When the first Crysis launched on PC, my inner graphics whore cried with glee at the visuals but dropped to its knees for mercy because my computer didn’t have the horsepower to run the game. Such was the case with many gamers, in fact, which made the PS3 and Xbox 360 unveiling of Crysis 2 such a win. Finally, we thought, the Crysis experience will be available day and date with our PC brethren. But having sunk my teeth into Crysis 2, it’s clear that the game offers much more than pretty pictures. In fact, in some cases the gameplay feels better than the graphics, which is both a good and bad thing.
Unlike the original Crysis, Crysis 2 takes place not in lush tropical jungles, but in the concrete jungle known as Manhattan. The protagonist, Alcatraz, wears a nanosuit that allows him to activate his super armor, turn on a Predator-like cloaking mechanism, scan the environment for enemies a la GRAW 2 and even view the world with thermal vision, all by the simple touch of a button. These powers are accessible as often as players want, so long as they have power in their regenerating energy meter. The result in a one-man army, so you can imagine the hundreds-deep armies wanting to get their hands on it. Oh, and a massive invading alien force, too.
Martial law, quick-thinking aliens and New York City. Yep, sounds like a recipe for a great shooter, and it is. But Crysis 2 eschews those straight-up shooter ways by providing a much more open-world feel, letting you tackle each mission in a Deus Ex “sneak, snipe or shoot” sort of decision tree.
The first third of the game is focused on battling the soldiers trying to get their hands on the nanosuit, while the rest hinges on figuring out how to defeat the invading extraterrestrials. By and large the human portions can be played however you want, both because the AI is sketchy and because they aren’t all that powerful. Yes, they do flank on occasion, but in some instances you can cloak repeatedly through a level and avoid combat entirely. The Splinter Cell fan in me loves that ability, but I admit that even when mixing that stealth mechanic with some “blow it up” combat portions, I still got a bit bored.
Then the aliens come in, and everything changes. The alien forces are much more intelligent, their tactics utilize the verticality of the urban setting like the protagonist, and they’ve got a level of aggression that rivals Halo’s Elites on that franchise’s higher difficulties. If Crysis 2 gives you the option to use multiple gameplay strategies against the humans, you absolutely have to use every strategy in the latter half of the game to find any measure of success against ET and his cronies. For instance, a single alleyway may find you cloaking yourself to flank the enemy, stealthily killing the most challenging foe, sniping a turret gunner in the head and then tossing a grenade into the oncoming wave of aliens who want revenge. Then, on the next street, maybe you’ll hop into that turreted vehicle and wreak havoc on a few foes before jumping out and going stealth again through the sewers. That’s pretty sweet no matter how you slice it, but it takes Crysis 2 a while to reach that point, which may keep some gamers from experiencing the game’s best parts.
Customizing Alcatraz’s abilities and weapons really doesn’t get started until the second two-thirds of the game either, and those features also add to the overall experience. Being able to add silencers and laser scopes, for instance, really does change the dynamics of a battle and your gameplay decisions, and boosting Alcatraz’s armor and energy regeneration rate are just two of the meaningful tweaks you can make after gathering “nano catalyst” from fallen aliens. I’ve played plenty of games where customization either has no effect on the game or comes too little, too late, but in Crysis 2 it’s implemented really well.
The multiplayer options come in the varieties you’d expect from a modern online shooter, with a few new modes and player upgrades unlockable as your online career progresses. Probably the most pleasant surprise is that Crysis 2 enables all the nanosuit’s powers in every level, so players can really tackle each round as they wish without any need to choose (and be stuck with) a particular character class. In love stealth, for instance, and I generally sneak around and snipe, but there are some nights (probably due to beer) that I just want to go all out in a firefight, and that’s easy to do for just one or two rounds if I wish. That sounds like a simple thing, but it makes Crysis 2 feel more open to diverse play styles than most of the popular online shooters today.
So far, I’ve talked more about gameplay than graphics in this Crysis 2 review. That’s by design, both because the gameplay is quite fun and, frankly, because the graphics don’t wow me like the PC original’s did all those years ago. Yes, I played Crysis 2 on a console rather than a PC, but considering the years between the original’s and this sequel’s release, I expected the graphics to at least be on par. That’s not to say they’re bad by any stretch of the imagination. It’s just that some of the detail and nuanced effects of a jungle setting are completely lost in the torn-apart urban settings of New York City. The draw distances are great, and the number of things moving on-screen at any given time is impressive, but concrete looks bland and gray no matter how you slice it, even when it’s burning.
Surprisingly, the 3D effects in Crysis 2 are only marginally effective, with the HUD being the most dimensional aspect of the game. In titles Call of Duty Black Ops, things like embers floating through the air and debris blowing past the screen gave a great sense of 3D place alongside the HUD. I expected a similar effect from Crysis 2 in 3D, particularly in light of the still-burning-and-blasted-apart Manhattan vibe, but no such luck. The HUD is flawless in 3D, but that display can only take you so far. Yes, it enhances the first-person immersion factor, but a bit more depth in the actual environments would’ve been nice.
Still, it’s refreshing in this oversaturated genre to be talking about fun (albeit late-blooming) gameplay and not be too concerned with graphical one-upmanship. With the Gears of War 3 multiplayer beta upon us (full hands-on preview coming in a few days), the shooter genre isn’t exactly getting any less crowded, and it’s only going to get cozier as 2011 advances (SOCOM and Resistance, I’m looking at you). Crysis 2 may not live up to every expectation, but its pleasant surprises make up for most of its shortcomings.
Platform reviewed: PlayStation 3