Unity, Source 2, Unreal Engine 4, or CryENGINE - Which Game Engine Should I Choose?

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If you want to develop and release your own game out into the world, there are a few very important things to consider before starting on this journey. There are several free game engines out there that have the features you need to create your game, but the question is […]

Unity, Source 2, Unreal Engine 4, or CryENGINE - Which Game Engine Should I Choose?

If you want to develop and release your own game out into the world, there are a few very important things to consider before starting on this journey. There are several free game engines out there that have the features you need to create your game, but the question is which one should you choose? To help you decide, we’ve given you a run down of four of the most powerful engines out there so you can compare and see which one fits your needs.

Over the past several years there have been many powerful game engines released to the public, giving the chance for aspiring independent developers to create the game they’ve always had in their minds. The most popular game engines are Unity, Unreal Engine 4 and CryENGINE. All three of these are extremely powerful game engines and each one has their strong areas. In order to help determine which one works best for your project, you need to ask yourself what type of game you plan on making. Is it a first-person shooter (FPS)? A mobile game? Is it going to be 2D or 3D?

If you’re planning on releasing this game and selling it for any amount of money, you need to weigh the different licensing fees for each engine to determine which best fits in your budget. While these four engines are relatively cheap, as soon as you are ready to sell your game there are licensing fees, royalties, or both that you must pay.

Source 2

source 2

During GDC 2015 Valve had several big announcements, and probably the biggest one in the gaming community was the Source 2 engine announcement. Source 2 is the successor to the Source engine used in Valves most popular games like Counter-Strike: Source, Half-Life 2 and a slew of other games. Source 2 has been highly anticipated for several years as game developers eagerly awaited the next-gen game engine in Valve’s toolbox. During the press conference Valve’s Jay Stelly said, “We will be making Source 2 available for free to content developers. This combined with recent announcements by Epic and Unity will help continue the PCs dominance as the premiere content authoring platform.” It’s apparent that Valve is ready to join in the game engine race with Epic and Unity and provide even more options to game developers. However, it’s still unclear as to what “free to content developers” actually means, is that just to established developers or does anybody fall under “content developer”?

As for any specific release date Valve has not released any information, all that has been made available is that Source 2 is coming in the near future. Jay Stelly also stated, “With Source 2, our focus is increasing creator productivity. Given how important user generated content is becoming, Source 2 is designed not for just the professional developer, but enabling gamers themselves to participate in the creation and development of their favorite games,” This comment would suggest that not only is Source 2 going to be a game engine for the professional development studio but it will also aide the hobbyists and the modders that have made many of the Valve games so popular.

We’ve reached out to Valve to get any further information on Source 2, and this article will be updated as soon as we learn anymore about the upcoming game engine. One thing is for certain, Source 2 is going to be a strong contender against the heavyweights like Unity and Unreal Engine 4, and as Jay Stelly suggested, Source 2 is going to be free as well.

Unity

Unity_Game

Unity game engine offers a vast array of features and a fairly easy to grasp interface. Its bread and butter is cross-platform integration, meaning games can be quickly and easily ported onto Android, iOS, Windows Phone 8, and BlackBerry, making it a great game engine for the development of mobile games. It also has the capabilities of development for consoles. However, if you’re a new developer there is a lot more that goes into console development, because you are required to gain access to console SDKs which new developers will likely not be able to do.

The game engine supports assets from major 3D applications like 3ds Max, Maya, Softimage, CINEMA 4D, Blender and more, meaning there is no real restrictions to the type of file formats that it supports. With the recent release of Unity 4.3 it also has native 2D capabilities, supporting sprites and 2D physics, making it a great game engine to use for the development of 2D games. 

While the engine supports integration of just about any 3D application, it does, however, suffer in the amount of editing capabilities inside the engine editor. Unity has no real modeling or building features outside of a few primitive shapes so everything will need to be created in a third party 3D application. It does, however, boast a large asset library where a wide variety of assets can be downloaded or purchased (pricing is determined by the asset author).

Unity side by side_Revised

There are a few different licensing fees for Unity. The first one is the Pro version of Unity, which is $1,500 or $75/monthly per seat and per platform at the time this post was written. Unity 5 Personal Edition which is free includes many of the same features as the Professional Edition, including Profiler, Physically-based shading, Reflection Probes and more. However, in order to qualify for the Unity 5 Personal Edition you must be a small studio that earns less than $100,000 a year, and funding under $100,000. To get a more detailed look at their licensing plans visit the Unity pricing page. As an aspiring game developer this caveat will not pose any problem to you, so the free Unity 5 Personal Edition will likely be all you need.

Unity is a game engine that is often associated with mobile games, but with the release of Unity 5 and the new render system there has been a huge increase in the graphical capabilities of the engine including things like Physically Based Shading, real-time Global Illumination and HDR Reflection Probes among many other improvements.

It’s evident they are joining the next-gen game engine war between UE4 and CryENGINE and with 64-bit support and WebGL Unity 5 offers some excellent features that make it a strong contender among the game engines.

Unreal Engine 4

UE4

Unreal Engine 4 (UE4) is the brand new engine released from Epic Games and it’s the successor to UDK. UE4 has some amazing graphical abilities including things like advanced dynamic lighting capabilities and a new particle system which can handle up to a million particles in a scene at one time. As a 3D and game artist you might be salivating at the idea.

While Unreal Engine 4 is the successor of UDK it’s important to keep in mind that there have been some very drastic changes to the engine. If you have any experience in UDK there is definitely going to be a bit of a learning curve as you adapt to this new engine. These changes are not bad though, and UE4’s ease of use makes it that much more appealing for new game developers.

UE4 side by side_revised

A notable change has been in the scripting language for UE4. As you might already know, Unreal Engine has always run of off UnrealScript. Well, UnrealScript has now been completely replaced by C++ in UE4, and Kismet has been replaced by the more intuitive Blueprint system.

An important thing to keep in mind is that if you want to make a game for previous generation consoles then you just won’t have that ability with UE4. As of right now, UE4 games can be released on PC, Mac, iOS, Android, Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Being able to release on phones as well as next-gen consoles gives you the ability to create games with breathtaking graphics or simple side scrollers, the choice is yours. As mentioned previously, basing your decision off of whether or not the engine can release on next-gen consoles is not important especially for aspiring developers because a separate license and SDK is required for each console and you must have a proven track record of releases to acquire a dev kit. So mobile and PC platforms will be the more common route for new developers.

Unreal Engine 4 recently switched from $19/month with a 5% royalty whenever you ship your title, to completely free with no subscription fee. This obviously makes it extremely accessible to anyone who wants to begin making games. Of course, the 5% royalty still applies, but with a pricing structure like that it really opens up a lot of doors for aspiring game developers! You are required to pay a 5% royalty if you earn $3,000 per quarter per game. So if you have four games that only earn $2,500 per quarter each you wouldn’t have to pay royalties.

To learn more about Unreal Engine 4 read our in-depth post. And get started with the Introduction to Unreal Engine 4 tutorial.

CryENGINE

Cry_ENGINE

CryENGINE is an extremely powerful engine designed by the development company Crytek that was introduced in the first Far Cry game. It is designed to be used on PC platforms and consoles, including PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The graphical capabilities of CryENGINE surpass those of Unity and UDK but are on par with Unreal Engine 4, with state-of-the-art lighting, realistic physics, advanced animation systems and much more. The most recent game that utilized CryENGINE in its development was Ryse: Son of Rome. Similar to UDK and UE4 CryENGINE has intuitive and powerful level design features in the game engine.

CryEngine side by side

While CryENGINE is an extremely powerful game engine, it does however take a bit of a learning curve to start using the game engine productively, and can be harder to grasp if you don’t have any other game engine experience. If you don’t need your game to compete graphically with games like Crysis 3 or Ryse: Son of Rome then it may be better to choose something more user friendly.

CryENGINE has a slightly different pricing model than the other game engines. To gain access to CryENGINE you need to pay $9.90/monthly. While it’s not completely free like UE4 or Unity 5, it doesn’t require any royalty fee, so $9.90 is all you ever have to pay to Crytek. Depending on the size of your studio and team, not having to a pay royalties can be a huge benefit. To learn more about CryENGINE and it’s pricing plans visit their page.

So what’s right for me?

All of these game engines would be a great choice for your game development process. Unity is great for mobile, 2D and 3D games. Unreal Engine 4 gives you the ability to create games with photorealistic graphics or simple 2D side scrollers with a reasonable pricing model of a 5% royalty, and CryENGINE has amazing graphical capabilities as well, and next-gen platform features with a pricing model that can be more appealing than UE4’s depending on your studio.

It’s ultimately up to you to decide which one works best for your project. One thing is certain; there is not a shortage of game engines at your disposal. This post should help you decide and let you focus on the fun part: creating your game. If you’re still not certain, play around with all of them and see which one you are most comfortable with. Check out the courses below to get a strong foundation in each game engine and explore more Unity tutorials, Unreal Engine 4 tutorials and CryENGINE tutorials.

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Mark Masters

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Mark Masters

No stranger to writing articles and handing out "aha moments," Mark is a part of the team actively working on our blog and community forums.
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37 Comments

  • Will Resendes says:

    Just to comment on the following:

    “Unity has no real modeling or building features outside of a few primitive shapes so everything will need to be created in a third party 3D application”

    While that is true there are Assets like ProBuilder and MXD that does allow you to build 3D assets within Unity. I personally would probably still use an external 3d program, but I have tried both assets above and quite impressed with the results. If the companies keep improving there products, well you might just have what you are looking for.

    • Mark Masters says:

      Hey Will,

      That’s a good point! And like you mentioned, as those tools improve there may be a time when designers can work almost exclusively in Unity.

  • Charleston Newsome says:

    I have used all of these engines and now that UE4 is out and has the new $19/mo subscription plan WITH source it is by far the best of the options out there.

    It has improved upon the ease of use of the UDK and is now just as powerful as CryEngine 3 (minus a few real time lighting features which won’t be released until later in the year) and now has a plugins feature which is great.

    hopefully we will see some UE4 tutorials up on DigitalTutors soon!

    • Mark Masters says:

      UE4 is definitely powerful and we’re excited to see the potential of it moving forward. The low subscription cost allows for a lot of new aspiring game developers to take advantage of UE4.

      UE4 tutorials are in the works, so keep your eyes open!

  • Antonios Liakakis says:

    For better career prospects which one is the best bet?

    • Charleston Newsome says:

      Unreal Engine has been the dominant engine for the past decade or so and a lot of development teams have a lot of time and money invested into the engine’s workflow so i think UE is the safest bet.

      There are a lot of companies utilizing other engines such as CryEngine and Unity, and ID Tech now but UE still has the best foothold right now and i don’t see that changing anytime soon. There are still companies developing games utilizing modified versions of UE3!

  • Antonios Liakakis says:

    I am currently thinking on switching from Unity and as a game platform. Moreover I am in the process on getting some specialization as a gameplay developer thus any advice on which area to look at in order to better organize my tutorials would be great.

    • Mark Masters says:

      Hey Antonios,

      I would definitely check out some of our learning paths for Unity: http://www.digitaltutors.com/learningpath/software/Unity-tutorials

      The learning paths are there to give you a road map, starting from beginner tutorials to more advanced. If you’re brand new to Unity I would try out the Getting Started in Unity learning path. And some of the other learning paths will guide you through the process of creating a game from scratch.

      I hope this helps you out! Let me know if you have any other questions.

  • Elie Hankash says:

    Dear Mark,
    Thank you for your explanation.
    Well still for me, I do not know which to choose, I have lightly tested Unity, and Quest3D, I work in ArchViz, using 3ds Max and Maya mainly, I have zero knowledge in Programming (Willing to learn, well the basics).
    I Want to be able to develop, an interactive application, for use on PC, IPhone, Ipad and Android systems, showcasing the Architectural project, via a walkthrough and a flythrough, a template that I can use for most projects with some customizations, nothing more.
    Which is more user friendly for my case, and with a faster learning curve?
    Thank you in advance
    Elie

    • Mark Masters says:

      Hey Elie,

      If you’re wanting to use the game engine for ArchViz purposes I think UE4 would be the best route to take. It’s user friendly and Blueprints make it very easy to quickly set up a working level without much programming knowledge. There’s also been some great examples of ArchVis walkthroughs done in UE4 as well.

      Hope this helps you out!

  • Roberto Enrique González Saldaña says:

    Wich of all would be the easier to use?

    -Interface
    – programming
    – 3D integration

  • Mark Masters says:

    For 3D integration all engines are compatible with really any 3D app. As for programming find out what you’re familiar with. UE4 uses C++ so if you know C++ already UE4 will be easier to grasp. Unity has a pretty easy to grasp UI as well as UE4. I would experiment with each one and find out what you’re more comfortable with.

    Hopefully this helps you!

  • Krishnan KV says:

    Mark,
    Thank you for your very nice analysis of all the key engines available. After reading your article, I have made up my mind that its CRY for me. I could see a few courses in Digital-tutors for CryEngine. But couldn’t find any for programming for CRYengine. Did I miss out on any course that is listed, or is it on its way? Will be thankful for your response.

  • Krishnan KV says:

    What I meant above was I couldn’t find a course on ‘scripting’ for Cryengine.

  • Freddy Garcia says:

    Hello all ! I’m fairly new to all this but I am starting to learn programing and all these SDK. If I am making games for Mobile devices like iOS and Android, which SDK would you recommend someone using. I love Unreal 4 and CryEngine but wanted to make sure the right call. Yes CryEngine makes sense since its cheap and no royalty fee but which SDK would be better. I’m plaining to make a MMO on mobile devices so any advice will be much appreciated.

    • Mark Masters says:

      Hey Krishnan,

      We currently do not have any tutorials focused on scripting in CryENGINE. Hopefully we can get some of those soon! CryENGINE uses C++ so learning C++ is a great start even if it’s not focused in CryENGINE.

  • Martin Schemmel says:

    just a little comment on the cry engine. I noticed in one of the tutorials that you mentioned the time used to be military time. Remember that Crytek origins in Germany and xx:xx time is the standard throughout Europe ;)

  • Mark Masters says:

    Hey Freddy,

    Unity is definitely a great engine to use for mobile game creation. However, Unreal Engine 4 has also got some great mobile development features as well. If you really love UE4 then I would go with that one simply because you seem to like its workflow and you’re familiar with it.

  • George Varbanov says:

    You guys forgot to mention that UE4 is open source, therefore the amount of features added per update will drastically outmatch the other engines. For me, the C++ barrier is the only thing keeping me from UE4, and there are a lot of people working on a C# wrapper as I’m typing this. I’m unaware how powerful UE4 is in terms of asset creation within the engine, but I’m pretty sure that within 4-5 months it will surpass the competition both in user friendliness and available features. Also, as a bonus, the open source nature pretty much assures near instant bug splats from the community.

  • Michael Pearson says:

    Scripting in the CryENGINE is done using LUA. Basically, C++ is used for the game code directly, then LUA bridges the gap between what is appropriate for direct code and what “triggers” the code to be used. I have been struggling to find a good way to explain that last bit, so my apologies if that doesn’t make much sense.

    Much of what you have in-game uses XML for defining its specifics, and LUA also serves to bridge that gap between the asset definitions and the C++ code used to execute functionality based on those parameters in the XML.

    LUA is quite simple to learn and extremely powerful while maintaining extreme flexibility. Pluralsight has a beginner LUA tutorial and the CryENGINE documentation now contains a lot of examples of the LUA usage for various tasks to help solidify how to use LUA appropriately.

    I haven’t run through all of the game design/level design tutorials yet, but I am fairly certain that the full learning path will end up showing how to use LUA quite extensively once moving beyond the Introduction to CryENGINE tutorial.

    Hope this helps!!!

  • matthew burton says:

    I’m currently using unity to make a physics based bike game, i’m using no animation what so ever and have been using physical based joints and colliders to drive the simulation. I would live to try and recreate this with more visual flare in another engine but i’m finding it really hide to find the same physics functionality or ease of use in other engines than unity. I would love some help but can find virtually no references as what i’m doing is very much a unique approach it seems.

  • matthew burton says:

    ops wrong video

  • matthew burton says:

    last try

  • Peter Law says:

    I would say it depends more on where you aim on being in the games industry. Traditional games companies (or more console focussed developers) will be more likely to be using UE, however if you don’t want to be aiming at the AAA studios and are looking more towards the indie or mobile scene, then I would say Unity is the better choice.

  • Jean Paul Marinho says:

    Will Resendes I think engines is not for modeling. I will never replace Maya, 3DS Max, etc. because they are the appropriate program for model.

  • Paul Dolan says:

    I’ve used unity, cryengine and unreal engine 4 and ue4 wins hands down. The cryengine team have been working hard to improve the engine and give the community a boost, but Unreal have a bigger team working on maintaining and developing the engine. Cryengine has no store, a smaller community and the online documentation is often poor and lacking in specifics. Look at the flowgraph node reference for example. Be prepared for a lot of guess work/ asking for help on forums before you get anywhere. Cryengine has also improved in terms of stability over the last year but there are still maddeningly frustrating bugs that at times have taken down my entire project until a bug fix was released. If you are working to a tight deadline then cryengine should be avoided. Don’t get me started on the audio workflow. Unity also has a great community, lots of books and video tutorials which makes it an ideal choice for beginners. The asset store is also really well stocked and plug ins like Playmaker really help with visual scripting.

  • Rodrigo Leite says:

    I heard autodesk is going to release its own game engine, stingray, i wonder how will they compete with the unreal, unity and the big stars. I stay with unreal, great engine, epic team works a lot, i believe theres a big future for unreal. Unity is also a good engine.

  • Peter Ryan says:

    Cry Engine uses C++ as well does it not? I’m a UE4 developer but when I was first looking into engines, I believe I read that Cryengine allows you full C++ Source code.

  • Brian Weiner says:

    We are about to create a promotional video that shows off the premise our newest game. We have been long time Unity user, but due to the very elaborate structure and cutting edge approach to this new game, we are now evaluating Unreal and Cry, so we found your article very useful. Thank you.

    That said, the two questions I am asking are: Which of the three engines you are reviewing is best for building models, characters and sets and moving them for a machinima presentation of the game concept to our investors? If our programmers are fluent in all codes, and everything else being equal, which of these platforms is the most versatile for making the deepest gaming experience for a 3D MMORPG?

    Thanks!

  • Vishwanath Subhaschandra Yaligar says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience!

  • D HUTTER says:

    I set out my design time In Blender and Cryengine, and i would warn anyone who thinks cryengine is friendly, IT IS NOT!, I’ve been with cryengine for over 3 years, and with that time I hardly had anything done, It has a great realtime dynamic ToD( Time of day ) which I can’t fault, and is also really easy to adjust, But importing models to cryengine is a lenghtly battle! Not only because of just basic Static Mesh but also creating Vaultable Objects, Breakable objects and touch bending objects too, Another point is Cryengines Normal map Calculation is really horrible, Basically, If you want to use cryengine ,you will need to recode the whole thing yourself to get it the way you want, I just moved over to unreal engine 4 two days ago, I still have to learn A LOT! but I think Overall it will be more promising in the long run!
    Other issues with cryengine is Level size, If you want to work on an open world game, Don’t use cryengine, Its max level size is 4096 (Which is big but not that big when it comes to open world) They do have a feature which is for ‘segmented worlds’ but there is no knowledge of how to use this. again, you would need to code your own way of having it ‘segmented’

    • Michael Pearson says:

      The world size in CryEngine is not going to be an issue in the future. Part of the reason that Star Citizen is being created using CryEngine is because of an agreement from Crytek that they would implement proper tile streaming to allow for the larger size map requirements that will be required. I am not certain of the status on this update right now, but you won’t have to develop your own system for that.

      As for importing of models, or any other art related assets, the task may be a lengthy battle for Blender, but that is not the case at all for 3DS Max and Maya. There are also any number of tools that allow you to accomplish tasks that are not always associated with a Sandbox Editor, such as animation, facial feature editing, lip syncing, etc.

      If you hardly had anything done in the CryEngine after 3 years of working with it then I can only guess that you missed something significant along the way in terms of learning the engine. While the Sandbox is a bit more complex than many other options out there, the only reason for that is the mass amount of features offered in excess of those other options.

  • Sanchay Joshi says:

    @MarkMasters my opinion is to try and redo ‘udk ‘ tutorials. I had a look at them and found them impressive. Hoping to see more and awesome tutorials.

  • Will Resendes says:

    Hey there Jean Paul Marinho,

    I agree with your overall statement that most modeling will probably be done outside of a game engine (I actually said that in the first post). However, to prototype something quick and easy inside the editor does have its benefits. For example, to try out an idea consisting of a room, stairs, etc, I can use one of the assets to do a quick mock up and decide if I like the concept and how well it works. Then I would probably take that idea and run it thru the proper pipeline for a more professional outcome (modeling, rigging, texturing, etc).

    Thanks for your view on this!

  • Banjit Uzir says:

    I am currently using unity and unreal engine.I personally prefer unreal engine cause its way far better than unity. As a indie developer i never really liked coding that much and I liked blueprints and node based shading in unreal engine. Unity doesn’t come with node based shading and visual scripting. There is playmaker and shader forge but you will have to pay an extra fee for these assets. As for unreal engine its all free.
    As a beginner now you better start learning unreal engine cause its way better and you wont regret later.

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