Built with CryEngine2, the original Crysis raised the bar for PC gaming graphics in 2007 with stunningly detailed visuals that crippled even the fastest of rigs. Looking back at our first Crysis performance article, which was based on the game's demo, the fastest GPU available at the time (the GeForce 8800 GTX 768MB) struggled to average 30fps when running at 1920x1200 with high quality settings on DirectX 10.
Given how punishing the first game was, we were excited to explore 2011's CryEngine 3-based Crysis 2, but it was quickly apparent that the second installment wouldn't be a repeat performance. Not to say it didn't look better, but relative to Crytek's first title, the sequel didn't really set any new benchmarks. It was just another computer game that made great use of DX9, though DX11 was eventually patched in.
Fast-forward two years and Crytek has given us another opportunity to hammer some hardware with the arrival of Crysis 3 this month. Like the second title, the third installment has been built with CryEngine 3, though that doesn't mean you should expect lousy PC features, as the engine has been updated with improved dynamic cloth and vegetation, better lighting and shadows, and plenty more.
Plus, PC gamers won't have to wait for graphical extras. Crysis 3 launched with high-resolution textures, DX11 support and plenty of customization options that set it apart from the diluted consoles builds. The result looks incredible and we get the feeling this will prove to be the game that folks who are heavily invested in multi-GPU setups have been waiting for. Here's hoping we aren't woefully disappointed.
We'll be testing 18 DirectX 11 graphics card configurations from AMD and Nvidia, which is considerably less than the 29 we tested for Far Cry 3 because even with the medium quality preset activated, there are almost no low-end graphics cards that can play Crysis 3, even at 1680x1050.
The latest drivers will be used, and every card will be paired with an Intel Core i7-3960X to remove CPU bottlenecks that could influence high-end GPU scores.
We're using Fraps to measure frame rates during 90 seconds of gameplay footage from Crysis 3's first level, "Post Human." The test starts as soon as Michael "Psycho" Sykes hands you his backup weapon, we then simply follow the party leader until the time runs out.
We'll test Crysis 3 at three common desktop display resolutions: 1680x1050, 1920x1200 and 2560x1600, using the DX11 mode. For the very high-quality test, we'll set the "overall quality" in the video quality menu to very high while also setting the SMAA level to 1 (low). The high and medium-quality tests will also be conducted with SMAAx1 enabled.
High Quality Performance
Ramping up to high quality, the GTX 680 landed square on the 60fps mark when testing at 1680x1050, while the GTX 670 followed with 55fps and the HD 7970 GHz edition was forced into the 4xfps territory with the GTX 660 Ti. It seems like the non-Ti GTX 660 or the HD 7950 are about as low as you'll want to go, as both were near the 40fps mark with the Nvidia card on top by 3fps.
At 1920x1200, Crysis 3 kicked the GTX 680 10fps below our ideal and the GTX 670 joined AMD's flagship in the 40fps range—albeit with a 5fps lead. The HD 7970 GHz Edition averaged 41fps, narrowly beating the GTX 660 Ti by a single frame.
Crysis 3 is barely playable when running on high at 2560x1600, with the GTX 680 and HD 7970 GHz Edition barely offering 30fps. If you want play with these settings on a single-GPU card, you'll likely need Nvidia's new GTX Titan.
Very High Quality Performance
With the high quality preset being so taxing, we wondered if there was any point in testing on a more intensive setting. But we did, and things aren't pretty—or, well, they're too pretty. At 1680x1050, the GTX 680 managed 44fps and stood as the only card to exit the 30fps range, which is populated with the GTX 670, HD 7970, GTX 660 Ti and HD 7950 Boost, though anything below the HD 7970 GHz Edition is pushing it in our opinion.
Not much needs to be said here: the GTX 680 is your only hope of achieving playable performance, barring the Titan or a multi-GPU solution.
This is the resolution I typically game at with one GTX 680 and, naturally, I like to crank everything up. That's not an option here. We'd be interested in seeing how a pair of GTX Titans in SLI perform.
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Steven Walton is a writer at TechSpot. TechSpot is a computer technology publication serving PC enthusiasts, gamers and IT pros since 1998.