Wednesday, May 25

In case you haven't played it: Crysis 2 Review (PS3)

I only first played the original Crysis a few months ago. Released in 2007 with system specifications that still challenge modern hardware configurations, I desperately wanted to try it, but knew that it could potentially kill my previous, humble laptop. Even with a new machine - with what I thought were solid components - I couldn't run the game at anywhere near its highest settings.  Developers Crytek have put themselves in the business of creating technically-stunning first person shooters that set the benchmark for performance on current PC hardware. They even reduced my previous desktop unit to a stuttering, steaming pile of metallic excrement with their first effort, Far Cry the better part of a decade ago. With the announcement that Crysis 2 would be released on consoles and PC, I was finally confident that I could experience a Crytek game without any fear of a system collapsing. Needless to say, I've been waiting since 2004 to experience a game of this pedigree.

The Good
NY state of mind - Crysis 2 is unmatched in scale. Would you like to visit Central Park? How about when it's suspended hundreds of metres in the air? Yeah, me too. There are plenty of other prominent landmarks portrayed in various stages of devastation which simply must be seen. All of this grandeur is rendered with few apparent wrinkles. There were issues with texture loading at the beginning of some levels, but otherwise, the visuals in this game are of the highest calibre. Some of the set peices are just plain jaw-dropping. Just when I thought I had seen the most amazing sequence of destruction, I was treated to an even larger structure reaching a spectacular end. Be prepared to see the world's most recognisable city torn apart by the Ceph.

Commando - The narrative tying the game's high quality firefights together won't win any Pulitzer or Man Booker prizes. As a matter of fact, without seeing the first instalment through to its conclusion, it didn't mean much to me at all. But it didn't matter. The action was so intense, creative and just plain enjoyable. Every situation offers multiple approaches that provide genuinely different experiences. At the beginning of the game I went all out with the armour abilities, acting like a one man army. Towards the end of the game I played the superhero version of Metal Gear Solid; sneaking through some heavily occupied facilities killing less than a handful of CELL operatives. What I'm getting at is, an intriguing videogame narrative is worth less than nothing if the gameplay behind it is broken and/or repetitive. Much like one of my favourite movies, Commando (starring Arnold Schwarzneger), the story serves no purpose other than to signpost the next, progressively more-violent gun battle or fist fight. I didn't care so much that Arnie's daughter had been kidnapped, I just wanted him to lie to Sully (you'll know what it means when you see it, if you haven't already).

The absence of humanity - Battling CELL operatives makes for some exciting play, but in Crysis 2 it is nothing short of essential when you are set against the Ceph. While they may not come in a great variety, they are all deadly. Everything about them - from their movement, to their design - is truly awesome to behold.

The perfect song - A few months ago I read about Battlefield developer, DICE trying to make their game like the "perfect song, not a guitar solo," (Stead (Editor), 2011, p50). I would equate something like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 to a constant solo. There is no lull, just a non-stop affront to the senses. Crysis 2 allows players to breathe after fighting a Pinger, or surviving a lengthy vehicle sequence. There are some solos there, and they are as memorable as Van Halen's "Eruption." Yet these moments do not define the campaign and they are almost perfectly placed throughout.

Old Blue Eyes - The score in Crysis 2 is about the best I've heard featured in a first person shooter. Save for one odd, aural inconsistency during the last firefight, the music perfectly matches the grandeur of the action unfolding on screen. The main theme has some sinister undertones which hint at the (predictable) betrayals that you suffer throughout the game, while the other pieces steel your hands for war. The multiplayer theme is perhaps the most inspiring piece of music that I've heard put to a loading screen. Sounds effects are also of high quality, with a few persistent blemishes. Specifically the suit makes some pretty heavy and annoying sounds while moving. Sometimes I managed to freak myself out, hearing enemies that weren't really there. Otherwise, all of the guns, aliens and their technology sound pitch perfect.

New Game Plus - Action games - first person shooters included - typically gift players with new, exciting abilities as the game progresses, only to take them away when the player opts for another play through. Crysis 2 thankfully bucks that trend, allowing players to use any suit abilities that you've unlocked from the outset of a subsequent shot at the campaign . I found that I had enough Nano Catalyst to unlock each of the suit abilities after I first completed the game and it was great not to start from scratch when I turned up the level of difficulty. That being said, I'm still finding the single player campaign to be a substantial challenge on Veteran difficulty, even with every module at my command. I should also note that the game is proving to be genuinely replayable, and I'm hoping to complete the game at least once more in the near future.

 Insert pun containing the words power and fingertips

Good company - Whenever you fight alongside the US Marines, you can be assured that you are in able company. In one particular level, I was under heavy fire and recharging my suit so that I could activate Armor mode and dispatch a nearby stalker (less common Ceph variant that is extremely durable). The nearby Marines focussed their fire on the enemy to make the kill before I could emerge from cover. This is such a pleasant contradiction to the current standard of AI-controlled companions in single player FPS campaigns.

Alternative Rock - Crysis 2's frenetic multiplayer action is an enjoyable change from the current trend towards modern war shooters. While on paper it may appear similar to the competition, with customisable equipment loadouts and maps peppered with choke points; the nanosuit modules do enough to mix-up this popular formula. They seem to be balanced pretty well too. A headshot is not going to be negated by armor and while cloak does camouflage you somewhat, a keen eye will always spot the bright brown or blue outlines of a user. Good fun, but as below there are some aspects that will hinder its success long-term.

The Bad
Game over, man! Game Over! -  For all the aural brilliance to be observed in Crysis 2, the voice acting is a bit of a mixed bag. Hargreave is a fantastically-voiced support character, but you still end up subjected to the usual military terminology by gruff marines at various points throughout the adventure. The character of Gould is perhaps the most regrettable. A mix of Gary Oldman (looks wise) and Tommy "Cheech and Chong," Chong, pretty much every line of dialogue he spouts ends with the word, man. All silliness aside: the action may be very much in the vein of those hi-octane action movies of decade past, but the dialogue never reaches the same level of frivolity.

Slow start - The first hour of the single player campaign tends to drag a bit, especially on a second play through. This can be attributed to cloak and armour abilities being locked until you reach certain points in the first - well, technically it's the second - level. Apart from the lull in the action, the story doesn't offer much to engage you either; lots of characters referring to past events or characters that you haven't come across (let alone heard of, if you haven't played the original instalment). Things take a sharp turn for the better once you first encounter the Ceph though.

Anti-climax - I was expecting some massive, hulking alien beast to block my passage to the final objective. This never happened, and while the final encoutner was tough, it didn't compare to the difficulty of some of my previous dealings with the alien enemy. It may sound like a quibble, but after all that I had overcome, it was pretty disappointing.

C'mon! Kill me! - The enemy AI - for the Ceph, in particular - tends to malfunction on occasion. Sometimes I'd be standing in front of a group of grunts (the most common Ceph variant) who would just jump around and away from me; even if I was uncloaked. I was also surprised to find that enemies wouldn't try to flank me in some environments where it would have been fairly simple to do so. For example, in the sequence in Gould's lab which pits players against a helicopter: I could retreat to the lobby to recharge my shields without any trouble, even though there were two access points to this relatively long, though narrow space with as many as ten soldiers on the other side of the wall.

 Bet you that he didn't even see me

Noisy crowd - Crysis 2's multiplayer action abandons the "perfect song," formula heard in the single player campaign. The fighting is fast-paced, and the aural assault can be exhausting. Every time that you're killed you're subjected to a loud, pinging sound. There is also the constant screaming of your comrades announcing, "Man Down! Man Down!" The sound design for Crysis 2's multiplayer component is all about shock and awe.

The Ugly
Steep curve - It's pretty hard to adjust to Crysis 2's brand of multiplayer action. Sure it may appear to be regular to the average Call of Duty instalment, with players waging war while employing customizable equipment loadouts. Once the bullets start flying though, you'll find that - even with Armor mode on - you'll be far more prone to dying than you would be in the average round of Team Deathmatch in CoD. You'll die, and die often trying to formulate and employ a solid strategy in the typically-heated matches. Worse still, the game can be subject to frustrating levels of lag, particularly since the Playstation Network was restored and it now being more difficult to find any match, let alone a full one. Some matches you're dispatched with multiple one-hit kills, even when the killcam reveals that you've been hit with nought but body shots from a sub-machine gun.

Limited arsenal - Compared to genre stalwarts like Call of Duty: Black Ops and Battlefield: Bad Company 2, Crysis 2 affords players an extremely limited arsenal with which to wage war online. Worse still, it takes quite a bit of time and effort to make said arsenal available to players. While you could argue that the ability to cloak and increase your potential to absorb damage are strong enough weapons in their own right, there is a distinct lack of options as far as equipment is concerned. Especially for newcomers.

The Verdict
8.0/10 - I throroughly enjoyed Crysis 2.  Featuring a lengthy and enjoyable single player campaign that is paced brilliantly, peppered with some grand set pieces and accompanied by an impeccable score, it is an essential experience that comes highly recommended. The plot may be somewhat forgettable, but the frenetic action and solid pacing more than makes up for the muddled narrative. The multiplayer offering is not without its faults, but shines as a valid alternative to the standard CoD fare. Easily the most fleshed-out console shooter of the year so far.

1. Stead, C (Editor) (2011). Battlefield 3. Gameinformer, Issue 15, p50.

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