Cryostasis: Sleep of Reason Performance Evaluation
Reviewed by: ccokeman
Reviewed on: June 16, 2009
Cryostasis is a single player First Person Survival Horror game developed by Action Forms using the AtmosFear 2.0 engine. Cryostasis was first brought to the US as a tech demo late in 2008, and was released in the US on April 20th 2009; it was released in Russia in December 2008. Cryostasis was developed for DirectX 10, and makes use of Nvidia's PhysX technology to simulate cloth, wind effects, and most of all, water. Cryostasis uses smoothed particle hydrodynamics to simulate the water effects and visuals encompassing water flow, collisions, and pooling. The water effects are what make the visuals in this game so lifelike. You play the game as Alexander Nesterov, a meteorologist leaving Polar Ice Station 21 looking for his nice warm ride home, when he finds the polar icebreaker Northwind. The year is 1981, and the Northwind has suffered a terrible fate and is locked in the unrelenting polar ice cap. Once you enter the vessel, you are faced with surviving the ship and its inhabitants to find out the reason for its current circumstance. You will witness the last fatal moments of the crew through mental echoes and brief sequences detailing the events that led to the demise of the Northwind. Your job is to solve the riddle of the Northwind, and if you are up to it, bring the ship and crew back to life.
Since Cryostasis is a game that is best played with Nvidia cards, it looks like it is optimized to take advantage of the parallel computing powers of the Nvidia GPU. How optimized, I will find out. To test out Cryostasis, I will run six video cards through the game - four from Nvidia (GTX 295, GTX 285, GTX 275, and GTX 260 216SP), and two from ATI (HD 4870x2 and HD 4890), to see what kind of performance you'll get using the best available from either manufacturer.
The menu for Cryostasis is broken up in to four main sections. The Controls menu is where you set all of the movement keys to your preferences. Video is where the visual quality will be set, and Audio features the sound adjustments, including volume control, the driver type, and whether EAX enhancements are enabled. Last are the game's settings - under the Game tab, the one setting that impacts performance the most, besides resolution, is enabling PhysX effects. To do show, you must use Shader Model 4.0 as well.
Throughout the game, the atmosphere is brutally cold, with frost tendrils on just about everything; the way you survive is by keeping warm. Various heat sources are scattered around the Northwind to help you warm up, ranging from the gentle glow of a light bulb all the way up to a destroyed nuclear reactor. The outer ring shows the temperature of the environment, while the inner circle is your body temperature.
As you wander through the maze of bulkheads and corridors, you will encounter many of the ship's crew that have undergone a terrible transformation into ice zombies, who want nothing less than to extinguish the source of warmth you represent. Surviving these attacks allows you to move forward on your quest to find the answers you were sent to gather on what happened to the Northwind.
What good's an FPS game without weapons? Cryostasis has more than enough to get you through the challenges of solving the riddle of the Northwind. You start out with a lock and chain pulled from a door, all the way up to a water cannon, PPSh-41 submachine gun, and Tokarev SVT-40. Each one has its strengths and each has a purpose. As you wander through the ruins of the ship, you will find weapons to add to your arsenal.
Throughout the game, there are interludes that give you clues about what happened on the Northwind; these are like dream sequences that give you a direction to follow. Along the way, you find crew members that died horribly. You can either save their souls, or correct their mistakes, by reliving the moments before their death to get you closer to your ultimate goal of reviving the Northwind. When you choose to relive these moments, 1C and Action Frames have used a mental echo to allow you to see what happened to the fallen crewman.
Cryostasis is the first game to use physically simulated water, in addition to the reactive cloth and ice in the environment. The water in the past looked like a white froth that did not react to the environment. 1C and Nvidia use smoothed particle hydrodynamics to allow the water to flow, splash, and pool just like real water does. It is an interesting effect throughout the game - as rooms warm up, the frost literally melts off of the walls. Using the water cannon will allow this effect to be seen at will, rather than randomly through the game. The cloth effect and spark effects appear to be implemented better than in Mirror's Edge, and really bring the scenes to life.
Now I'll leave you with some random images from the game so you can get more of a feel for what the game is like, if the previous pictures have not been enough.
Now let's see what kind of performance the video cards can deliver!
Cryostasis is a PhysX heavy game that needs to have this option turned on to get the best visual effects. Unfortunately, this means added strain on the GPU for video cards that support this technology, and a massive performance hit when cards that do not support this technology are used with the PhysX effects enabled. Testing will consist of running the game through a five minute sequence that is a demanding section of the game and puts the GPU under strain from the opening sequence. I will test with the PhysX effects enabled, as that is the allure of the game in much the same way as Mirror's Edge. I will be using the OCC standard test bed to test the performance of each video card in resolutions ranging from 1280x1024 to 2560x1600. The drivers used for this test are the 185.85 from Nvidia, and the Catalyst 9.5's from ATI.
- Processor: Intel Core i7 920 150x20
- Motherboard: MSI X58 Eclipse SLI
- Memory: Mushkin HP3 12800 7-7-7-20
- Video Card(s): See Below
- Power Supply: Mushkin 800 watt Modular power supply
- Hard Drive: 1 x Seagate 1TB SATA
- Optical Drive: NEC DV5700
- OS: Windows Vista Ultimate Edition SP1 64-bit
- Case: Thermaltake Armor +
Comparison Video Cards:
- Nvidia GTX 295
- Sapphire HD 4870x2
- Sapphire HD 4890 1GB
- Asus ENGTX285 TOP
- Nvidia GTX 275
- Nvidia GTX 260 216SP
- Vertical Sync: Off
- Shader Model 4.0
- Hardware PhysX: On
- Texture Resolution: High
- Normal Maps: Medium
- Specular Maps: Medium
- Shadows: Medium
- Motion Blur: On
- Camera Motion Blur: Off
- Water Reflections: Off
- Water Caustic: Off
- Anisotropic Filtering: On
- Anti-Aliasing: On
Higher Scores = Better
When Cryostasis is played as it is meant to be, you can see what kind of strain the system is put under, when even the top card in each manufacturer's food chain is pretty much beat down at 2560x1600. Even when running a GTS 250 to take care of the PhysX calculations, the single GPU Nvidia cards deliver unplayable frame rates. From 1280x1024 up to 1920x1200, the GTX 295 and GTX 285 are playable without the aid of the GTS 250, while the 275 and 260 above 1680x1050. The ATI cards just get beat down because all of the PhysX work is done on the CPU, making for a totally unplayable game with a performance that ranges between 8 and 12 FPS. To be fair, if you change just three settings (PhysX Effects, Anti-Aliasing and Anisotropic Filtering), the ATI cards deliver playable frame rates up to 1920x1200 at the expense of the visual effects.
In an effort to see what the CPU usage is for this game, I ran through a timed run and exited from the game to check the usage levels of the cores in Task Manager under the Performance tab. I checked with both the Nvidia cards and the ATI cards while PhysX was enabled. What I saw was that with PhysX enabled on the Nvidia cards, the CPU usage appeared to load two cores substantially more than the rest. When the ATI cards were run, the usage loaded two cores a bit higher than the Nvidia cards, but the rest of the cores look to be loaded heavier than when run with the Nvidia cards - showing the CPU doing more "work" with the ATI cards installed. While this did not look to be anywhere near a full load on four cores, the fact that all 8 threads are showing higher levels using the ATI cards shows that the game does hit more than just 2 cores.
Cryostasis is a game that is quite different from the normal FPS. Instead of the "walk down the hallway and kill 'em all" scenario, you are allowed brief interludes to slowly piece together what went horribly wrong on the Northwind. The game is a series of puzzles that need to be solved, with some serious action for good measure along the way. Solve the puzzles, survive the cold, and in the end you save the Northwind and its crew. The PhysX effects are great to look at, but come with a serious performance hit when using even moderate performance settings. When the PhysX effects are turned on, the ATI cards just could not deliver playable frame rates at any resolution, due to the CPU doing all the PhysX calculations. Turn them off, and the game is quite playable with the ATI cards, even with the AA and AF options ticked. As for the Green camp, I expected better gameplay results with the PhysX effects turned on, and they delivered better performance. With the settings I used, the GTX 295 and GTX 285 were playable at 1920x1200 but no higher. Adding a GTS 250 into the mix to do the PhysX workload enabled the single GPU Nvidia cards to all deliver playable frame rates up to 1920 x1200, though at times it did slow down far enough to ruin the experience when testing the GTX 260. The best way to get additional performance with the PhysX effects on using Nvidia cards is to add in a second video card to handle the PhysX workload, or to drop the settings. For the ATI camp, the only way to bolster performance seems to be disabling the PhysX effects. For now it's the only way to play the game if you have an ATI card. If you own an Nvidia card, you get the eye candy!
Cryostasis gives an interesting storyline to follow as well as a story within a story about a Russian tribe forced out of their homes. The gameplay at times is boring, but is punctuated with moments of action spaced just far enough apart to keep you in the game. The atmosphere is monotonous at times until you get to a point where the PhysX effects are in play; the game is not the same without them. 1C has captured the harsh environment - you can almost feel the cold. When our hero Alexander wanders into an area of bitter cold, you know it by the sight of his breath condensing, and the cough he develops when the temperature takes a plunge. As a single player game, Cryostasis will not bring you tons of online fun with your buddies, but is a game that is visually appealing and will make you think to finish it. All in all it plays well, as long as you have the graphics horsepower to get the most from it.