Maximum First Person Shooter
First off, let's just get this out of the way. We all know about Crysis and what it stands for. The graphics look amazing. Or stunning. They might look both. They might be able to cover both those superlatives. They're arguably the best you'll find on consoles (I don't own a PS3, so I haven't played Uncharted 2 or Killzone 3), and certainly the best on the PC. John Carmack may have something to say later this year when Rage finally comes out, but for right now, the gentlemen at Crytek are the undisputed champions of high end photo-realistic visuals.
Crysis 2 is much more FPS than any other FPS you'll find these days. What I mean to say is that there's so much more depth and thought and complexity and features and options... it's just chock-full of gaming goodness that you won't find anywhere else. You can move around the environment and approach an engagement on your terms. The scripting is used sometimes for dramatic effect, yet doesn't go overboard to where you feel like you're stuck on a rail. Doors actually open for you, and not just for scripted AI companions. The weapons can be customized with various accessories and you can switch between firing modes.
Assault rifles and SMGs can switch between semi auto, three round burst, and full auto. Yay. They removed the choke on the shotgun so you can't adjust the pellet spread, which is a letdown. However, this does give it more of a specialized role in the arsenal. Unlike CoD, where accessories like red dot and ACOG sights were a nice boon to the shooting yet were not options to be chosen, Crysis 2 allows for on-the-fly modification. This is a powerful tool to be used in the midst of combat, not just before or after like you'd imagine. For example, you can snipe at targets with a DSG-1 sniper rifle, get caught by surprise by a melee alien at close range, and immediately switch to a reflex sight and blow it away. This sort of flexibility is quite useful and ultimately a feature that many other FPSs could stand to borrow/copy. The days of playing Modern Warfare 2, where an EMP disables your red dot sight and you have to purposefully seek out another M4A1 with iron sights, should be well behind us.
Also, I did notice and appreciate how they modeled the pistol at the beginning. It was instantly obvious to me that the pistol was empty and needed to be reloaded, because the slide was locked back. So immediately, you know you need to go hunt for ammo and reload that sucker. It's a nice touch and shows an attention to detail.
There's a visor and nanovision mode that's super handy. You switch into the visor and tag enemies to lock onto their location at all times. It works similarly to the tagging feature in Battlefield Bad Company 2 and GRAW. Even while behind cover, you'll be able to keep track of where hostiles are and where they're moving to. The Nanovision is a step beyond regular night vision, and works more like infrared vision. Because Crysis 2 is so detailed and there's foliage, debris, and random crates scattered everywhere around New York, you're going to need to switch it on in order to detect the heat signatures of enemies hiding in the sumptuous chaos.
The Nanosuit is half of what makes Crysis 2 stand head and shoulders above every other FPS out there. And by every other FPS, I mean COD and COD clones. It's the star of the game and its various abilities add depth to the gameplay. Cloak and become just like the Predator, stalking lone soldiers and stabbing them through the back, or hide in a bush somewhere and snipe your targets in the head from beyond their range of vision. Armor mode turns you into a walking tank and you basically feel like RoboCop did on the mean streets of Detroit. It feels slower and chunkier, with loud thuds from your feet impacting the ground as you trot along.
The in-game upgrade system allows you to augment these basic suit modes with even more impressive attributes, like slower energy drain or higher deflection against projectiles. Energy management is part and parcel of the suit and must be taken into account during combat, bringing to mind the great space sims of the 90s. Crytek seems to be a company made of gamers who've played great games and want to keep those great games alive in spirit. I commend them for that.
The other half of what makes Crysis 2 stand out is, of course, the environment and what you're able to do in it. Even though the environments are noticeably smaller than those in the original Crysis, the soul of that game's design still shines through. Every significant battlefield will have multiple options for you to choose from, and the suit even helpfully points these out when you enter a level. Rarely is the direct assault approach the most effective one, as you're able to flank, snipe, or even infiltrate through these situations. On higher difficulties, these options become almost critical to success. However, the game doesn't tell you what to do, you get to make that decision for yourself, depending on your own personal play choice. Crytek believes in gamers to exercise their own free will and decide their own fate, instead of forcefully handholding them through the entire game. This level of confidence in gamers is incredibly refreshing and the game feels immensely liberating as a result.
At the very beginning of the campaign, there's a ferry out in the water. At first, I figured I'd better stay back and not venture out into the water, since the game would probably just drown me as soon as I jumped in. But then I remembered that this was Crysis, and not CoD. And lo and behold, I could swim out to the ferry and board it, and swim around in the water at my leisure. I'd been conditioned to accept the CoD model, when Crytek would never hold me to such restrictions, never let me down in that regard. Crytek was better then that, and god bless them. There are also various moments in the campaign where there is no action, and you're free to simply walk along the ruins of a partially destroyed New York, visually drinking in the beauty and audacious design of this apocalyptic environment. I was heavily reminded of Half-Life 2 at those moments, which is fantastic.
In addition to maneuvering around the environment with freedom, the game's also got a cover system with a lean mechanic! The first Crysis did not have a cover system. This was a great addition. Unlike a game like Halo, which just has you manually strafe around, Crytek realized that the level of threat dictated that even a super soldier with armor mode would need to use cover sometimes. The cover system is not implemented on absolutely every corner and surface, which is a little disappointing, but it's on about half of them so you're generally going to be covered.
I have to say, I feel a little bit let down by the bosses in this game. In Crysis and Crysis Warhead, you fought the Hunters. That's the official name for those gigantic four-legged walkers, which looked like they were over a hundred feet wide(!). They were an astounding sight and blew me away when I first had to fight them. The sheer scale and destructive power was almost unrivaled in an FPS, but what really impressed me was the complex design. It looked huge, yet it had very small intricate details everywhere. The impression you got was something totally alien and menacing and supremely powerful.
In Crysis 2, there aren't any Hunters. The smaller scale of the urban environments probably necessitated their removal. The biggest boss you fight is a Pinger, a 20 foot tall walker on three legs with an appearance that's very Metal Gear Rex-ish. The design aesthetic of the Hunter seems to be entirely absent from the Pinger, because you'd never know they were from the same alien species if you compared them. It's fine to fight, but it's just not the imposing colossus that the Hunter was. Pingers look like they could be knocked down with one leisurely swipe from a Hunter.
So yes, Crysis 2 is simply more game than nearly any other FPS game I can think of. But on the other hand, it also feels like a bit less game than the first Crysis. I've already mentioned the boss fights just now, but there's also stuff like the gunship ride near the end of C1's campaign. You actually got to pilot a gunship in this fun little flight sim section. You don't ever see that sort of thing in an FPS, but it was a nice change of pace and showed you that Crytek was determined to blow you away in every conceivable manner possible in a video game. These folks were not afraid of raising the bar. Or pushing the envelope, pick your cliched phrase. Of course, the smaller environments are an obvious change. Assaulting gigantic NK bases was dangerous but fun, yet now we're assaulting a mere building or two. Going into a gigantic alien mothership for a couple of hours has changed to us now entering an alien tower and being spit out a couple seconds later. It's not a giant leap forward from the first game, and for some people that may be disappointing. When it's been a four year wait, some people expect a giant leap forward. Instead, I consider Crysis 2 to be a fine companion piece to Crysis 1, just as Warhead was.
While most of Crysis 2 is at the bleeding edge, its storytelling unfortunately feels surprisingly outdated. The central story is probably the most flawed component of the game and the one legitimately subpar element. It basically felt like they ripped off the story to Prototype and added in aliens. Of course, Prototype's story was kind of a rip-off of countless low rent scifi movies, so maybe that's the true origin of C2's story. Richard Morgan, apparently a celebrated sci-fi writer, wrote the story for this game but if this is typical of his body of work, I'd venture away from reading it. In any case, it doesn't make for a very compelling narrative and the characters are all flat cardboard cutouts. The narrative tools they use include such well-worn tropes of video gaming as sitting in a chair mutely while a brainy scientist delivers exposition to you with heavy amounts of techno-babble. Your character Alcatraz says nothing and this silent protagonist role just produces puzzlement as characters react to you without receiving any response.
I had no idea who Gould was at the beginning, or why Prophet had to kill himself. Apparently, he was infected with the alien virus? But he was wearing the nanosuit, so the virus infected him through the nanosuit? Which doesn't make sense, because the nanosuit is portrayed as protecting you, the player, from infection because it's an amazing suit. The ending seems like it's meant to wrap up everything that's occurred and explain all the mysteries, yet its revelations simply left me more confused than before. There's no mention of Nomad, and Prophet's role in the Crysis universe seems much more pivotal than we were led to believe in the first game.
At the end of the day though, I have to admit a sad reality, which is that I don't play FPSs for the stories. Traditionally, most FPSs have not had good stories. Half-Life and BioShock are the exceptions, I feel. So while the story to Crysis 2 arguably makes very little sense, or if it does make sense, is delivered to the player poorly... it's not a huge sticking point. The rest of the game overcomes this handicap. If this game was an RPG, it would be a much larger problem, but judging by the metrics of FPSs, I can't take them to task too much.
One feature that they carried over from C1 is the ability to pick up random items in the environment. While this novelty is neat at first, it quickly becomes meaningless. Sure, you can pick up a soda can or briefcase and throw it, but it doesn't do anything in actual gameplay. Also, it leads to you walking around and constantly seeing "Hold X" prompts on the bottom of your screen, which become distracting and make it harder to actually spot and pick up legitimately useful items like weapons or secret collectibles. The ability to pick up anything might remind you of the zombie game Dead Rising, except that picking up random items here does nothing, while picking up anything in DR was useful as they could almost all be used as weapons.
Also, it should be pointed out that the visual presentation of picking up items looks quite shoddy, with a dingy and horribly aliased green outline highlighted around the items as you walk up to them. This probably looks a good deal better on the PC and might be just fine on there, but here they've seemingly dropped the ball and the translation leaves a lot to be desired.
There are a few parts in the game where the game actually spawns in additional reinforcements once you clear out an area. There was a part where I'd just killed dozens and dozens of CELL grunts and their bodies were piling up down there and I ran out of ammo and had to resort to cloaking mode to get the last couple of them, it was that bad. Crysis 1 had a few large areas like bases where they were just populated by a lot of guards and they would head towards you once you started killing some of them. So there wasn't any actual spawning of enemies out of thin air. Here, it's very obvious that there's spawning waves occurring. Sometimes, you'll actually catch them spawning right in front of you, allowing for easy kills. Other times, you'll simply see an enemy charging out of a corner of the map over and over again. The only good aspect to this mechanic is that you can sometimes farm aliens for their nano-catalyst.
I played the game on Veteran and it's a bit of a breeze. There's nothing really challenging if you use your armor abilities (Cloak), play tactically, and take your time. The typical Crysis 2 battle is a really nice tactical puzzle that you can approach from multiple directions, which has always been the crowning achievement, and I'd imagine a source of pride, of the Crytek games.
I do have to say, it's never ever made sense to me how you can cloak, shoot a guy while cloaked, and immediately lose all your energy. But if you cloak, line up your aim on a guy, turn off cloak and immediately shoot him, you keep all your energy. It seems like such a silly distinction to make, with such a huge disparity of outcome, right? There's virtually no difference between the two behaviors, except for one quick button press. Yet the entire energy bar depends on that press. I don't think it makes sense.
A lot of reviews have given differing opinions on the enemy AI. Gamespot in particular said the AI was disappointing. From my experience, the AI is mostly fine. If you go loud and try to engage in a firefight with them, the AI behaves very intelligently and believably. They take cover and mantle over it and maneuver around the environment in a very competent manner.
The issue really comes down to cloaking, I believe. If you use and abuse the Cloaking mode, which is very easy to do, it will indeed make the AI goons look like idiots. But that's what it's meant to do. Being effectively invisible is going to neuter the AI and what they can do. It becomes a cat and mouse game but you're now the cat, whereas usually in stealth games the player is the mouse. I mean, think back to John McTiernan's Predator. That was a serious team of badasses, but the Predator made them all look like idiots, right? That's exactly what happens here, with you as the Predator. It's meant to fool the AI and it does. And that's why I think some reviews have been badmouthing the AI, because the reviewers probably just used Stealth all the time. Which is perfectly fine, but it shouldn't be a knock against the game.
Now, I said mostly fine. There are some instances where the AI will walk into the wall obliviously. This is probably due to the dev team not setting up enough parameters to limit them. So they'll keep walking into the wall and jittering in a rather comedic fashion. It kinda looks like they're trying to imitate Wally West when he vibrates at superspeed. This problem even afflicts larger enemies such as the Pinger boss. Imagine a 20 foot tall Mech vibrating wildly at superspeed against the corner of a wall. It kinda takes you out of the experience, doesn't it?
The Assault Scope for the SCAR is ridiculous. I don't exactly remember how the Assault Scope in C1 looked, but this new one has the biggest, thickest, most obnoxious crosshairs. They're just way too thick to be useable at long long ranges. I try and aim for a CELL agent's head, and the big thick crosshair covers up his entire body, it seems. That's not good. You want very fine crosshairs for sniping, so you can subtly adjust your aim and get that certain degree of finesse.
Also, the laser sight for the SCARAB seems to have some fidelity issues on the console. At close range, you get a nice red dot where the laser meets the target. And at long range, it goes off into the distance and you just see the beam. But there seems to be a range from about 10-100 feet where the dot turns into a nice red... square where it meets the target. That's right, it's a square laser sight. I'm guessing this is where their anti-aliasing solution perhaps failed them for the console hardware? I'm sure it's fine on the PC, but yeah... square dot looks weird.
The game lacks quicksaves/manual saves. Instead, it uses checkpoint saves. Unfortunately, it's got terrible checkpoints. The game encourages experimentation and exploration during combat, but unfortunately this experimentation can often lead to death. Try and sneak up on a tank and it blows you up? Get sent all the way back to the beginning of the level. Slowly and methodically clear out an entire area by sniping, only to die from the last enemy? Get sent all the way back to the beginning.
If you ever come across both a Marshall shottie and a DSG-1 sniper rifle, always pick up the DSG-1. Not so much for the sniping capability, but the flexibility. The shotgun can mount a silencer and a reflex sight. This is great for stealthy one shot kills up close. However, the DSG-1 can also mount a silencer and a reflex sight. And it packs a serious punch. Thus, if you mount the right accessories, the sniper rifle basically serves as a close range shotgun, without the spread. Then, for other situations, you can just mount the sniper scope instead.
There are indeed invisible walls in the game. I don't remember ever encountering an invisible wall in Crysis 1. It was a huge island, and you just went where you wanted to, until you came to the ocean. There were certain mountains and sheer cliffs that stopped you from progressing, but they all felt natural. Here, it's very abrupt and sudden. I didn't see it coming, and they made no attempt to disguise it with debris or anything. Just a solid invisible force field.
The sniper rifle has a visual glitch. If you have the sniper scope equipped, you lack any sort of reticle while aiming from the hip, and while looking down the scope you'll see a nice red crosshair with a dot in the middle. This is probably how they intended it to be. However, if you mount another sight on, like the reflex sight, and then mount the sniper scope back on, you'll suddenly have the reticle while aiming from the hip. Then, when you look down the scope, you'll actually see the tightened white reticle, together with the red scope crosshair.
Does the PC version have any noticeable pop-in? That's probably the biggest complaint I have about the console version's graphics, and I'd imagine it'd be something they'd have solved for the PC. I'm not talking about texture pop-in like in UE3, but actual pop-in of objects. Like, in Gould's apartment building. You step out into a hallway and look down the hallway, and there's a door. When you zoom in with a sight, there's an H above the door. Zoom out, and the H just disappears. Or I'll look at a building in the distance, and it seems to be missing the front wall. It looks like there's a big empty space in the middle of the building. But when I zoom in, the front wall pops into view. The building looks normal. Zoom out, and the wall disappears again.
This was a major problem I had with Crysis 1 as well, playing on medium settings. One time, I saw a Korean soldier standing out in the distance, next to a couple trees. He was completely out in the open, unobscured. I zoomed in with the Assault Scope, and couldn't find him anymore. What was actually going on was that the soldier was standing behind a giant boulder, with some bushes, and some tree branches. But none of those objects were visible until I zoomed in with the sight. Zoom back out, and he's completely visible, without any of those obstacles. LOD is obvious a technique we need for video game technology, but it's a bit much when it significantly interferes with the gameplay like that.
The game rewards you with nano-catalyst when you kill an alien. It's like xp for your abilities. However, this nano money only stays on the aliens' dead bodies for a short period of time. If you're the kind of player who stays back and tries to snipe all the enemies in an area before moving in, you're going to find that all the nano currency has despawned already. This is kinda unfair, IMO. It punishes players who prefer playing with a sniper mentality and only rewards those players who are close to their kills.
Crysis 2 is a great game, full stop. If you''re a fan of first person shooters and have decided not to play this yet, you're doing yourself a huge disservice, because it's the FPS we all deserve, and the one we need right now. After four long years of drought, the rightful heir to the throne has finally returned.
I believe in Crytek.