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Crysis 2 Review

4
  • X360

It might not feel as special as its predecessor, but Crysis 2 is still a high-quality shooter, both alone or in multiplayer.

  Crysis 2 doesn't lean too heavily on iconic NYC imagery, but yeah, the statue's in there.
Crysis 2 doesn't lean too heavily on iconic NYC imagery, but yeah, the statue's in there.
Considering the company's past work, it's easy to be a little concerned about the direction Crytek's taking with Crysis 2. It's a game that's being released simultaneously on PC and consoles, shaking the folks that still think of the first game as a benchmark for technical graphics in modern video games. It loses the jungle setting for New York City and it ditches Koreans entirely, instead focusing more on the aliens that were widely thought to have been the weak part of the original Crysis. It also carries a heavier focus on multiplayer, with options and character progression that lift directly from the Call of Duty style that's become so popular over the last few years. If I had to guess, I'd say that there will be some Crysis purists that won't be able to come to terms with Crysis 2, and that's a real shame, because it takes some interesting turns along the way that help set it apart from the typical multiplayer shooter that seems to get released every few months.

There's a lot going on in Crysis 2's campaign, which takes the action into New York City. You begin the game as a normal US Marine named Alcatraz, who is deployed via sub to help out Prophet, the nanosuited team leader from the previous game. The sub insertion goes completely off the rails before the opening credits roll, and without getting too into the specifics, you quickly find yourself in a nanosuit of your own with the initial mission of extracting a doctor with vital research that will hopefully help stop the invasion of squid-like aliens that's currently tearing the city apart and infesting its inhabitants with spores. Along the way, much of the tension comes from a struggle between the Marines that seem to be there primarily to get as many uninfected civilians out of there as possible and a PMC called CELL, which seems almost singularly focused on taking you down. Then there's a further struggle inside of CELL between the head of the PMC's military arm that wants to murder you (to be fair, you do spend a large part of the game mowing down his men as if they were paper dolls) and the intelligence-focused special advisor who wants to obey the PMC's largest shareholder's demands to bring you back alive. The political intrigue isn't especially entertaining, and a lot of the drama emanates from watching or hearing about these bureaucrats and businessmen as they bicker with each other about the best way to handle the ongoing invasion.

That's not to say that the story is completely empty, but it means that the story doesn't start to reveal interesting things about the true state of things in this universe until the game is nearly complete, and even then, it isn't the easiest thing in the world to follow. Also, you should probably know that the game doesn't set up these characters or factions very well at all, and many of them are either key figures or directly related to key figures from the first Crysis... which didn't exactly have the most cohesive or interesting story in the world, either. Considering the way Crysis 2 leans on its past and the fact that console-only players haven't had a chance to play a Crysis game yet, it's surprising that there isn't some sort of "the story so far" introduction to help bring players up to speed on what Crysis is all about. But even if you remember what went down back on the Lingshan Islands, the plot of Crysis 2 isn't its strongest suit.

Unsurprisingly, Crysis 2's strongest suit is its suit. The powered armor you wear while playing the game grants you abilities that make you much more powerful than the average Marine. Alcatraz's suit is easy to use with its streamlined functions. You use the shoulder buttons on the controller to turn on either maximum armor or a Predator-style cloak. Neither mode is perfect and they only last until your suit energy runs out, at which point you'd be wise to take cover for a few seconds and let your power recharge. Armor lets you turn your current energy level into additional health, which will absorb the first few bullets, giving you more time to return fire. The cloak turns Crysis 2 into a stealth game. Since it doesn't make you completely invisible, enemies will still spot you if they get up close and look directly at you. So it's best to turn on the cloak, get behind a lone enemy, and stick him with your blade. But moving around drains energy faster than sitting still, so you'll usually need to find safe spots every 30 to 60 seconds to decloak and recover power before recloaking and moving forward. Also, any sort of gunfire or grenade tossing totally drains your energy and decloaks you, giving you an incentive to manually decloak (or perhaps switch over to armor mode) just before opening fire. The game is surprisingly good at making both abilities feel powerful without completely breaking the game, and the larger enemies you face later on, though not all that fun to fight, at least give you some targets that can't just be wiped out with one stealth melee attack.

In addition to turning on these two powers, there are also additional moves you can perform, each with their own energy cost. Running, for example, drains your meter. So does holding down the jump button, which gives you a power jump, or holding your breath while aiming down the sights of a sniper rifle. You can also power-up melee attacks to kick over portable toilets, and so on. There's also a visor mode that gives you a tactical assessment of the surrounding area. The game actually actively recommends that you pop into the visor every time you stumble onto a camp or other open, enemy-filled area. These are the parts that are most reminiscent of the previous Crysis, and you can tag enemies to get a constant view of where they are at any given time, making them easier to sneak up on. The game also highlights points of tactical interest, like spots to reload, good spots to snipe from, ledges that can be climbed, and so on. In a way, highlighting these points of interest feels like a bit much, like it's telling you the three different ways to approach any given situation. In practice, I mostly got into stabbing guys or, once that became repetitive, just cloaking and slipping past the entire encounter without firing a shot. Though you'll have to stop and recharge your energy pretty often through the beginning of the game, an upgrade system removes a lot of the game's stealth-based tension.

When you bring down aliens, a currency pops out of them that you can spend on suit upgrades. There are four sets of upgrades with three upgrades each, and you can only enable one upgrade per set. These do things like give you an air stomp, permitting crushing airborne attacks. But the most useful ones I selected made the suit's energy recharge more quickly and drain more slowly in stealth mode. With these on, you can hide for much longer, making it a lot easier to completely skip encounters, if that's your thing. Of course, you can't really run through these areas, so taking the slow approach to alien murdering got my playtime up to around eight hours on the default difficulty setting. If you take a more direct approach, I suspect that number could drop by a third or more. As in the previous games, weapons can be modified with different attachments, allowing you to add silencers, underbarrel shotguns, laser sights, and other items to your guns. Also, it might please you to know that any suit or weapon upgrades you unlock stick with you in subsequent playthroughs, so if you want to to tackle the hardest setting, you can lighten the load a bit by unlocking all of that stuff first on an easier difficulty.

The design of Crysis 2's campaign gives you the opportunity to play around with your enemies, if you like, but the game also has its tight corridor moments. At times, the levels feel like they're jerking back and forth between the small hallways and funnels of a Call of Duty game and the open areas of the first Crysis. It can make the action feel a bit disjointed.

Taking the nanosuit into an online match is surprisingly thrilling. Maybe I'm just surprised because the series' previous attempt was a dud, but Crysis 2's multiplayer effectively marries the power of your suit to the standard modes and styles of the recent Call of Duty games. You'll play modes like team deathmatch, capture the flag, and capture-and-hold variants, but a lot of it is freshened up by the ability to slap on your extra armor at the first sight or trouble or stalk around with your cloak running, hoping that it works on human players as well as it does against the AI (it doesn't). You'll also enable perks that fit into each of the three suit states, letting you don more powerful armor when your armor mode is enabled, giving you that same air stomp, settling down the recoil on your weapons, and so on. Also, the game handles the unlocking of those items in a smart way by breaking the experience points that you earn up across the armor, stealth and power (which is their name for the default state). As you level up stealth and complete challenges related to your currently equipped stealth perk, you'll earn bonuses and unlock more stealth options. Same deal for the other two modes.

The game also has killstreak bonuses in the classic form, granting you a support power like "maximum radar" for staying alive while downing the enemy repeatedly. The catch is that your kills only count toward that streak if you collect the dog tags that fall out of the enemies you kill. You can't steal other dog tags--they only appear when you get the kill--but it means you have to get out there and risk your neck to get those bonuses, by default. If you're a sniper that needs to stay out of the fray, or if you're far too lazy to retrieve those tags, one of the later perks you can unlock automatically collects tags for you. It's an interesting twist on the normal way first-person shooters are being built these days. Weapon attachments are unlocked in a similar way.

Speaking of unlocking, the big downside of Crysis 2's multiplayer is that it's very slow to open up to you. On one hand, it's probably for the best that you don't get into any of the teamwork-focused objective modes until you've spent a lot of time getting used to the way the suit works in simple team deathmatch games, but it'll still take hours before you get access to every ranked playlist. If you're playing with friends, you can always set up a private game and do whatever you like.

When Crysis was first released, it was one of those graphical wonders that could only be done on the PC--but not your PC. As time went on and more powerful parts became more widely available, running Crysis on its highest settings became trivial... but it was still pretty cool to see. It was a showpiece, even if you didn't especially like the game built into all of those great-looking trees. The sequel has been simultaneously released on the PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3. As of this writing, I've only seen it on the 360. It looks fine, for the most part, with an unsteady frame rate being its most damning visual issue. The game gets choppy in some cases, whether you're playing alone or online. The game's best visual trick is light bloom, which makes the indoor-to-outdoor transitions look nice, but the game also does this a few different times, with each subsequent use of the trick being less and less impressive. Also, it's easy to see the level of detail popping back and forth between low and high textures, and some objects, like bushes or small posts, completely disappear if you get far enough away from them. In a game with cloaking, where you're constantly watching for another player to decloak in front of you, the vanishing objects get a little more aggravating than it would be in most other games. But that definitely doesn't mean that Crysis 2 looks terrible. Artistically, it's really nice, with good-looking environments and decent, albeit repetitive enemies. The lighting and shadows are well-done, also. But if you're coming to Crysis 2 expecting Crytek to raise the bar and blow you away all over again, you might be disappointed with the way the console versions perform.

Crysis 2's main theme is great, but most of the other music is pretty forgettable. Actually, I found most of the game's audio to be a little lackluster. The weapons lack any real punch, and though your human enemies have a variety of things to say, the aliens repeatedly hiss at you in a way that gets old quickly. Also, a lot of the dialogue throughout the story is delivered with odd inflections and accents that don't always fit the world. It's not quite to the level of Heavy Rain's stilted delivery, but it stuck out in multiple spots.

Crysis 2 is dragged down a bit by a lot of relatively minor issues, but the suit really saves it, making the action a lot more entertaining than it would be otherwise. I only felt the need to spend time picking apart the graphics in this review because of what the first Crysis represents--I figure that it's pretty likely that you'll want to know how this game stacks up to the open-world and high-tech legacy of its predecessor. Direct comparisons might not be terribly favorable if you hold the first game in high regard, but when removed from that context, there are a lot of great moments in Crysis 2. The suit abilities are easy and powerful, giving you just enough variety to let you deal with encounters in multiple ways. And though you'll recognize large parts of its multiplayer design and gameplay from, well, every other shooter released over the last three years, the suit abilities add enough of a new wrinkle to make Crysis 2 stand out in an incredibly crowded field.
Jeff Gerstmann on Google+