For a franchise who’s claim to fame are it’s benchmark defining graphics, Crysis faced a unique set of challenges for it’s console debut. In order to retain it’s status it would have to deliver an unparalleled visual experience even on the 360, but more importantly, do so without compromising on the pc and failing to meet the expectations of it’s established fanbase. However Crysis 2 also had to be more then simply another gorgeous game in order to remain relevant in the highly competitive console scene, and not become lost among multiplayer juggernaughts like Call of Duty and Halo. While it may not redefine the genre or unseat it’s biggest rivals, Cryteck has delivered a game that not only holds it’s own in their territory but also provides an experience that is a resfreshing departure from the standard fps formula. With a daunting set challenges facing it, Crysis 2 not only manages to fulfill the graphical promise of it’s name, but stand out as a satisfying, worthwhile shooter among shooters.
First things first though, when discussing Crysis 2, and the initial hurdle it had to overcome was whether or not it could look as good as it needed to, even on the consoles. It does. I’ve heard it said more then once that Crysis 2 on the 360 is the best looking console game, and while I personally can’t dismiss the Killzone or Uncharted franchises, it’s easily one of the most visually impressive I’ve ever seen. Whereas Killzone, is a dense muted and visceral endeavor, drenched in shadow and immersed in smoke, particles and debris, Crysis 2 basks in the sun. Though rubble and impressively destroyed looking buildings are prominent features, there seems to be almost less going on at any given time then the hectic warzone of Guarilla’s graphical showcase, or the textural vibrant antiquity of Uncharted, however it still easily holds it’s own in contrast. Differences in the specific ways these games achieve aesthetic excellence may be why I find direct comparisons so difficult but the clarity afforded by it’s incredible lighting give Crysis 2 a realism uncommon among most of today’s games. Impressively, though some minor pop-in may occur, it achieves it’s high visual benchmark without any significant framerate.
Scale is another of it’s best features. Massive structures and vast cityscapes unfold before you and the game constantly presents you with the epic, awe inspiring scenery of a war torn metropolis. Spectacular environments and set-pieces, that escalate the further into the game you get continue to surprise, entertain and amaze. Active destruction is a large part of the effect as skyscrapers and other architecture routinely collapse around you in some of the most impressive displays of devastation you’ve ever seen in a game. Metal, glass and stone all twist, tumble and collide with unparalleled naturalism. Smoke and particle effects are also very good and this game will ruin explosions in any other game for you. Everything is complimented by an outstanding musical score and top notch sound design.
The story of alien invasion in New York, that propels you through all the chaos, continues the ongoing Crysis plot line. It involves a surprising amount of political intrigue, is told primarily through a first person perspective and, combined with the games setting, had me reminiscing about Half-Life 2 and City 17. However, it relies heavily on it’s own backstory and just exactly what’s going on, may allude new players, since it also fails to adequately bring them up to speed. Considering the importance of several existing characters, and their slightly esoteric nature, this was a clumsy mistake to make, especially, considering the franchise is debuting on consoles for the first time. Even a brief cutscene could have served as an adequate primer for it’s new audience. To spite leaving some players out of the loop, the drama is paced very well, with set-pieces and twists coming at appropriate intervals, and the expertly crafted soundtrack stirs and swells appropriately with the action. The story of post humanism, political conspiracy and military conflict is nothing new and the game doesn’t do anything particularly inventive with the material but what’s here is solid if a little less accessible.
Besides the incredible visuals the other main attraction is the nanosuit augmentations, which help distinguish the gameplay from far too many run of the mill shooters looking to copy the Call of Duty formula. Typical run and gun action is opened up considerably, with larger then usual levels, that bely their still linear nature by giving the player space with which to enjoy the game’s freestyle action. Nanosuit abilities are essentially split into the two primary functions of strength and invisibility (cloak), the later of which is easily the most enjoyable to play around with. Continuing a trend (that it probably helped pioneer), of games empowering players with the immensely gratifying feeling of ninja-like stealth, the cloaking feature causes the game to eschews traditional action by simply being the easiest, most rewarding method with which to eradicate entire platoons.
Reinforcing this mentality are two visor modes that let players asses a situation from a safe distance with a variety of observational analytics that allow you to tactically evaluate any given scenario before you commit to a course of action. Strength is useful, but I found it to be more of a fallback option instead of my 1st approach to a situation, since stealth allows you to quickly dispose of enemies without taking significant damage or alerting reinforcements. The other dynamic to the nanosuit is speed, which automatically kicks in when you sprint and allows you to leap and move with acrobatic athleticism.
This is where Crysis 2 really sets itself apart. There is a satisfying physicality built into the gameplay, that expands upon traditional movement and make the deliberately spacious environments an active part of the experience. Running and leaping with effortless dexterity you can quickly negotiate the structural verticality of the worlds. Using elevation to your advantage is a common practice and gamers who love to perch as snipers will have a field day. Small structures and vehicles can easily be leaped over or scaled with a well implemented edge grab, or you can skid across the ground or under accommodating objects by transitioning from sprint to a cool slide. All the movement and nano suit abilities are fluent, intuitively designed and very fun to use. Abilities drain your suit’s energy which increases the strategy by limiting the amount of time you can rely on them before you have to attain cover, safety or distance.
Altogether their is an ebb and flow to your movement as you tactically engage abilities for just the right amount of time to successfully negotiate hostile environments and encounters. Suit energy drains quickly but recharges at just the right speed. My only complaint is that firing while cloaked arbitrarily drains almost all your energy and since strength and sprint both use the same meter, if you’re caught in the open you can’t engage armor, or run to safety. The simultaneously loss of all abilities can be a little frustrating at times. As you progress you can augment your suit with little perk’s that increase the capacity of existing abilities or offer small new ones.
Weapons can also be upgraded as you find things like silencers and laser sights and the beauty of the upgrade system is that once you attain one, it’s permanently unlocked for that weapon. Weapon variety is pretty good though after a while many of them start to look the same. The real problem is with enemy variety, it’s pretty weak. There are only two basic types of enemies, C.E.L.L. commando’s and the Aliens. Each has one or two heavier or specialized variant but it’s a pretty repetitive affair and one of the games obvious shortcomings. The AI is also a little dim. The inclusion of stealth as a fundamental element of gameplay make enemy intelligence and perception a difficult thing to balance it’s unfortunately too poor not to mention. There are a few other AI related bugs that cause enemies to go spastic or run around aimlessly but in general these are fairly rare.
Multiplayer is pretty straightforward with standard match types like deathmatch, territories and the loadout customization and upgrade system we’ve come to expect from online shooters, but there are also some more creative modes that allow players to alternate between standard soldiers and nano suit operatives. Gameplay is fast and fun, and the abilities add a nice dimension to the frenetic combat but make less of a difference on the overall experience then you’d think. A few more modes would have been nice and a Horde/Firefight variant would also have been appreciated. A local and online co-op campaign would really have been nice though. I suspect the logistics where just to complicated, and the story leaves no room for a second player but still the absence of coop is still a bit disappointing. It’s not going to overtake Halo and Call of Duty but it does a decent job in the multiplayer department.
It’s not game of the year, but Crysis 2 is refreshing compared to a lot of other familiar shooters and a ton of fun. The aggressive yet tactical, parkour style of combat is some of the most engaging and satisfying gameplay I’ve experienced in a shooter in some time and given the open nature of the environments it’s fun just to take the different features for a joyride. It’s the type of game that’s fun to play simply for the joy of doing so. The controls are responsive, incorporating more maneuvers and abilities then most shooters with intuitive ease. Stealth can make things a bit too easy and diminish the need to experiment but the overall satisfaction you get from playing makes up for it and encourages you to get creative anyway. It falls short of greatness but is still a completely worthwhile shooter that offers something different then the usual fare.