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Monday, April 25, 2011

Crysis 2 (9.2/10)

Having never owned a PC capable of aiding space shuttles in returning to Earth, I was naturally not able to play the original Crysis. For those of you not in the know, the joke was that the first game needed a veritable super computer to run at max settings. But if you had the rig the results were, at the time, the best anyone had ever seen. I had heard a lot about its amazing graphics, but never actually played the game. When Crysis 2 was announced for consoles I was interested, but not stoked like a great many people… one of whom is a good friend of mine.

This friend, who I’ll allow to remain anonymous, actually had a computer built solely for this game. I played the PS3 version on his TV while he set it up (long story, don't ask) and let's just say I was more than slightly  impressed. "Wow!" thought I, "This looks amazing… maybe God of War 3 or Uncharted 2 can compare, but it’s close!" But then he fired up his new baby, complete with liquid cooling system (that’s right, his comp has a radiator!), and started playing…

Admittedly, I was fairly inebriated by this point in the proceedings, but "Holy crap!" was my slack-jawed response. As good as the console version looks, the PC version is like night and frickin’ day. He may have spent a fair amount on his new tower, but being able to run Crysis 2 on max settings (with ease, I might add) is beyond impressive… in fact, it may be the most impressive graphics I’ve ever seen to date, and that’s saying something!

While I’ve got other things to spend my tax return on than super computers (or even semi-super computers), I dashed out and bought the PS3 version of Crysis 2. I'm happy to say that under all the muscular graphics is some pretty intense semi open-world FPS action makes it a fun game to play as well, and at the end of the day isn't that what's really important?

The real draw to Crysis 2 is the 'Nanosuit.' It's a sort of bio-mechanical armor that can augment the wearer. In short, it puts the "Super" in super-solider. Not only giving you virtually super-human strength and speed, the suit also allows you to temporarily become invisible (as long as it's power gauge lasts; same with sprinting, jumping, or increasing it’s damage resistance… but don’t worry, it recharges pretty fast).

Stealth plays a more important role as you’ll quickly learn, because of the level design. The original Crysis was (apparently) a completely open-world sandbox where you could go anywhere and do anything. Crysis 2 follows a much more linear path, but each individual section is much more open than we have become accustomed to in modern FPS's. There are relatively few instances of "bottlenecks" gumming up the works leading to drawn out firefights. Most of the time there are multiple routes you can take to pick off your enemies one by one or avoid them all together. I'll be really frank here: this level design is some of the best I've played simply because you have options. How you choose to play the game is up to you... I always like it when a game allows you to define your own experience. 

This plays a more important role because the enemies are amongst the smarter I’ve faced... most of the time (when they aren't standing perfectly still, patrolling in predictable patterns, or getting stuck in the environment... but I'll let that go and focus on when they are being a pain in the ass). They can be fiendishly clever, employing flanking tactics and effective retreats. Basically, they make use of the same open environments that you do.

But what I found interesting is that rather than becoming boring, the repeated use of a similar design is thrilling because the levels are massive. There are consistently multiple ways to approach, flank, or outright avoid enemy patrols. There is even a clever ‘Visor’ function that allows you to ‘tag’ certain foes (so you can track them) and helpfully shows where weapon caches can be found. It's almost like the levels themselves are puzzles, but without the puzzles if you see what I mean. It's left to you to find your way through the labyrinth and find the best way to deal with the threats you face. There is a certain satisfaction that comes from planning your route and then executing it perfectly, just as there is an almost manic frustration and consequent cluster&%$@! when everything goes wrong!

As awestruck as I am by the action and graphics, I’m less than overwhelmed by the plot. The weakest link to the Crysis 2 experience is the story… even at the end of the game I still didn't have a really clear picture of what was going on. I think a big part of the problem was simply the fact that I hadn't played the first game, and thus had no frame of reference. Without that, the constant allusions to what happened previously may as well have been in Portuguese. It was almost frustrating, especially considering the promising premise.

As the game begins, New York City has been quarantined due to a viral outbreak, martial law invoked. You play as a marine with the codename (at least I assume it’s a codename) of Alcatraz tasked with extracting someone important from within the cordoned off city. The proverbial shh-tuff hits the fan early on and you are pulled from a watery death by a person wearing hyper-cool body armor. Given the Nanosuit by the doomed man, you’re pretty much tossed into the meat-grinder from the get go. Your contact, the person you were there to rescue in the first place, thinks you are the poor bugger that saved you, and frantically orders you about the greater Manhattan area in an effort to skirt the military and find him. Oh, and to make matters worse there are aliens... lots of aliens called Ceph... who are mean, nasty, and pretty much responsible for everything bad that is happening.

Anyhoo, between trying to avoid the invading Ceph, not-so-friendly military forces (you'd think we'd all be on the same side here against the aliens, wouldn't you?), and the greater part of midtown Manhattan falling down around you, it's really all on Alcatraz to save not only the Big Apple, but the rest of humanity as well. So, no pressure...

Alcatraz reminds me a great deal of Issac Clarke, the similarly silent protagonist from Dead Space. I loved that game too (again, mostly for the gameplay) but Issac was really little more than an errand boy told to "Go here, do that!" ad nauseum, a vessel that moved the plot along rather than the other way around. While I get that Alcatraz is a Marine, and Marines follow orders unquestioningly, it didn't keep me from repeatedly muttering "Why?" to myself as I played. This is partly due to the nature of this type of story telling and partly due to picking it up in the middle of the story. Again, I didn't play the first game, but I'm surprised Crytek didn't make more of an effort to tie the narrative together especially since so many people are just now having the option of playing the series. As it was I was consistently confused and slightly annoyed by this guy shouting in my ear… I’m trying to enjoy the amazing scenery you ass, leave me alone!

Adding a little more depth to the Crysis 2 experience is a mild RPG element of upgrading both your Nanosuit and customizing your weapons. By killing the Ceph you get 'Nano Catalyst's in varying amounts (depending on the strength of the enemy) that serves as currency for purchasing upgrades like stronger armor, more stamina, longer time in stealth mode, or more passive attributes like tracers from rounds making it easier to track your targets. All of these are keyed to your fingers and can quickly be changed as you need them for different situations in battle. Be careful though, checking your "fingers" doesn't pause the action so make sure you're out of the line of fire!

On top of Nanosuit modifications you can also customize your weapons with silencers, different sights, or under barrel attachments like grenade launchers. These options are different depending on the weapon in question and Crysis 2 does a good job of giving you lots of opportunity to experiment with them.

I didn't check out the online multiplayer (frequent readers will know by now that's not my cup of tea), but with the Nanosuit you can imagine the possibilities. From everything I've read it sounds like a riot!

Tossing aside the poorly referenced and overly obscure plot of Crysis 2, the fact that I've still given it such a high score really speaks to just how much fun I had playing the game. I can’t say enough about the graphics, they’re really fantastic and hold a tantalizing glimpse of what the future holds for games in general. The ‘Nanosuit’ is cool, especially the cloaking ability with which I had endless fun sneaking around. The gunplay is fast and frantic when you get caught in the open and the enemies are clever bastards who’ll make you pay for exposing yourself. The game is also a good length compared to most modern shooters; around ten plus hours give or take... much better than the modern trend of six hours or less we see with most FPS campaigns. With a cliffhanger ending promising more to come from this series I can't wait to see what Crytek comes up with next... but I will say if you have the means, as good as the console version is, playing it on a capable PC is definitely the way to go!


Score = 9.2 / 10

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