It's four years late, but Crysis on console works
Crytek's shtick has always been to deliver ground-breaking graphics that push people's PCs to their absolute limits. In late 2007, Crytek's latest first-person shooter, Crysis, arrived on PC and quickly gained infamy for its at-the-time absurd system requirements needed to run the game at maximum settings. It also garnered much praise for its open-ended gameplay, which let players approach any situation however they pleased. Not many shooters have matched that style of gameplay in the years since, which is what makes the late arrive of Crysis on console still something of a big deal
This was a game that, for its time -- and even now, still -- was hailed as the first peak at what this generation (and perhaps beyond) was capable of. Before then, all we had were games that were but small graphical steps up from the last set of consoles. It seemed unfathomable that the current crop of game systems should be able to run the game at a decent level, let alone the absolute minimum! And yet, here we are: four years later and it has finally arrived, albeit not without a few hitches.
In the move to console, the game has unfortunately suffered some graphical glitches and oddities. Texture pop-in regularly occurs, geometry vanishes then reappears sporadically, the draw distance has been shortened considerably, and the game generally looks overly sharp in spots, particularly when viewing distant objects or settlements through your binoculars. None of these issues are hugely diminishing, of course, but they do detract a fair deal from the game's primary hook: its ultra-realistic visuals.
The console version is certainly a far cry from the PC original in terms of graphical prowess, but things have made a strong transition nevertheless. Crysis' lush, tropical island setting still seeps with rich detail. Trees sway as light winds roll by; leaves rustle when moving through bushes and other foliage; sunny skies blind you as you emerge from a shaded hiding spot, the sky slowly coming into focus. It's a beautiful display. It's all mostly window dressing, sure, but for a graphical showpiece like this, that's kind of the point. Although, that also makes the blemishes that much more apparent.
That's not to say the visuals lend no help to the gameplay, of course. Crysis is far from being an ultra-realistic game in execution, so the visuals' job isn't so much to ground the game in reality as it is to add that extra touch of flash to the proceedings. It's assistance doesn't manifest itself too strongly until the last few acts, where it starts delivering set-piece after set-piece, but the small touches are welcome nonetheless.
For the most part, Cryisis is a low-key game. It grants you loads of leeway with how to proceed in any given situation, encouraging you to proceed however you see fit. Run in and pull off a full-on assault, murdering all who cross your path mercilessly, or sneak around under the cover of nearby vegetation, slowly picking off soldiers one by one. The choice is yours; there's no wrong way to play.
Before I continue, let's talk a bit about that nanosuit. You see, in Crysis, you're character -- a US Special Forces operative code-named "Nomad" -- is equipped with a super-powered nanosuit that enhances his physical abilities. For instance: by using the suit's power, you can sprint about at breakneck speeds, toss enemies and objects alike with twice the force of a normal throw, or use that power to generate a temporary shield of sorts, or even cloak himself for a limited amount of time. These augmentative functions serve as the very crux of Crysis. Using them in conjunction, whether to prowl around the island unseen or to give yourself the upper edge in combat, is crucial, for you are always outnumbered and often outgunned.
Despite all the options available, stealth always ends up being the most effective method. Crysis does an incredible job of making you feel like a over-powered super-soldier, but at the same time, it always reminds you that you're still very vulnerable. Try running into combat with no regard for strategy and you'll almost assuredly end up dead. That's because Crysis, open-ended as it is, punishes carelessness. Even with all your nanosuit abilities, you're still just a regular human being. A few shots from an AK-47 is all it takes to down both you and your foes. Stealth works because you're forced to be careful; you're forced to be patient and wait for the right moment to strike, slowly picking off people form afar, dwindling the enemy ranks to more manageable odds and sending them into disarray, at which point anything's doable. It's a splendid reward for being fortuitous.
The good ol' run-'n'-gun method is completely without worth, though. Dashing into an enemy compound at full speed, whipping out a shotgun and blasting foes off their feet, then taking cover for a brief respite before repeating delivers immense exhilaration that few other shooters can. The only catch to combat here is that you need some measure of strategy employed at all times. Your survival hinges on your ability to think plan on the fly, as once an entire encampment is searching for you, that's about all that stands between you and a bullet in your head. Your enemies are a formidable bunch, working in tandem and often impossible to shake after put on alert. They're actually intelligent, always moving in groups as they try to flush you out, never easing up on the tension until they've done you in. Relentless is what they are, and that's precisely what makes them not to be taken lightly.
One reservation, though. For all the apt, intelligent design the AI demonstrates, there are times where they seem omnipresent, able to spot you from what feels like miles away. Many times when I was dashing through clearings, the awareness meter would suddenly rocket up to its fullest. Yet, upon surveying the scene, both before and after cloaking to remain unseen, no one was in sight. No helicopters, no jeeps, no watchtowers -- nothing. Yet somehow someone somewhere saw me. Odd occurrences like that, though mostly isolated, detract from the deep sense of immersion the game works hard to build.
Most of that immersion stems from the size and scope of the levels. The island the game takes place on is massive. You only get to explore one moderately sized section per act, but, even based on what you're given, it always feels so much larger. The level limits, unless you purposely look for them, are practically invisible. Straying off course for a while could reveal hidden ammo caches or encampments, but not the actual limits. That sense of discovery is the most rewarding aspect of Crysis' open environment, because it's so easy to stumble upon something unexpectedly while in transit to your next objective. It disguises the linear nature of the game nicely.
About half-way through the game, however, Crysis abandons its open-ended design in favor of strict linearity. Gone is the choice between a full all-out assault and stealth (the former being the forced approach) in favor of rail-shooter segments and "defend this area" type assaults. It makes sense in the context of the story, but purely from a gameplay perspective, it feels like the developers were undecided on what kind shooter they wanted to make and just compromised by splitting the game between two very different styles of play rather than commit to a single, cohesive vision. This sudden shift, while heavy with the action and set-pieces, ultimately wreaks the tone and style the game had going for it up till then.
Though, for all my criticisms, it's not like the game didn't allude to the change in direction. The story of Crysis revolves around rescuing some hostages captured by the Korean army to help perform an expedition of sorts on a nondescript island somewhere. At first, everything seems pretty cut and dry: take out the Korean occupants, rescue the hostages and go home. Simple. But not long after arriving, it becomes clear that something's off. Something lurks behind the shadows, causing all manner of strange, otherworldly occurrences and grisly killings. What that something is... well, I'm not about to spoil it. Suffice it to say, however, that it takes an interesting but expected turn.
If you're going into Crysis expecting a strong narrative, then you'll be disappointed. For all its swell acting and strong pacing, the story just never gets to a point where it makes you care about its characters. There's enough intrigue to keep you're attention for the duration of the story, but apart from the sudden cavalcade of bombastic set-pieces in the latter-most half of the game, it doesn't go anywhere particularly interesting.
The real ride lies with the gameplay. Crysis' open-ended design makes it stand out against the pantheon of first-person shooters littering the market, even now. Age hasn't at all detracted from the experience to be had here, for it is still one of the better divergent shooters available, despite it's failure to stick to its formula. It's not quite the same graphical showpiece as the PC original, but if you were ever curious about Crysis and never had a good enough PC to run it, now's more than a perfect time to see what all the hubbub was and still is about.