouldn’t be much different, but that there would be a “clear visual difference” in the multiplayer game. “The DX10 multiplayer experience will be completely different from the DX9 multiplayer experience,” Yerli said. “DirectX 10 servers will have day/night cycles, for instance” he continued, “so players will have to change their tactics as the sun sets because their characters will cast longer shadows.”
Yerli told me that players with DirectX 10 videocards will be able to join either DX9 or DX10 servers, but those with DX9 hardware will only be able to play on DX9 servers. “DX9 servers will not have day/night cycles,” he said, “but those DX10 players who do play on DX9 servers will still have better visual quality than players with DX9 cards.”
In Crysis' "power struggle" multiplayer game, teams represent U.S. and North Korean forces.
The single-player level we were allowed to play pitted the player against the North Koreans in an effort to secure the site where an alien craft has crashed. The aliens are not encountered in this level, and I didn’t see anything of the crash site. The first thing I attempted to do, of course, was shoot down a few palm trees because there’s been so much discussion of the game’s fully destructible environment. I managed to blow up a few trees, but many more refused to succumb to my efforts.
[More analysis--and more screenshots--after the jump.]
I also didn’t encounter game characters that exhibited the amazing level of detail of those images released very early in the game’s development. As Crytek has begun the final push to get the game out the door, I think they’ve begun to realize just how much visual fidelity they’ll need to sacrifice in order to ship a game that’s playable on mainstream hardware.
I didn’t get to play enough of the single-player campaign to render judgment as to whether I think the game will be fun (again, that wouldn’t be fair based on an unfinished game). There also wasn’t much to the level we were given to play. Our objective was to secure an alien crash site before the AI-controlled North Koreans got to it. But for as much as has been made about Crysis in the umpteen million previews we’ve seen, I didn’t see much during my time with the game that will significantly advance the first-person genre. The graphics were pretty, but they weren’t nearly as sumptuous as all the early screenshots have been.
Can the hype match the reality? It's not likely with today's hardware.
The same could be said for the multiplayer matches. EA and Crytek divided the press into two camps: The U.S. and the North Koreans. Our objective was to capture and hold a bunker and then an alien crash site, the latter of which would generate energy for our team. According to Crytek’s wiki, bringing these artifacts back to your HQ will enable you to add alien technology to human weapons, but we weren’t able to do that in our preview. The ultimate objective was to capture the other camp’s HQ. Without headsets for communication, it was impossible for either team to establish much of a coordinated effort, so the game quickly devolved into something of a free-for-all. I don’t think this is a flaw in the game, only the conditions in which we were playing.
I was impressed with the variety of weapons and the accessories with which they can be equipped, both of which you purchase with “prestige points” you acquire during gameplay. You buy and can outfit your weapons and change your nanosuit’s settings from within the safety of a bunker or your HQ, where you’re relatively safe from enemy fire. But I got shot every time I tried this out on the battlefield, leading me to doubt the suit’s practicality. When I watched the Crytek team members play, however, I could see that it just takes a little practice: These guys could change their suit’s capabilities so fast it was difficult to see what they were doing.
The soft shadows, on the other hand, do look impressive.
EA allowed the press to shoot video of the multiplayer games, but they wouldn’t allow us to take our own screenshots. Instead, they sent the screenshots you’ve seen in this story. These are from the same multiplayer levels that we played, but they were not taken from the actual game sessions we played.
I hope my impressions of the game’s graphic quality are off base, and that the game as shipped looks as good as has been promised. Barring that, I hope that the game is at least as much of a blast to play as Far Cry was. I guess we’ll all find out next month.
Here are a few more screenshots, courtesy of EA:
Here's a good example of the the particle effects available in CryEngine 2.
Crytek tells us the day/night cycle in the multiplayer versions will impact strategy because your character will cast a longer shadow as the sun begins to set.
The multiplayer level on the aircraft carrier USS Hornet seems relatively small.
If Crysis is as intensely fun to play as Far Cry was, Crytek will likely be forgiven if the new game isn't as graphically intense as originally promised.