That Crysis 2 is a technical marvel is no surprise. Its breeding is strong, its genetics sound. Beauty, in the form of the new CryEngine3, comes easily. Yet what is surprising is just how good it looks on a console powered by technology half a decade old. Yes, Crysis 2 the console game is a slick, cinematic experience brimming with eye-candy. Look closer and subtle touches force a smile. Cement blocks lose chunks of their outer shell under gunfire. Flares drape a red blanket over the besieged sky. And all the while, the star of the show is partially visible, a glinting metallic hand draped in billion dollar hide.
Alcatraz is the protagonist but the nanosuit he wears is the true pin-up. It’s a weapon of the future, a work of engineering brilliance. Its inventor Hargreave is keen to protect it, and he’s an omnipresent voice throughout. Best you heed his word because if the suit fails, you die. And as it hugs your frame it becomes an extension of your persona. Normal grunts look at you with wonderment. Human enemies scream at your handiwork. You are in possession of the ultimate killing tool and the game takes pleasure in reminding you of this. It’s impossible not to feel like a superhero as you skulk into the fray, cloak yourself and pick off unsuspecting foes. In Batman-esque fashion, you can stay out of sight and play a waiting game. In un-Batman-esque fashion, you can also discharge a heavy-duty machinegun. But even in the face of full-on combat, the nanonsuit keeps pace. Pummelled by gunfire, you can boost your armour, granting a short window of added strength. Its billion dollar weaving even allows you to slide, jump to great heights and sprint at dramatic speeds. Truly, it is engineering consigned to the most fanciful of fiction.
“Crysis 2 the console game is a slick, cinematic experience”But the universe of Crysis 2 is eerily close to life. Gone are the jungles of Southeast Asia. Instead we have a downtrodden New York with a startling attention to verisimilitude. The juddering lights of a ravaged Times Square spells the portent of an unsightly future. A Central Park under tectonic stress is the unstable ground of your final battle. Aliens have entered America. With them, they’ve brought a disregard for order.
Thus, the scene is set for perfect videogame chaos and during its sizeable campaign the game makes great use of its multifaceted environments. As fans of the original will attest, this is a series that places victory squarely in your hands. You can wade into the action guns blazing, bolster your armour and let rip. Or you can avoid the fight completely and make stealthy passage to your next objective. None of the nanosuit’s functions can be used indefinitely. A cool-off period, in true videogame fashion, is required. Yet this keeps you attentive and tactically aware. A special visor even offers advice on how to approach the open-ended battlegrounds. Crysis 2 is a game that demands you keep your eyes peeled.
Nonetheless, console concessions have been made. New York is a far cry (excuse the reference to Crytek’s first game) from the open-ended world of the original. It’s a more focused battleground. Yet what the game loses in scope it makes up for in pacing. Your fingers and your eyes are at the ready throughout and while it’s a more linear game than its predecessor, it’s certainly not linear per se. By virtue of being able to leap so high you’re never confined to a horizontal plane. Being able to use ledges and balconies as flanking positions helps shift the action. Ironically, in a genre that often dies by its platform jumping, Crysis 2 is only the better for it.
During the ten hour-strong campaign you’ll battle a mix of human and alien combatants. Initially the fire-fights centre on CELL soldiers who act as corporate bodyguards intent on wresting back the nanosuit from Alcatraz. But as the ravaged city attests, an alien presence is being felt, and it’s not long before you’ve come into contact with the pesky invaders. Sadly, they’re less enjoyable to fight and you’ll instinctively approach them head-on, abandoning the slow methodical approach that works best against human opponents. Not that either side boasts infallible AI. By and large both the humans and aliens are astute in battle, but for a game of this calibre, there are too many instances in which an enemy is oblivious to your presence or intent on hugging a wall with no way of reversing. It’s strange in a game so technically adept that there are so many blunders of this nature.
Still, the action is so good that you’ll likely view these blips as an easier enemy to kill rather than a serious flaw. And when the fight heats up you’ll invite any reprieve on offer. Scale the difficulty upwards and you’re faced with a tough game that forces you to use the suit and interchange between its functions. Find a flanking position by going invisible, then activate your armour and unload. But even the most prudent of players will run into trouble. Being able to think quickly and keep a steady trigger finger is essential.
This is not a game catered for casual gamers, and its production values speak of a game that’s not catered for a mediocre reception either. The visuals are as good as you’ll see on a Microsoft console, but as you immerse yourself in the campaign you’ll come to love the music too. Hans Zimmer lends his clout to a musical score that matches the rise and fall of your battles with pitch-perfect gusto. It’s an orchestral accompaniment worthy of the biggest Hollywood film. To find it in a videogame is thus gratifying indeed. While less praise can be leveled at the story, it’s certainly not risible and falls neatly into B-movie fare. And with the suit at the fore, it doesn’t really mater, because you’re the James Bond of the future, each new battle met with a tremor of excitement as you cradle the controller.
“This is not a game catered for casual gamers”Truly then Crysis 2 is an excellent game. The campaign is beautifully made and it largely avoids endless button-mashing. Its weakest moments come when you’re left stationary, forced to repel waves of enemies from an outpost. Here the game loses its vitality as you wait to extinguish every last foe, and the sense that you’re setting the pace is lost. But when you’re on the move, picking apart enemies, few games in recent memory can touch it. In fact, it boasts the best campaign since F.E.A.R., going so far as to trump its own predecessor for focused excitement. And when the whirlwind scripted sequences takes hold, you’re immersed further. This is a game played through your eyes and the subtle visual touches that facilitate suit and weapon upgrades are done brilliantly. Never does the game force you into annoying menus.
Unless, strangely, you want to learn how to deploy a grenade. Unless I missed the in-game tutorials, several of the game’s controls will need to be worked out or searched for. The fact that Crysis 2 doesn’t hold your hand is all well and good, but spending two hours of the game convinced that grenades are not a part of Alcatraz’s armory, only to later realize they are, is a tad annoying. Nor is it readily apparent how to use a rocket launcher, for instance. Elsewhere, the game trips up too. The aforementioned AI is less than stellar and for a game built around technical sturdiness, these flaws can only be put down to sloppy play-testing. In certain areas, a lack of anti-aliasing hurts the visuals too, but this is likely a fault of the Xbox 360 rather than a limitation on the part of CryEngine3.
Still, any quibbles are dwarfed by the quality of the game as a whole. With a mix of gameplay styles at hand the campaign never feels like a slog. And with these dynamics on offer, the multiplayer portion is engaging too. Maps cater for both the gung-ho and covert player and a combination of the two is often the means to victory. Though the game modes are dressed up in fancy names – Action, Team Instant Action and so on – they’ll be instantly familiar to online gamers. But it’s the ability to customize your suit and armaments that means this is no conventional class-based shooter. Relying on the suit’s abilities in the heat of online action is a blast and it’s a relief that the carefully planned maps are not solely confined to the campaign.
Beautiful games are often undercut by repetitive campaigns and uninspired gameplay. Not so here. Crysis 2 is not only a looker, it’s also a damn fine game to boot. The engaging multiplayer compliments a singleplayer campaign that whisks you on a whirlwind tour of a ravaged New York. It might be less open-ended than its forebear, but it’s every bit the thrill-ride that made Crytek a household name and Crysis 2 a now likely frontrunner for action game of the year.