A Unique Take On A Stale Genre
As of late, the first-person shooter market has grown a bit stale. For every Fallout 3 or Borderlands there's ten Call of Duty clones. Publishers and developers can't be blamed for trying to mimic the franchise which contains the two highest grossing video games to ever be released. But as a person who plays as many video games as I do, I don't want one of my favorite genres to produce game after game that looks, feels and plays the exact same way. Crytek, whether you love or hate the games that they've made, like the Far Cry games and the first Crysis, are one of the few developers that are ignoring this current trend. Their games haven't been perfect, but they've been unique if nothing else. Crysis 2 attempts to meld this uniqueness with a bit more consistency in quality. This attempt is a resounding success. While not a perfect game, Crysis 2 represents the type of quality that can come out of developers and publishers who take a chance and fly in the face of convention.
The story of Crysis 2 boils down to an alien invasion. There are complexities beyond this but if the player, like myself, never played the first game these complexities get a bit lost in the shuffle. There are a number of characters with long histories that are talked about and talk to the main character but aren't always fully developed within the context of the game. The player can unlock flashbacks that flesh out the backstory and the histories of some of the characters a bit but not enough to overcome the deficit inherent in never playing the first game. However, the main story thread, and the implications of everything that transpires, is pretty easy to grasp. The story isn't great but it does just enough to allow for cool set pieces and a motivation for the player.
First-person shooters have one inherent problem they have to overcome; how can the act of shooting people over and over again stay interesting throughout the course of the game? The solution Crytek found for Crysis 2 was to develop a very strong shooting and power-suit gameplay foundation and place those mechanics in a variety of different scenarios. The shooting in Crysis 2 feels a lot like Crytek's previous offerings. The player can shoot from the hip or aim down the sights, use a variety of weaponry, throw grenades and so on. The shooting feels really good. The only real odd part about the shooting mechanic is that grenades must be equipped before they can be used. Though this too flies in the face of convention I happen to like that particular trend. The movement feels a little heavier and slower then games like Call of Duty but that just adds to the distinct nature of this game. I don't think many will complain about these mechanics though they are the most conventional in the game. Moving beyond the somewhat conventional mechanics, every weapon can be upgraded and modified by searching the game's environments for unique add-ons to the weaponry.
The main character is decked out in a power suit that has a variety of functions. The character can cloak himself making him nearly invisible to detection. The character can add armor reinforcements that shields him from concussive blasts and bullets. The character can jump to great heights and distances and utilize immense amounts of strength. All of these abilities come at a cost reflected in a 'suit charge' represented as a number from 0 to 100 to the player. This charge decreases as the abilities are used and as the character is hurt either by being shoot, being near a blast, or falling. A large focus for this game revolves around managing this charge. It can keep the character safe but only for so long as, if the charge is depleted, all suit abilities will be made inoperable. Therefore, the ability to manage the charge of the suit is the key to success. The suit, like the weaponry, can be modified to enhance current abilities or add new, passive abilities. These upgrades are purchased by way of 'nanos' which are collected by killing the alien enemies the player encounters later in the game. All of these powers are mapped to the controller in a very smart, easy to use way. The game does a good job introducing the player to each suit ability so that that the learning curve with the abilities and the control scheme is very slight.
There are two fighting scenarios the player will see while playing Crysis 2. One situation involves moving from one place to another through a wide open environment crawling with enemies. These scenarios start with fairly simple environments with a small number of enemies to very complex environments, with a lot of verticality and a large number of enemies. Regardless of the complexity of the environment, these situations offer the player a number of options for moving through them. Players can scope out the environment beforehand and look for enemies, ammo drops, and pathways to get through the environment. The player can use the character's armored suit ability to fight every enemy in the environment and, after the fact, stroll harmlessly to their destination. The player can utilize the cloak ability to stealth-kill every enemy or simply sneak by all of them without killing anyone. The fact that there are so many options available allows these scenarios to offer some of the coolest moments in the game. They really show how solid the gameplay foundation and control scheme is. The second fighting scenario is a bit more linear in design. During these scenarios the player has to travel from one location to another but has less freedom to maneuver. These scenarios can take place indoors, outdoors or a combination of the two. These scenarios are a little less impressive then the open scenarios but they are still fun to play through due to the game's smart design foundation and strong shooting mechanics.
The multiplayer is a very fun diversion from the main game. The suit abilities and the shooting mechanics are fun to utilize against human components. However, some of those mechanics, like cloaking, don't work quite as well against humans as they do against the computer. The multiplayer utilizes an 'ability-unlock' mechanic. Essentially, as you do better in multiplayer matches more abilities will be made available to you. However, this mechanic is a bit slow at opening up to the player. The game also utilizes a kill-streak mechanic where players are rewarded for getting a certain number of kills in a row in a match. Though conventional, this mechanic is a welcomed addition. The multiplayer modes are fairly standard with a capture the flag, 'hold this location' and deathmatch variants. The multiplayer is fun but it is a bit more common and standard then the single player and I found it much less interesting.
The presentation is more inconsistent then I was expecting. Visually, Crysis 2, at times, rivals any console game out there. At times the environments are incredibly well designed and the lighting is always impressive. Though the character models are well made and believably designed, their animations can look pretty bad especially in cutscenes. The framerate on the Xbox-360 version is also very inconsistent. The game fluctuates from what appears to be 15-30 frames per second. The framerate doesn't hurt the gameplay experience but it is distracting. The game also has a 3D mode but I don't have a TV capable to utilize that feature so I can't comment on its implementation. The score is solid throughout. Despite the main theme, none of the pieces were particularly memorable but they set the mood and atmosphere beautifully for each scenario. The voice acting is a bit inconsistent as well. The writing is adequate and the delivery, on average, is adequate as well. Some characters are a bit more consistent then others but, overall, the voice acting serves its purpose just fine.
Crysis 2 is a unique take on a genre that has become a bit stale since the monster sales hit Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. The game has a great gameplay foundation and offers fun and exciting scenarios where that foundation truly shines. To further expand on the foundation, the game comes with some of the most memorable set-pieces I've seen in a game this year. The great single player is also fairly long for the genre taking me nearly 12 hours to complete on the Veteran difficulty setting. For multiplayer fans, the multiplayer has the mechanics that could provide for a long lifespan though it lacks a bit in uniqueness. Though the presentation inconsistencies are disappointing, the final product is a long, fun and unique game that may well be the one of the best first-person shooters released this year.