Crysis 2 bears the weight of heavy expectations on its shoulders. PC gamers want a new system-crushing game to show off their hardware, and console players were promised the "best-looking game ever." In the wake of Modern Warfare's ascension, Crysis fans worried that the series' expansion to consoles would lead to a narrow, dumbed-down experience.
Thankfully, Crysis 2 sidesteps the excessive simplification of recent shooters with Nanosuited grace. It mixes destruction with beauty, and manages to deliver a more focused experience than its predecessor while retaining the building blocks of what made the original Crysis unique. Crysis 2 is the kind of game that speaks in superlatives -- and even when it stumbles, it's quick to recover, always pushing forward to another amazing moment.
How did we review Crysis? Head over to Arthur Gies' blog for a rundown of the review event, console differences and more.
Set in a 2024 that seems more like the day after tomorrow, Crysis 2 depicts New York City, under assault from all directions. A bizarre virus is devouring entire boroughs; the city is under uneasy martial law, brought about by a strained partnership between the military and private security conglomerate Crynet. Then the alien invasion begins, and things fall apart. As a marine named Alcatraz (Callsign? Codename? Rude parents? Crysis 2 never says), you arrive amidst devastation and chaos, sporting Crysis' trademark Nanosuit -- a semi-living suit of combat armor with advanced AI.
The Nanosuit is the lens through which you view Crysis 2, and it adds a great sense of cohesiveness to the game. Once you hit the Start button, everything you see and do -- save for load screens -- occurs in first-person view. Instead of wading through weapon- and power-selection menus, you're presented with in medias res overlays and subtle visual effects, which indicate the Nanosuit's status. The Nanosuit has three modes: Stealth imparts near-invisibility; strength grants more powerful melee attacks, greatly increased movement speed, and jump height; and armor makes you something of a walking tank. Each power drains your suit's energy to varying degrees -- and Crysis 2's foundation lies in juggling these powers, finding new ways to combine them, and using them in unexpected ways.
It's great, then, that Crytek presents such a varied playground in its torn and broken New York City. Crysis 2 shines most when you push the Nanosuit to the limits of what you think it can do, and the best moments come from points where you stop and ask "did I really just pull that off?" Crysis 2 is a collection of sandboxes, some enormous in size, all laid out to provide multiple options for tackling your objectives. Your suit's AI identifies strategic points of interest if you choose, allowing you to mark tactical points or elements, like weapon caches and enemy locations. After that, it's up to you: Will you crank up your armor, tear a mounted machine gun off its hinges, and walk through the front door? Or will you sneak in to flank an enemy position, silently murdering foe after foe?
Crysis 2's enemy AI is smart, yet believable. Sure, you can set enemies up for ambushes, but carelessness often provokes massive coordinated responses that require quick thinking to deal with. Combat usually spirals out from the initial encounter randomly, and most fights unfold differently each time you play them. Thank Crysis 2's environments, which aren't just wide, but also tall -- you can always find a way up and over, a way to come crashing down. When you fight Crynet's paramilitary forces, the ability to strike from on high and disorient your opponents is empowering and predatory. During encounters with the alien Ceph, the balance shifts; your attention isn't just on where you can go, it's where your more mobile foes can cut you off and ambush you. While you're the cliched one-man army, the tools at your disposal are primed to enable clever play more than brute force. The free-wheeling weapon customization from the original Crysis has returned, which allowed you to modify weapons with scopes, silencers, undercarriage attachments and such, and it's been joined by Nanosuit upgrades. The suit upgrade menu is actually your hand - twitching each finger selects a different subset of upgrades, and only one of each subset can be active at once.
This adds to Crysis 2's replayability, since the abilities you earn and the weapon modifications you find are available in all previously completed chapters, on any difficulty level. It's a sort of new game plus situation, without explicitly naming it as such. This makes up for Crysis 2's smaller playground.
You won't find quite as much space for random wandering this time out. New York isn't Lingshan Island, and the sense of urgency and forward momentum is that much greater in Crysis 2. But that shift leads to a game that feels more focused than the original, while avoiding some of Crysis: Warhead's more bizarrely funneled sections. Crysis 2's occasional narrow, tunneled areas are almost never combat scenarios; instead, they feel like deliberate moments of respite, to let you take in the catastrophe around you, and to build on the story.
Written by sci-fi novelist Richard K. Morgan (of Altered Carbon and Black Man/Thirteen), Crysis 2's story deals with sophisticated themes like transhumanism and the corporatization of power. The story is slow to get going, and once it does, it sometimes seems like some pretty important moments of exposition got cut. Plot holes notwithstanding, Crysis 2 tells an interesting (if uneven) story that doesn't talk down to you. You just need to pay attention (and discover at least a few of the hidden e-mail collectibles) to be clear on what's going on.
You may have trouble paying attention to the story, though, given Crysis 2's constant sensory assault. This is the best-looking console game to date. It eschews the dark, hyper-filtered visual style of games like Killzone and Gears of War for beautiful, ubiquitous light. Light isn't directed in Crysis 2, it cascades -- over buildings, through trees and glass, reflecting and bouncing around levels in a way you haven't seen in a game before. It's a stark contrast to the constant, screen-shaking destruction of one of the world's most distinctive centers of popular culture. It's difficult not to get caught up watching the FDR Drive ripple and fall to pieces in a roar of shifting concrete and a cloud of debris, or making your way past other shattered landmarks. The soundtrack complements this well, and Crysis 2 features loud, clear, aggressive positional audio for those with 5.1 setups. Gunfire echoes down city streets like Michael Mann directed them.
So, where does Crysis 2 stumble? It has a checkpoint system that ranges from passable to unforgiving, as if it was designed to supplement the habitual PC quick-saving of the first game. Moreover, the free-thinking strategy that Crysis 2 fosters gets discarded completely at a few points, and the game demands a course of action without properly explaining what it is -- or where to go. This can result in rare moments of exasperation or outright confusion. Then there are the glitches.
Remember that "smart" AI I mentioned? It isn't always turned on, and there are weird moments where enemies will walk in circles, or headfirst into their teammates without end. Other times, enemies human and otherwise will remain completely oblivious to the shrieking firefight inches away from them. It's... distracting. Crysis 2's experience is often such a well integrated whole that watching the game's facade fall for a moment hurts when it happens. Crytek are lucky that the game picks itself back up again so well that these are minor complaints.
For those looking beyond the campaign, Crysis 2 offers the de riguer persistent multiplayer experience. Much like Call of Duty, you can unlock an ever escalating series of weapons and suit upgrades (think: perks). While Crysis 2's progression resembles Black Ops and its forbears, its moment to moment play remains purely Crysis. Every player has access to the standard Nanosuit abilities, and the superhuman showdowns can be unpredictable fun.
At first, anyway. After several months of beta play on Xbox 360 and PC (and about four hours of play with the review build), I can safely say that it has some balance issues. Sniper fire, cloaks, and Nanovision rule the field, and cut down on the Nanosuit physicality and traversal that make Crysis 2 feel different from other online shooters. It's difficult to say whether a strong, long-term community will rally around the game.