Crysis 3 is powered by Crytek's CryEngine 3, based on the same technology employed by Crysis 2. The latest version, however, is heavily enhanced by new anti-aliasing modes, displacement mapping, 3D lens flares, high-quality first-person shadows, volumetric fog (including cloud shadows), volumetric light shafts, dynamic caustics, semi-deferred shading, improved soft shadows, real-time area lights and shadows, glossy reflections, texture streaming support, and a new breakable glass system.
No doubt, this is a beautiful-looking game with a stunning engine behind it. With that said, it doesn't raise the bar as much as the original Crysis six years ago in 2007.
The game has four detail presets (Low, Medium, High, and Very High), but individual settings are customizable. These are the user-configurable controls:
As you can see below, the difference between the lowest and highest quality settings can be subtle. The most obvious change is the lighting, though you also see more triangles on-screen as the detail level increases. Additionally, there are some effects inherent to higher detail levels that the screen shots don't capture. When you actually play through the game, you get a very tangible sense for the difference between Low and Medium detail presets, and less of an impact as details increase from there. Moreover, higher settings have a significant impact on the frame rate, as you will see in the benchmarks.
Let's talk about anti-aliasing. Crytek developed a custom morphological AA mode called Enhanced Subpixel Morphological Anti-Aliasing (SMAA). This method combines AMD's post-process Morphological Anti-Aliasing (MLAA) with multi- and super-sampling techniques, with added temporal reprojection to provide a result that Crytek claims delivers "results of better overall quality than previous approaches, while more closely converging to MSAA/SSAA references but maintaining extremely fast execution times."
In layman's terms, SMAA is a combination of post-process (software) and MSAA/SSAA (hardware) anti-aliasing with the goal of achieving better image quality and a smaller performance hit. It's notable that Crysis 3 offfers 1x, 2x, and 4x SMAA modes for single-GPU cards, but only 2x SMAA for CrossFire or SLI configurations.
In some ways, this sounds similar to Nvidia's Temporal Anti-Aliasing technique known as TXAA. This mode also uses a combination of hardware and software anti-aliasing techniques with a custom resolve and temporal filter. TXAA is only available on Kepler-equipped GeForce hardware, however.
Our focus in this article is not anti-aliasing modes, but raw performance. Having said that, we'd like to deliver a quick look at the different modes available:
FXAA looks little better than a blur filter here, but it's probably preferable over no AA at all. Nvidia's TXAA does perhaps the best job to smooth lines, but at the cost of some blurring of textures in the scene. Crytek's SMAA looks like a nice compromise, with anti-aliased lines and good, crisp textures.
With a working knowledge of the different AA modes, let's have a quick look at each one's performance penalty. We'll use the GeForce GTX 670 for this example, since it's capable of running all of the AA modes available:
Based on the AA image quality comparison and our performance data, we think 2x SMAA gives you the best compromise between image quality and performance impact. Since FXAA and 2x SMAA are compatible across all of the cards we're testing, these are the modes we'll focus on in our benchmarks.