A New York Minute
So why were sections of the PC crowd worried by its sequel’s impending release? Well, the shift to three platforms didn’t help matters with many fearing the visuals would be scaled down to accommodate the console release. Then the setting was moved from a vast, open-world jungle to the streets and skyscrapers of New York City. Was Crysis 2 abandoning its roots and becoming just another linear, dumbed-down Call of Duty clone? Thankfully, the short answer is “no”. Crysis 2 is still very much a PC game at heart, building on the mechanics and systems put in place by the first game to create a much more focused experience. It strays from what has become the norm for first-person shooters in recent years, and it’s eminently refreshing as a result.
You take on the role of silent protagonist Alcatraz, a regular soldier who finds himself strapped into the fantastical Nanosuit after an explosive opening on the shores of New York City. Before long you’re thrust into the action as you find the Big Apple in tatters, torn apart by heightened tensions between the military and a PMC known as CELL, and the alien virus spreading throughout the city. You’ll go to war with CELL as they attempt to stop you in your tracks, trying to get hold of the suit for their own means; before everything goes to hell as the aliens touchdown for their own world-ending invasion. You’ll meet a number of different characters throughout the 8-10 hour campaign, though most of them only serve as a means to barking orders into your ear for a few chapters at a time. There’s a fairly large degree of political intrigue but it’s never particularly interesting until the final chapters, and most of it is so hard to follow – often harkening back to the convoluted events of the first game – that it’s pretty hard to care about the narrative unless you’re already heavily invested in the fiction.
The true star here is without doubt the Nanosuit itself. Everything you do is seen through the eyes of the suit. From cutscenes, to applying upgrades and outfitting your weapons, you’re never taken out of the action; presenting a fantastic sense of cohesion amidst its immersive qualities. The suit is a character in and out of itself, overlaying various information within its HUD, and even changing the way other characters react to you. You feel like the billion dollar man, wielding a sublime piece of technology and power that everyone is in awe of. And that sense of superiority is only compounded once you unleash the suit’s myriad abilities. With the press of a key you can enable either armour or stealth. The armour mode turns you into a walking tank, able to withstand more bullets than you would normally whilst simultaneously slowing down your movement speed. Stealth, on the other hand, provides you with Predator-style cloak, turning you practically invisible so you can sleek through the environment, killing enemies unbeknown to their buddies. On the traversal side of things your sprint speed is greatly enhanced, and holding down the jump key will provide you with a massive leap. In Crysis you would have to activate abilities like your sprint speed manually, but here it’s been streamlined so it feels much more natural. It’s easy to switch from one to the other on the fly as you leap off a building, activating armour in mid-air for a softer landing, before sprinting into an alleyway and activating stealth to keep out of sight.
However, to counteract the overuse of these abilities and create a balanced experience, using each one will drain various degrees of your energy meter. The key to Crysis 2’s combat is managing each one and deploying when the situation calls for it. Stealth might be great for sneaking past enemies but you’ll have to account for it running out after 30 seconds or so, particularly if you’re moving fast. And if you engage in any sort of combat it will automatically drain all of your energy, leaving you vulnerable, so you’ll want to de-cloak before taking a shot or alternatively switch to armour mode first. There are limitless possibilities to each combat situation that will suit many play styles. This isn’t a linear shooter, funnelling you down corridors filled with set pieces; each new area is a battleground to play around in, allowing you to tackle it from various angles, using a vast arsenal of weaponry and the suit’s unique abilities.
The lush, organic jungle may be gone but the concrete jungle of New York City is a more than adequate host for Crysis 2’s brand of sprawling combat. As you enter a new area you can scout from afar, tagging enemies and points of interest, allowing you to plan your assault ahead of time. Since this is the Big Apple there are multiple routes to go about this, offering different ways to approach a combat situation or a way out if you choose to sneak past. There are almost always multiple buildings to scale, and dropping down on your unsuspecting enemies from a height is always an exhilarating experience. The city is certainly a playground for the Nanosuit, but the gun combat is just as enjoyable; precise and intuitive, with a satisfactory feel to each killing blow. There’s a great selection of familiar modern weaponry, each able to be equipped with a plethora of different scopes and attachments, from silencers to laser sites and so on. Even the futuristic firearms pack a bunch, skipping over the more obvious sci-fi route and producing something like the microwave gun, which cooks the alien Ceph in their suits.
The AI of your enemies, both human and alien alike is adequate for the most part. The CELL members will often try to flank and overwhelm you in numbers, while the Ceph present a different threat, able to quickly dash through the environment and charge at you with melee attacks. However, there are a fair few glitches throughout the campaign that can pull you out of the immersion. Enemies become stuck behind cover, or run around in circles, while some won’t even realise when a friend is killed right next to them. Though these AI problems are the only blemish is what is an otherwise extremely polished game.
And that extends wholeheartedly into the visuals. The first Crysis was a graphical showcase and Crysis 2 is no different. Utilising CryEngine3 the visuals are phenomenal, with a breathtaking lighting engine and some fantastic particle effects. The way the light cascades onto the city, shining through sky scrapers and reflecting in realistic ways - it’s a real beauty. Add to that the superb explosions, character models and hi-res, detailed textures and Crysis 2 lives up to its predecessor and then some. This is a game that’s proud to boast sensational water effects and the luscious greens of Central Park as well as a building crumbling to the ground, blowing up a dense cloud of dust and debris in its aftermath. It may not yet feature DX11 support but that doesn’t stop it being one of the best looking PC games around; a hefty feat considering the scale of its environments and the brilliant levels of optimisation present. On a Core i7 running an ATI Radeon HD5870 at max settings the framerate is consistently between 40 and 60fps at a 1920×1080 resolution, and it can perform similarly at lower specs as well. Some will be disappointed to find that the graphical options only allow high, very high and extreme - severely lacking the customisation of the first game - but it’s fairly easy to access the console commands and change hundreds of different options from there. This is a Crysis game that looks marvellous and runs peerlessly without bringing your rig to its knees.
It also features a fully realised multiplayer component. While the single player campaign veers from the Modern Warfare template, the multiplayer is grounded in its winning style, offering persistent player progression and plenty of unlocks. It’s unambitious, but the Nanosuit successfully separates Crysis 2 from the norm and the gunplay is good enough, with some fantastic map design, to stack it up with the best online shooters on the market. You have your typical deathmatch types, capture the flag and so on, but the Nanosuit changes the dynamics of each game type, much like it does in the single player. Switching to armour mode as you engage an opponent is one way to go, but you can also try your hand at sneaking around the map with stealth mode on - though you’ll soon find that human opponents aren’t nearly as forgiving as the AI. It becomes a balancing act of which ability to use and where, and combined with the fast pace of the action it proves a thrilling experience.
It also throws up some interesting dynamics. For instance, in the Assault game mode one team are placed as heavily armoured goons without Nanosuits, while the other team has all of the abilities but only a pistol in hand. Their job is to reach five terminals dotted around each map and download various data packets, while the other team must stop them. Playing as either team is uniquely intense and tremendous fun. As one of the goons you’re constantly checking each and every corner as you know their best defence is the stealth mode, and if you’re one of the Nanosuits it becomes a game of outwitting your enemy with the suit’s powers, trying to avoid combat if necessary. It’s a familiar game type but placed in the world of Crysis in takes on a whole new meaning.
Successfully winning these matches and playing well will earn you XP that can be spent on weapon attachments and suit upgrades, some extending the lifespan of your armour mode or reducing weapon recoil, and so on. It’s all fairly familiar stuff, and there are killstreak rewards as well, though these are handled somewhat differently. With each kill your downed opponent will drop a dog tag that must be collected for that kill to count towards your streak. This does a great job of discouraging campers and snipers, and produces a risk/reward system for those looking to call in a gunship or bonus to their radar.
The Modern Warfare multiplayer system has become a conventional template in recent years but Crysis 2 makes enough meaningful changes to give it its own identity and hopefully garner a long-term audience. However, it’s the Nanosuit that proves to be the star of the show, offering myriad ways to tackle Crysis 2’s comprehensive combat. It’s constantly enjoyable to enter any number of its large scale environments and just experiment with the suit’s abilities to see what will happen next. The first Crysis introduced the premise and Crysis 2 takes it a step further, producing a much more focused rollercoaster ride. Considering the current climate of first person shooters this is a refreshing conversion in a stuttering genre.