When Crysis 2 released back in March this year it had to contend with higher expectations than for almost any game ever released, thanks to a combination of the original being a beast of a game and the developer talking it up as being the best looking game ever. Crytek promised much, and in the eyes of many delivered just as much. It is believed by many to be the best looking game ever on consoles, and was met with generally favourable reviews. On PC though the story was a little different, the graphics didn’t manage to surpass the original in many respects, and plenty of ‘gamers’ felt that the gameplay had been dumbed down too much.
I never agreed that the gameplay had been dumbed down at all, but had to admit that the graphics while still impressive didn’t pack the punch they should have coming from the best graphics technology developer in the world. Now with DX11 and HD textures combined with advanced graphics options having been released, I have nothing but very minor issues with Crysis 2, and believe it to be the best game I have ever played in every respect except for multiplayer, which is still only narrowly beaten by Battlefield and Call of Duty. But enough gushing, I better tell you what the game is about.
2007’s Crysis was set on the beautiful tropical islands of ‘Lingshan’ which played home to a sort of alien invasion with a catch, the catch of course being that the aliens weren’t actually invading. You played as a member of a Delta Force squad lucky enough to be in possession of prototype Nanosuit’s, which are futuristic combat suits which essentially augment the abilities of the wearer to super human levels as well as throwing in a cloak just to be safe. For most of the game your foes were predominantly North Korean soldiers, but towards the middle the fight against the aliens took centre stage. The story was tied together pretty loosely, but the end game more or less featured the aliens leaving the island presumably to take on the rest of world (god knows what happened to all of those aliens streaming off the island), with the remaining members of your squad set to go back to the island to attempt a fight back on the aliens home turf. This time though they have made a bit more effort with the story, bringing on-board sci-fi writer Richard Morgan (with Peter Watts penning a novel based on the games fiction which I highly recommend reading) to bulk up the story, arguably the weakest part of the original game.
Crysis 2 is set 3 and-a-bit years after the prequel, in 2023-2024 New York city. The games depiction of the city especially post DX11 update is amazingly detailed, and really gives you a sense that you’re in the middle of a battle on a tremendous scale, a scale that most games don’t even attempt to reach. You play as Alcatraz, a US Marine who is heading in to New York via submarine as part of a military effort to contain a strange virus which is devastating the cities inhabitants. En route however, your sub is attacked by an unknown enemy, which takes out everyone except you. It turns out a dying ‘Prophet’; a main character from the prequel was relying on you and your mates to be alive on arrival as he needed to pass on the suit, the suit of course being the key to defeating the aliens. Thus after pulling you from the water having been shot and nearly drowned, Prophet thrusts the spanking new Nanosuit 2 upon you, killing himself to terminate the symbiotic bond the hardware has with its wearer. With this simple action, Alcatraz inherits the responsibility of more or less singlehandedly saving the world.
The Nanosuit is the key to Crysis, without it the series’ signature dynamic gameplay and combat simply wouldn’t work. It has been refined a bit, with Power mode now being the default setting and Armour and Cloak remaining. Speed mode has been culled, and this is perhaps the one thing I miss from the originals. The ability to run at 40-50mph was not only cool as all hell; it was great for getting out of harm’s way. Nanosuit modules have been added though, which allow players to customise the Nanosuit to fit their desired play style. These Nanosuit modules can be swapped out on the fly much the weapon modifications which return from the original, although they need to be purchased with ‘Nanocatalyst’ picked up from alien corpses. Crytek have done a great job of balancing the suit so that you the player has to know how to use the suit in order to achieve your goals, but in a way that it isn’t a frustration. Indeed as a stealth player I found sliding into cover from the eyes of a half dozen aliens a tenth of a second before my cloak drained heart-poundingly exciting in a way that Metal Gear Solid could only dream of.
Crysis 2’s New York provides a much more diverse playground with which to use the Nanosuit than Lingshan ever did, and this is the main thing which I feel discredits those that think the game has been dumbed down. Whereas in Crysis the whole island was essentially one huge ‘sandbox’, Crysis 2 features self-contained smaller sandboxes which allow you to use 3 or more distinctly different tactics which are highlighted by your suits AI as strategic points. The options for example could be a vantage point from which to scope out your targets, a turret with which to unleash hell and a flanking route to get behind your enemy for a surprise attack. You can of course combine any of these, simply slip past the enemies unnoticed or make up your own tactics.
One of my favourite things to do is throw a grenade or otherwise create a disturbance somewhere away from my preferred route in order to draw the enemies away allowing me to more easily slip through. The AI is smart enough (at times) to communicate with each other that they heard a disturbance and that they are going to investigate. Depending on how many of them there are they will form a search party going off in different directions looking for you. If they find you, you had better be ready for a fight as they really know how to coordinate an attack, even calling for reinforcements if they have time. But if you remain undetected they will eventually go back to their positions.
A lot has been said of Crysis 2’s AI. Crytek claimed the game has the best AI ever, but a lot of people feel the complete opposite is true. I am somewhere in the middle, in that I feel that it does indeed have the smartest AI ever, but it just have a few faults. In a game like Killzone or Call of Duty, the AI either knows where you are or it doesn’t. Once they see you they start shooting you, and if they lose you they still assume you are there and do very little if anything to come and kill you. Crysis 2’s AI however is much more realistic and believable in that it actively seeks you, tries to flank you, at times in a multi-level space, works together to advance on you, falls back as a team, uses the environment intelligently to stay in cover as best as possible and works to cut off and ambush you. Is it any wonder it isn’t perfect when it can do all that as opposed to simply ducking behind cover, blind firing and occasionally aimlessly running headlong at you like the aforementioned games? Frankly, the AI could be much worse and still be a lot smarter than 90% of other games’ AI. The AI is what enables the multiple tactics at the heart of Crysis, not just the level design, and combined these are what give it such fantastic replay ability (as of yet I have only played it through twice, but I foresee multiple more play throughs in my future).
It’s just as well then that story is good enough to warrant multiple play throughs. Morgan’s sci-fi plotline is perhaps more plot hole than actually plot, and to me that is what makes it so good. You are a grunt who spends much of the game taking commands from people you have never met or even heard of who think you are somebody else, all the while in the middle of an alien invasion of one of the planet’s biggest cities, an alien force that has nearly broken us human’s down completely. The question I ask is, do you honestly expect to know what is going on every step of the way? If that was the case, the author would not be doing a very good job. Having said that, if you want a more detailed story, then all you have to do is look. The game is littered with email conversations which do much to explain why Lockhart wants you (but actually not you) dead so bad amongst other backstory. Then there is the ‘Crysis: Legion’ novel which goes into more depth on what effect the Nanosuit has on Alcatraz, and how it lets him be so badass even though he’s de…, actually I won’t spoil that one for you, it’s kind of hard to understand but insanely awesome and shows they put a lot of thought into making the suit more than just a skin to make you look cool. Plus, there is also a comic series which fills in the gap between Crysis and Crysis 2. Take note, this is how I won’t more games to do story from now on. Combine this with the fact that every cutscene and set piece is viewed in first-person, allowing you to stay immersed even deeper in the fiction, and I cannot fault the story or its presentation at all.
The other thing I can’t fault is the graphics. Let me tell you console kiddies, those pathetic excuses for ‘comparisons’ between console and PC Crysis 2 do nothing to show off just how far ahead of anything on the market regardless of platform Crysis 2 is thanks to DX11. I had seen Battlefield 3’s implementation of DX11 and was thoroughly impressed. Frankly, Crysis blows it to pieces with much heavier use of tessellation and advanced lighting features (many of which they have introduced for the first time ever in gaming with DX11, to go along with Bokeh and Global Illumination which they did first in real time with CE3 even in DX9). The amount of detail they have gone into with tessellation is mind blowing, with anything from cracks in a road, pebbles, tire tracks and tread, rubble, the gaps between tiles and bricks (even each brick is not a simply rectangular prism, but has a much more detailed exterior), the screws on a barrier to the buttons on a keyboard are now rendered in 3D. Even a bullet striking the barrier in front of you now causes the metal pop out a bit. Then there is the simulated ray tracing real-time reflections and near perfect water to drool over. Simply put I have never seen anything that looks half as impressive as Crysis 2 DX11 maxed out, and I have played Crysis, Metro 2033 and many other of the best looking PC games maxed out.
The sound is just as impressive as the graphics as well. Sure, guns don’t sound quite as awesome as in Bad Company 2 or Medal of Honor (multiplayer), but CE3 still comes packing its own environmental based audio systems which basically makes sound reverberate off walls and the like making it sound awesome. The voice acting is also fantastic, the men behind Lockhart and Hargreave in particular deliver probably the most believable performance for characters in an FPS ever. The facial animation has been given a boost, and while lip syncing isn’t perfect, the whole face is animated in a very realistic manor which makes the performances that much more convincing. What really makes the audio a cut above anything else is the musical score led by Hans Zimmer. Right from the opening movie we are shown what to expect, with Zimmer’s ‘Crysis 2 Intro’ suitably epic for the CGI quality graphics shown off in the movie. Other tracks like Insertion, New York Aftermath, SOS New York, Chase, Rampage, Invaders, Rising Spear and Devastation do a near perfect job of turning simple music into something emotional that reinforces the impact of the toll that the events in Crysis 2 take on Alcatraz and even the entire human race. It’s not like I was on in tears or anything, but I certainly had an emotional connection with Crysis 2, and a great deal of that was actually down to the music.
I won’t say much on the multiplayer only because I’ve written 2100 words already, but I will say this. While it resembles Call of Duty a bit from the outside, if you play it the way Crysis should be played (the only way to be truly successful), then you will not think it plays like CoD because it simply doesn’t. The weapons handle complete differently; the maps honestly feel entirely unalike which mostly comes down to how effectively the Nanosuit allows traversal of 3D space, and also the speed and agility which it gives you. The suit provides you and your foes that bit of extra protection that prevents instant deaths like those in CoD, but the balance is just right, sort of in between CoD’s ridiculously low health and the Uncharted 3 beta’s ridiculously high health. There is plenty of content and quality here to keep someone looking for a solid online FPS happy for months, with 12 maps out of the box, each with its own play style, accompanied by 5 game modes. While the standard Deathmatch modes are here (as Instant Action and Team IA), the best mode in my opinion is Crash Site which sees 2 teams vying for control of alien drop pods. You basically have to stand around them and ‘capture’ them, sounds simple but it makes for some unbelievably intense fights. The other two modes are Extraction which is basically Capture the Flag except that a flag holder only has a pistol, making team work much more important, and Assault which has one team capturing data terminals, and one defending. This is the most original of the game modes, with the catch being that the defenders get a full Nanosuit but only a pistol, while the attackers get only standard combat armour but a selection of more useful weaponry. The maps are great, the modes are great and the weapons are balanced, what more do you want?
In conclusion, I am happy to call Crysis 2 the best game I’ve ever played, at least in terms of graphics, campaign quality and soundtrack if not overall. The story is perfect if you take the effort to go along with it, the gameplay is dynamic and free flowing, and the graphics are sensational. Everything Crysis should be. I highly recommend buying this game, for PC if you have a capable machine, even for console if that’s all you have, it is well worth the time and money.