Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Yes it can run Crysis

How does 2007's infamous system crusher fare on modern hardware?

Crysis's system requirements were so demanding when it was released that the question "Can it run Crysis?" became a meme that was humourously asked of the most inappropriate hardware such as toasters and ancient computers. 

How does Crysis run on a modern Windows 10 64 bit system with a GTX 970? The answer I am delighted to report is as smooth as butter with all settings maxed out. I did have a couple of crashes to desktop during my play through but these were so rare that they weren't a nuisance.

I was actually surprised the game ran at all because it has been mentioned as one of the games affected by Microsoft ending support for Securom/Safedisk.  When I installed from my old disk I immediately patched up to the latest version and it ran without problems. Both 64bit and 32 bit versions are installed. It defaults to 64 bit but the 32bit version can be run manually. I didn't benchmark but my eye couldn't detect any performance difference between the two versions.

Even maxed out Crysis cannot compete with the best 2015 games for graphical prettiness but it still is far from shabby. The game play stands up extremely well with a good selection of weapons, abilities, and challenging enemies to use them against. The story on the other hand is rather haphazard. The game feels like a collection of fairly random missions with a story tacked on afterwards in an attempt to string them together. Regardless there is the inevitable progression toward an end goal encounter with a final boss so all is good.

Released the same year as Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare,  CoD 4 redefined  first person shooters and Modern Warfare went on to become a multi billion dollar franchise. Crysis on the other hand is probably the last great old school shooter. It allows quick save.  It doesn't have levelling up. It has (almost) no quick time events. It doesn't have achievements. There is a long single player campaign with focus on interesting mechanics and emergent gameplay rather than Hollywood cinematics and scripting. Nevertheless Crysis had plenty of innovation. The multi purpose nano suit could be used in a variety of ways and huge open maps always allowed many paths to achieve an objective. 

One thing did surprise me: The game, even on a harder difficulty feels easier than I remember. I am pretty sure my reflexes haven't improved with age. Improved response times due to better hardware are probably helping a bit. I also suspect that my play style is a factor. First run through a new game I tend to be very cautious using stealth a lot and conserving ammunition. Replaying an older title I am far more gung ho, running in guns blazing. Despite frequent deaths this tends to get through content more quickly.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Slightly longer post about the Witcher 3

The Witcher 3 is one of the greatest CRPGs every made but of course it still has some flaws. How could a game of this scale and ambition not have? 

Surely the biggest flaw is that combat remains clunky. Sluggish controls and awkward camera angles mean that you can never really get into a smooth flow of strike and counter strike. This is a story based RPG and not an action combat game so you could insist that fluid combat is not actually required to enjoy it and you would be right. However as well as being a terrific RPG Witcher 3 is also almost a terrific open world action game than could compete with Assassins Creed, Shadow of Mordor or even Far Cry 3/4 if not for the clunky combat. Given a choice I think the developers were right to prioritise RPG mechanics and story over fluid combat but just imagine if they had pulled off both? 

My only major niggle is the uneven levelling curve. It seemed to take me forever to get to level 5 and during those early stages I was exploring a dangerous world where most of the monsters and quests were above my level. From levels 5 to 10 things seemed to speed up and 10 to 20 went even faster still. The world around me did not keep up with my levelling. My quest book soon became full of quests I had out levelled and the game as a whole became much easier. Plenty of others have made similar observations on forums and in reviews so this isn't just me.  Somewhere in the mid teens I made a concious decision to concentrate on the main storyline and ignore side quests in order to slow down my levelling and maintain some challenge. This approach more or less worked and I was fairly on level when I finally finished the game at level 32/33 BUT I had to leave out a lot of content along the way. 

Lets us talk for a minute about the side quests. First off there are an awful lot of them and most of them are really great.  The quest log has Main Quests. Witcher Contracts and Treasure Hunts. Those actually called "Side Quests" are multi stage mini-adventures with engaging storylines that sometimes overlap the main quest and can even influence the eventual outcome of the game. Witcher contracts are picked up from a noticeboard or a villager and generally involved killing a named monster for a reward. Treasure hunts often lead to high quality gear but they can be multi stage and may ire you kill monsters and clear out dungeons to find treasure. In addition to these explicit quests the world is full of villages that have been over run by monsters. Clearing out one of these abandoned villages will net you some XP after the villagers have returned and will often provide a new vendor and a new fast travel point. In addition to all of these quests there are also rich equipment crafting and potion brewing activities both of which require searching for ingredients and recipes.  Then there is a fully fledged collectible card game  embedded in Witcher 3 that you can play with characters all over the world. This incredible bounty of things to do is what makes Witcher 3 magnificent but the fact that they all seem to give experience which levels you up is a problem.  If you skip most of the sidequests as I did to try to stay on level for the main quest you miss so much of the game. 

This is a known problem in any level based RPG that tries to have an open world full of side quests? I remember Oblivion had the same issue and tried to solve it by levelling up monsters as you levelled up but that came in for a lot of criticism from disgruntled players who found them selves facing beggars in jewel encrusted armour by the end of the game. If all the enemies level up as you do what is the point in levelling up? I have a different suggestion that I think would work better for Witcher 4 if that every becomes a thing. I think that there should be a level cap and I think that most of the games content should take place at the level cap. Progression need not stop entirely at the level cap. You can still upgrade equipment and perhaps discover new skills. Progression beyond the level cap should increase the variety of options available to you rather than just give raw increases in power. I think this would work very nicely with the free roam mode than is unlocked after you finished the main campaign. 

Finally a word about endings. It has always been a feature of Witcher games that your actions have consequences, sometimes unforeseen ones.  Your decisions during a seemingly unconnected side quest can influence the fate of the characters involved and may even have wider implications on the overall outcome of the game. Many of the key decisions are heavily signalled with a timer bar which counts down while you quickly choose between a number of responses. This does seem a bit artificial but for the most part I went with my gut response and stuck with it. In several cases the outcome was not what I would  have chosen but the quality of the writing is such that even in those cases I had to agree that the actual outcome was more fitting given the circumstances that what I might have preferred. I don't want to give spoilers but I will highlight Geralt's love life as one area where the outcome definitely wasn't what I intended but actually made far more sense. I will admit too that I did cheat  at the very end of the game, After finishing for the first time and not getting the outcome I desired I realised that one of the side quests I had ignored was essential to achieving my desired ending. Happily it wan't too far back so I loaded an old save game and replayed about three hours worth to finish the game the way I wanted to. 

Finished Witcher 3

Just want to record the fact that I have finished my first full campaign in Witcher 3. What a superb game. The world is beautiful. The characters are interesting. The story telling is great. The quests are terrific and multi-layered.