So the frequent users of this site here probably recognize me as a rather rabid Crysis fan. I've beaten the game countless times, I mod and tweak it, I take screenshots and I make videos of it. It's a rare game that pushes both technical and gameplay boundaries that hasn't really been met in either area to date. It's only just recently starting to be surpassed technically, which an astonishing feat for an almost 4-year old game, especially on the PC platform.
Naturally, I was fairly excited when Crysis 2 was announced. If Crytek could pull off what they did in 2007, then whatever they were planning on releasing in 2011 must be utterly mind-blowing. Based on past experience, I envisioned running through the boroughs of New York City with super speed, and jumping to perch on whichever ledge I wanted to observe my surroundings. I imagined the gameplay and artistic possibilities in a to-scale version of Central Park. Maybe I could even swim or fly over to the Statue of Liberty?
The early promotional material showed promise. First we got to see the new Nanosuit, cool. Then there was the new Cryengine 3 tech, which was also nice. The Wall trailer convinced me that Crysis was building an engaging, emotional experience that would accurately depict New York City on a broad scale. But...the direction slowly deviated as you went along. Looking at the Gametrailers page you can see what I mean. Starting from the bottom up, after the initial suit and tech offerings, we get 3D, Limited Edition Bonuses, and Multiplayer trailers after that. The tone of the trailers changed as well, compare:
Clearly attempts were made to market to a broader audience. This isn't all bad, as was the case with Dragon Age: Origins, the marketing doesn't necessarily determine the game. I still had full hopes that the game would shape up to be fine.
Then the multiplayer demo arrived. This video pretty much explains it all:
The servers didn't work, the interface was screwy and there were next to no options, graphics or otherwise, to speak of. Inside the multiplayer itself, killstreaks, hit markers, custom classes and fast respawns made it quite apparent which game it was "inspired" by. The graphics were overall good, but had several flaws and was in no way groundbreaking. My hope was deteriorating. The only thing that saved me from cancelling my pre-order right away was the fact that the multiplayer was made by another studio; perhaps the single player would be a completely different affair.
March 22nd finally rolled along, I installed the game and loaded the first mission. I don't think it's much of a spoiler if I tell you the first 5 minutes of the game involves getting out of a sinking vessel. Strange, because I recall another recent shooter that had a first mission involving getting out of a sinking vessel as well.
Coincidence maybe? I played for another couple of hours, and, alas, I reached the end of my rope. The truth was too much to deny anymore. Crytek sold out.
I've listed some of my gripes already, but now that I've finished the game I'll revise and expand upon my opinion of the game.
Let's be clear - the game takes cues from popular shooters like Call of Duty and Gears of War. It's linear, scripted, and borrows many key mechanics such as "press X to look at key event or way to progress through mission". You can only traverse one city block at a time (sometimes less), which makes the game feel disjointed and cuts out the exploration aspect altogether. The game feigns to give you a choice in approaching an area, but because the areas are so narrow, you end up with at most two ways, the second way usually just being a simple flank.
This is a far cry from Crysis where the environments were so large that you would get lost without looking at a map. In earlier interviews, developers of the game tried to justify this by saying that it was due to the setting change. This is a bit disingenuous. Games like GTA IV took place in "New York" as well but were fleshed out quite nicely. It doesn't feel like New York in Crysis 2. It feels like different arenas in Moxxi's Underdome Riot (Borderlands). Everything is closed off in every direction (rather convenient that the aliens decided to rip up the roads into neat block sized areas, no?)
The organic feel of the environment is lost as well, and not simply due to the lack of palm trees. Why aren't the buildings crumbling around me as they get hit with explosions and heavy machine gun fire? Why doesn't my movement brush away plants anymore? Why are hot dogs carts and telephone booths apparently indestructible and immovable? If they're so tough, why doesn't the military just make their armor out of whatever those hot dog carts and telephone booths are made of? I think you catch my drift in how the little environmental interactivity detracts from the atmosphere and immersiveness of the game.
Regarding the story, one of the key talking points was that a professional science fiction writer would be heading it. When you hear something like this, you assume that you'll get a genre-breaking story that will instill many different emotions in you. What you get is just the same boiler-plate B-action movie nonsense that's been in games for years. If Richard Morgan really did write a good script then surely it got lost in translation. The story is arguably worse than what's in most contemporary games.
The cast is awkward as well. Nomad and Psycho, the two protagonists of the Crysis and Warhead respectively, seem to be completely forgotten whereas a more minor character like Prophet is put into the spotlight. Not to mention, you pretty much have to have played the first game to even know who Prophet is in the first place, which contradicts their mainstream reach-out since most people probably have never played Crysis before. Perhaps it's a Freudian slip for "profit"? The rest of the characters are well-developed when they are on-screen, but seem to play too little of a role in the actual story for you to care about them. What was needed for the game to have made any impact was something a la Alyx in Half Life 2, but none of that was found here.
Crytek games have also been known to be highly moddable; Crysis is probably the most heavily modded game behind Half-Life 2 or Oblivion. In many ways, it is the modding community that has kept the sales of Crysis alive after its initial launch by demonstrating the engine's capability, improving performance, and showing off almost impossibly high image quality screenshots. Yet in Crysis 2, there are little graphics options to be found, let alone modding material. The .cry files are missing (meaning you can't edit levels), the .pak files are encrypted (meaning you can't access game assets), the console is locked (so you can't test different settings on the fly), and there's no editor to speak of (whereas Sandbox2 was included with the original Crysis). It's just a huge slap in the face to the modding community that has been faithfully supporting their game all this time.
Finally, the game overall lacks polish. Several things about the game are janky, the AI for one:
The animations are also a little wonky, with stiff arms almost reminiscent of GTA III. The same character models and voices are used so much that you'd swear there's no more than a handful of different types of citizens in all of New York City. Again, things like this pretty much causes immersion to evaporate.
Finally, (ending spoiler)
All of what I said above might lead you to think that this is a terrible game, but to be fair, it's really not. All of the familiar shooter mechanics are there, it plays reasonably well and its graphics, while flawed, still look better than average. I suppose the most appropriate expression is that the game isn't bad, it's just disappointing considering its lineage. Really, if you're satisfied with other modern shooters then Crysis 2 is just as good or better. But the scary implication is, if even Crytek has succumbed to making "safe" games, who will carry the torch for innovation now?