A new Crytek demo has come out, showcasing how impressive ray tracing can look. The Neon Noir video uses a bespoke version of CryEngine 5.5 to create its world, and the overall visual spectacle is indeed impressive. According to the video, this demo should run on both AMD and Nvidia hardware, and the description states that future CryEngine integration will be optimized to support APIs like Vulkan and DX12:
A lot of people have been treating this video as “proof” that you don’t need Nvidia’s Turing or DXR support from Microsoft (RTX is Nvidia’s flavor of DXR). This has alwaysbeen true. Nvidia didn’t invent the idea of running ray tracing on a GPU (and, for the record, doesn’t claim to have done). Nvidia’s Turing GPUs contain some specialized function blocks to accelerate part of the ray tracing process more effectively.
Is this video proof that you don’t need RTX hardware to deliver good game performance? No, because it isn’t a game at all. It’s an engine demo. It’s much easier to deliver gorgeous graphics when the only thing the engine is doing is running graphics code. Delivering good real-time performance in a game requires managing physics, network code, player inputs, audio, and AI, to name a few additional categories. Detail settings and target resolution will have a significant impact on GPU performance in ray traced games, just as they always have in rasterized titles.
Is this video proof of some game in development that will at least use ray tracing in an agnostic manner, thereby supporting the feature across both AMD and Nvidia hardware? Nope. It’s a bespoke custom engine variant. It will be integrated into the engine in the future, and will benefit from custom DirectX 12 and Vulkan integration when that happens. Neon Noir is not a game. It’s a technical demo.
Is this video proof that AMD’s Vega 56 will one day offer ray tracing support? Nope. As our RTX 2080 and 2080 Ti review covered in depth, buying GPUs on Day 1 for future feature support is a bad idea. Expecting already-launched GPUs to magically display huge performance when leveraging rendering methods that have never been used for games in the consumer market is a fool’s errand.
Even if ray tracing slowly begins to gain ground, it’ll be 2021 or 2022 before we see many titles significantly supporting it. We already know the performance impact from enabling RTX is in the 30-40 percent range. The impact of enabling the feature on an AMD GPU is scarcely likely to be less. A Vega 56 bought today should still be a capable gaming card in 2021 (though it wouldn’t be our recommended model), but not if you whack 30-40 percent of its performance off the card. That, meanwhile, assumes it can even match RTX’s performance hit in gaming when real-time ray tracing is enabled. Too many assumptions. Too few certainties. Not a good mix.
It’s also impossible to ignore that this is a product coming out of Crytek, of all places. In the past few years, Crytek has been known more for its lawsuits than its games. The company has closed studios in Hungary, Bulgaria, South Korea, and China. It sold Crytek Black Sea to Sega and The Creative Assembly. Games like Hunt: Showdown have received mixed reviews (the title is in Early Access). Last month, Crytek announced a split from the developers of Warface, spinning off the title to its own developer, Blackwood Games. There’s been no new Crysis since 2013.
Crytek has announced a collaboration with Improbable to build a new AAA game, but the studio has suffered a string of problems and failures over the past six years. “Can it run Crysis” may be a meme, but it’s been six years since Crysis 3 was redefining visual fidelity on PCs and consoles. Games like Prey and Kingdom Come: Deliverance have used CryEngine, but the game engine doesn’t seem to have a huge following. Star Citizen uses a modified version of it, but that game is its own story saga.
This looks more like a game engine company trying to argue for its own relevance than any kind of demo that gamers or ray tracing fans should get excited about. But if you wanted proof that yes, you can do ray tracing without specialized hardware and with no regard for whether the final product is actually a playable game, then yes. We have proof now.