Crysis is one of, if not the, most stunningly beautiful games we've ever seen. But even beyond that, it's a pretty fantastic shooter. Solid weapons, intelligent enemies, and fairly open level designs mix with nano-suit powers to make this one of the more entertaining ballistic showdowns in some time.
The fact that developer Crytek has figured out how to create a story that doesn't drip with cheese helped immerse us into a "realistic" and exciting near-future. Voice acting is pretty good, the in-game cutscenes are well designed to never take you out of the action, and the aliens are actually menacing and dangerous, unlike the campy Trigens of Far Cry. Crytek has obviously learned a lot about presentation and storytelling since their first effort. I found myself caring about the story that's there and wanting to kick the aliens off of our planet. If they hadn't pulled a Halo 2 at the end, I would have been totally pleased with the story that helps the game progress forward.
As with 2004's Far Cry, Crysis takes place on a picturesque island paradise lush with vegetation and surrounded by gorgeous blue water. The impressive visuals are so far beyond Far Cry's that it's hard to even comprehend what Crytek, given another few years of development time, will be able to come up with. It's not only the technical aspects that are impressive; it's the detail of the models, architecture, and textures. Whether it's the frost on the gun barrels or change in color of the nano-suit for different abilities, the little touches are everywhere. When you're staring up through the snow at the oppressive presence of the alien mothership buried in the mountain, wandering through the maze of rock and metal tunnels underneath its surface, tromping through the dense jungle, or simply looking into the face of one of the awesome character models, it's impossible not to be awed at what Crytek managed to do technically.
Thankfully, the art team was given the chance to expand their horizons from simple jungles to include the spectacularly disorienting innards of an alien ship and an ice-blasted mountainside. The inside of the ship is especially breathtaking. The greens and greys are spectacularly mixed with bright alien lights and the thin-skinned aliens themselves. The contrast between the rough rock walls covered in crystals and the heavy technology of the aliens is pretty striking as well. The character models which rival even Half-Life 2's are especially remarkable. There's not as much emotion, but the slight cartoony style chosen allows for suspension of disbelief and sidesteps the creepy Beowulf effect. Like HL2, there's a lot of detail in the facial textures and while the lip synching can be a tiny bit off-putting from time to time, these are some truly amazing representations of humans.
The one thing that you're going to have to seriously consider before purchasing the game specifically for the visuals is the power of your PC. Crysis may very well kick your computer in the balls at Very High settings. It'll look spectacular doing so, but may very well turn into more of a slideshow than you'd probably prefer and in some cases become completely unplayable. On our Vista test machine with a quad core processor, 4GB RAM, and a single 8800 GTX, we had some pretty significant slowdowns with everything on very high everywhere but the most confined spaces. Tweaking the settings in DirectX10 helped a bit (you can fiddle with the settings to get just the right mix of resolution and detail in all the settings) while running the game in DX9 solved all of our problems and still looked spectacular with everything on high. We even could run DX9 on high at 1920x1200 with a good enough framerate to be comfortable playing nearly the entire time. In those rare moments where things began to chug, it was an easy enough thing to simply change the resolution for a minute, which can all be done in game, while loaded into the game, which is another terrific feature that's sadly missing from so many other titles. Luckily, for those of you without the best computers, Crysis still looks pretty fantastic on Medium. You won't get the same features, but Crysis never really gets ugly and still looks at least as good as Far Cry even on Low, though you will get a pretty significant amount of pop in at that level.
Thankfully the gameplay in Crysis, while not quite equal to the visuals, is also well worth the while. Crytek manages to make you feel like a badass thanks to the high-tech nano-suit, which has four settings to help with combat situations. Armor helps you get through straight up firefights, absorbs more damage, and helps regenerate health and power more quickly; speed will help you zip around the environment, flank enemies and run away when in trouble; strength is good for jumping up to high places, steadying aim, and beating enemies to death; and stealth, which we used the most in our time with Crysis single player, allows you to cloak for a short amount of time. Every ability is balanced by how quickly it uses the suit's power reserve, which adds some strategy to each situation. While we found ourselves using stealth more often than other powers, levels are designed with all of the powers in mind to allow you to choose your style of play. If you don't want to use stealth very often, don't. It'll provide a different pace and difficulty level. Whatever ability you become most familiar with, switching between them is easy. You can bind them to whatever keys you'd like, but can also simply use the radial menu brought up with the middle mouse button (default). By the end of single player it'll be second nature.
The amount freedom in the level design, in terms of where you can go, is pretty comparable to Far Cry's. While the game is pretty linear for the story's sake, it's not a corridor shooter. There's a lot of wiggle room when it comes to tactics and approaches to killing enemies and the path you take through a level. If you want to simply steal a boat and jet across a lagoon to the other side, feel free, but you can also skitter around the edge near the road, head up higher into the jungle, or sneak along the shore. There are several secondary objectives that also aren't compulsory for success, but will provide little advantages of intelligence.
The human AI in Crysis isn't perfect, but it is pretty damn good. The occasional clumping of human enemies does happen, but you'll also see patrols try their best to flank you and stay spread out while the hunt you down. They aren't really scared by the fact that you have super speed and strength even if it gives you an advantage. They'll still come after you guns blazing, calling for their friends the entire time.
Being able to cloak gives the enemy the most problems. They won't be able to locate you if you use a silencer and use cover wisely since shooting disables the cloak. Shooting without a silencer will give up your position to the AI and they'll converge pretty quickly, chattering away the whole time. The trade off here is that using a silencer makes whatever gun you're using less powerful. When you do cloak and the AI can't see you, but is wary and knows you're in the area, they'll drop get into an alerted stance while creeping through the forest. If they see you cloak, they'll blast away at the spot you were last seen for a moment until they realize you're not there. They'll chatter to each other as well about whether they can see you, what they're doing, and so on.
On easy, medium, and hard settings they AI will chatter in English so that you know what they're doing. On Delta, they'll chatter in Korean so that you have no idea, which really adds the immersion. It would have been nice to have the option to use the Korean barks in other difficulty levels since there are other ways to make the game more difficult. For instance, on Delta, the binoculars, which usually provide a wealth of intelligence information, don't operate as effectively, the reticule is turned off by default, and there's no warning when grenades are thrown. We'd definitely recommend that anyone who feels they're good enough at shooters to try it, use Delta for that fact. Hearing all of the North Korean army speak in English and constantly call you a Yankee dog can break the illusion. Delta is a challenge, but isn't the same ridiculous challenge that the highest difficulty was in Far Cry. It's definitely doable here. Hopefully Crytek will patch the game to make hearing Korean an option in lower difficulty settings as well.
Alien AI is a different beast entirely. The aliens themselves are very fast and use their environment to circle around and attack you from behind, which can be disorienting and frightening in the zero gravity confines of their alien ship. Outside of the ship, you'll fight mostly alien machines. The AI here isn't as impressive, but the fights are still fun since these machines are quick and can take a pounding. They'll switch between different close up attacks, popping into the air and launching themselves at you, and firing from afar. The combination can make the battle pretty intense when a group of four machines are all using different tactics. By the end of the game, you'll be blasting your way through these machines with the help of friendly AI as the crapstorm begins in full. You won't find the friendly AI to be helpful as they are in Call of Duty 4, but it's not about being part of an army in Crysis; it's about being the army.
Most of the single player will be spent on the ground in your nano-suit in the jungle, but there are some welcome moments where you'll command a tank, air ship, and of course commandeer any number of vehicles from the Koreans. Combined with fights against armor, zero-g environments, and smaller boss battles, you've got a pretty good selection of gameplay over 10-15 hours depending on your skill level. The only real frustrating moment comes inside the alien ship. It's already disorienting because it's in zero-g, but figuring out where to go can be downright confusing at times. The single player of Crysis, while similar to Far Cry in setting and core gameplay ideas, is most definitely a well-paced and exciting experience that deserves to be enjoyed. It's got stunning visuals, terrific sound (the boom of that precision rifle is so, so satisfying), a decent story, and the nano-suit really helps you feel superior for a plausible reason rather than just "I'm Jack Carver and was special ops".
Thankfully multiplayer isn't useless this time around. While only two modes are available, both team based players and deathmatch lovers will have some action to enjoy. The team-based mode, Power Struggle, can have a steep learning curve for its complication. There are several objectives on the map, players have to purchase their weapons, energy has to be stored, vehicles can be purchased, and enemy bases have hardcore defenses. Working in a team is a must to get anything done. But once you understand the premise and can coordinate with your teammates to complete the specific goals, it does get pretty exciting. I don't know that it'll steal me away from Team Fortress 2 or Call of Duty 4, but the fact that you can purchase mini-guns, freeze rays, and tactical nuclear weapons (both handheld and vehicle based) is hard to back away from. Of course, in both modes, powers are still available, which is also much of the appeal. Enemies can jump up to high locations, sprint around the field, and even cloak. The suit regenerates at a much slower rate to balance the gameplay a little better and cloaking thankfully becomes less effective (though almost too much so) since you can see the light-bending form of cloaked players. I can see wasting more than a few hours learning the ropes and then having some serious multiplayer games. Nine maps total between deathmatch and Power Struggle isn't a huge number, but it is already more than TF2 and likely to get bigger once dedicated fans have a little more time with the extensive game editor that's included with the game (and actually is included with the
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