Turn back the clocks to 2007. It was the beginning of the GeForce 8800 GTX's phenomenally long reign as the best graphics card around, but also a period that saw more and more PC gaming titles relinquished to mere console ports. They barely touched the surface of Nvidia's graphics cards' pixel pushing - one of the main reasons it had such a long life.[break]
If you bought an 8800 GTX when it was first released, then you made a great investment. However, many of us didn't (including me) and our failure to invest was probably because of the same reason. Crysis. When it came along in late 2007, everyone expected the new 8800 GTX to be able to play it at maximum settings at high resolutions, but we were wrong, and we gave up and decided to wait for the next generation of graphics cards, missing out on a great opportunity.
It was so demanding that for the next few years, it remained a stalwart benchmark tool and a fantastic tool for manufacturers to ship hardware for upgrades as enthusiasts grappled with it to get the best framerates. And so was born the phrase 'Can it play Crysis?'. Fast-forward to the present day and we have a similar situation to the pre-Crysis era.
Crysis looked great but was tough to run - it boosted upgrade sales but also turned people away from the PC - click to enlarge
While the console-port situation isn't quite as bad, a vast majority games simply don't need a high end graphics card to play at maximum settings, especially if you game at 1,920 x 1,080 and below. Above this, yes, the extra RAM and horsepower can make a difference, but only if you're lucky enough to own a huge, high-resolution monitor or multi-monitor setup.
I was speaking to a colleague in the industry the other day who deals mainly with graphics cards, and he claimed that most of us would be fine with a GTX 560 Ti, and that the graphics card market as a whole was pretty stagnant. We might see GTX 680's in forum signatures here on bit-tech but a vast majority of gamers make do with much less cutting-edge hardware.
He also said that the industry desperately needed a new demanding game to rally around. Something that pushed the GTX 680 to its limits. Crysis 3 was first touted to melt PCs, with a reference to the original game's stubbornly low frame rates.
Crytek CEO Cevat Yerli's comments went further to say the game was pushing current consoles to within an inch of their performance limits. Initial reports are that even the GTX 670 results in choppy framerates in the Crysis 3 Alpha but this could well improve with the final game.
The Witcher 2 is one of the most demanding current games but even it is tamed by affordable hardware - click to enlarge
The question as to whether Crysis was the saviour or nemesis of PC gaming is still open to debate. On one hand it made so many of us reach for our wallets to be able to play it at decent settings. On the other hand it also deterred many away from the PC and into the arms of consoles that offered smooth frame rates without the need for significant tweaking or costly upgrades.
Whether Crysis 3, or maybe another game will be the answer we'll have to wait and see. However, now is actually a great time to build your own PC thanks to the fact that even mid to low-end hardware can handle games at high settings. The Radeon HD 7850 1GB, that can be had for less than £120, is all you need to play The Witcher 2 at 1,920 x 1,080 at decent settings, as our benchmarks show
. However the enthusiasts in us do pine for something to make even current high-end hardware groan and for us to reach for our wallets.
Do you think PC gaming is good value at the moment? Do you yearn for another game as demanding as Crysis to make things interesting again? Let us know in the comments