March 22, 2011
I like to think the original Crysis was the Britney Spears circa 1999, of video games. You know, pretty on the eyes, soulless and a little bat-shit crazy. It may have set the benchmark on PCs for visuals and Crytek’s proprietary in-house engine, the CryEngine, did put a fear of life into other developers, but it seemed like the gameplay and the narrative took a backseat. Fast-forward four years to the sequel and Crytek is looking to remedy that, by taking the action to the mean streets of New York and by acquiring the services of the award-winning sci-fi writer, Richard Morgan. Now, instead of the sequel being Britney Spears the glory years circa 2008-2010, it’s now become the Audrey Hepburn, circa 1961, of video games, as in that it’s gorgeous, sophisticated and full of spunk.
Crysis 2 takes place in the not-so-distant future of 2023 – three years after Crysis 1 – and it seems as if the incidents of the Lingshan Islands has spilled over onto US home soil. After confirmed reports of a leak of an alien virus from within the Hargreave-Rasch corporation, New York is placed under quarantine and the protagonist, Alcatraz, and his Force Recon team have been called into extract a nanotechnologist by the name of Dr Nathan Gould. When on the ground though, it’s not as straightforward and it soon escalates from a simple extraction mission into a race across New York to save the city from falling into the hands of the alien invaders, the Ceph.
It’s a typical sci-fi story at its heart, fresh with conspiracies galore and more cephalopods than a trip out to SeaWorld, but considering that Richard Morgan penned it, it’s probably not as memorable as we’d have liked. Bar a few really interesting twists and turns, and an ending that makes Assassin’s Creed’s ending look like the end of the dictionary – the Zebra did it – it’s nothing special. Morgan does however weave various story threads throughout the one story to great effect, but after a while you start to realise that the actual story is quite uninspiring. It’s the gameplay and what’s happening to New York though that will hold the biggest thrills, and boy, are there some thrilling moments dotted throughout! Our biggest gripe, however, has to be that we have yet another silent protagonist as the lead, which not only feels lazy in this day and age of more mature video games, but it feels so 1990.
The set-pieces themselves are of standard fare really: go here, fetch that, see him, breach here, defend here, save them; but it’s actually what happens on the way there and how you get there that’s really the driving force of Crysis 2’s gameplay. It’s a formula that, thanks to the power of the Nanosuit, makes you feel like a supersoldier, surviving against all odds and roaming around New York thinking that the phrase “alien invasion” is just another word used to describe the lax immigration laws in the state.
The Nanosuit – a supersoldier, cybernetic outfit that you get to don – is what makes the gameplay so strong though, allowing you to switch from ‘armour’ mode – where you can take more damage – and ‘stealth’ mode – essentially, invisibility – on the fly. Balancing these and choosing when to use which is a skill to master, but satisfying when you do. Of course, all these run off the same meter – as does the ‘power’ mode which is sprinting and jumping to the best of the Nanosuit’s capabilities – so you have to keep one eye on the meter, otherwise, you’ll be caught short. Having the ability to add various upgrades to the suit – as well as choosing weapon attachments as well – truly means that you can play Crysis 2 how you want to.
The wide-open sandbox elements of the original – and the original Far Cry – make way for a more linear sandbox affair. Wait... that’s an oxymoron if ever there was one, right? Well, yes, but instead of having a wide-open field this time, you’ve got various routes you can take to your objective. The tac-com (up on the d-pad) even offers tactical assistance so you can make use of these at times, and using the Nanovision – heatvision – means that you don’t become unstuck when trying a more adventurous route. Thanks to the verticality of New York as well, there is a lot of, “See that roof over there, I’m going to jump over there whether you like it or not!” feel about the gameplay. Sure, the speed that Alcatraz moves through the air is reminiscent of a flying squirrel whose had ballet lessons, but that's just us being oddly attentive.
Unlike most first-person shooter campaigns these days, Crysis 2 offers a fairly lengthy jaunt, weighing in at around the 8-10 hour mark, playing on normal – that’s a lot of killing! – so there’s an element of added value there. Plus, the production values are impressively high, with an atmospheric and apt score with some of the best visuals on consoles. It’s not perfect though and things like the “rag doll” physics are pretty substandard, but in my time with the campaign, frame-rate issues were non-existent, even when the shit hit the fan.
Seeing as Crysis has come from a PC background, the controls are expectedly complex and convoluted at times – you need to double tap Y to equip grenades, for instance - but after an hour or so, that is but a distant thought as it becomes almost like second nature. It’s also bizarre and frustrating that dead bodies, weapons and the alien Nano Catalyst – left by dead aliens and used to upgrade the Nanosuit – disappear after a short time as well, totally killing the immersion. Oh, and sometimes the checkpoints, especially later on in the game, can be a little far and few between.
As with any shooter these days, multiplayer is a big part of Crysis 2, although it definitely takes a backseat to the campaign if you ask us. With 6 game modes – all your standard multiplayer fare, really, with nothing outstandingly unique – and 12 maps, there is plenty of content to be getting stuck into; and quite honestly, it’s come a long way since the demo. Of course, what makes the multiplayer unique is the Nanosuit and being able to slide, go invisible, beef up with ‘armour’ mode and so on, giving it a chiefly unique feel. Some of the perks you can unlock later on are pretty nifty... and of course, if that doesn't float your boat, like nearly every first-person shooter these days, there are also kill streak bonuses, ranging from radar assists to Ceph Gunship assistance.
The XP system online is broken down into various categories, meaning you have a rank for your overall status, your armour rank, your power rank and of course, your stealth rank. What that essentially means is that you get rewarded for how you play with unlocks that assists your play type, which is a fresh approach to a system that’s been so over-iterated upon over the years.
Unfortunately, Crytek makes a fatal mistake in holding back classes, match-types and customisation classes till you reach certain ranks, meaning that new players will constantly get pounded and frustrated because they don’t have the cool Nanousuit upgrades that others have got and they can only play two modes. I’m just not sure what they were thinking when they locked up the classes as well, meaning you can only start with the assault class and you have to individually unlock the other three. In fact, the first few hours of trying to get up to a level where I could customise my Nanosuit and attach upgrades was so damn demoralising that it could easily put someone off the whole multiplayer experience. All is fair in love and war... except when someone gets an unfair advantage over someone else just because they’ve played the game or had it longer. Crytek, meet Bungie... they’ll teach you a thing or two about how to do multiplayer unlocks. It’s truly a shame though, because if you put the time and effort in, it can be a rewarding experience, but you have to get kicked in the balls by a donkey a few times before that happens.
The achievements in Crysis 2 are your bog standard shooter fare, which is a shame really, as with the Nanosuit there is a potential to have some really cool kills. Complete this mission, complete that mission, play online a lot and so on. It’s pretty mediocre stuff actually and it’s only the mission specific achievements – like complete this mission unseen, scan Richard Morgan’s books in the NY library, kill an enemy with a huge donut sign, etc. – that truly save it from being a terrible list. Look Crytek, you showed a little originality, next time, carry on and roll with it. Regardless, if you want the full 1,000, prepare for a long slog.
Although Crysis 2’s campaign narrative never really gets above generic and uninspiring, everything else that the campaign brings is masterful. Watching New York tumble around you is truly a sight to behold and Crytek should be commended for being able to bring that to consoles, and so eloquently as well. The multiplayer has a serious amount of potential, which surprises me out of everything, but the odds are so stacked against the new guy, that it's actually quite frustrating. The truth is though that you’ll want to play Crysis 2 for its lengthy campaign and its unnerving terror as the city of New York crumbles around you. It's simply magnificent stuff.
Although the score is suitably epic and really brings a sense of terror to the proceedings, the voice acting can be a little static and phoned in at times. It’s a black mark on an otherwise excellent audio experience.
Stunning. Simply stunning in every aspect. Who says console games had reached a plateau?
Convoluted controls are the only really possibly negative mark against the game’s playability, but honestly, it won’t take long before it becomes second nature.
An epic campaign – maybe not in terms of actual story, but in terms of what actually happens to and around you – and a decent multiplayer arena make up Crytek’s latest shooter. It would have scored higher if Crytek hadn’t stuck a knife in the foot of new players before they even pick up the controller. Making classes unlockable? Favouring the veterans? Locking modes till you’re a certain rank? That’s not what we call balanced multiplayer. Tut tut.
Your standard fare really. Complete this mission, do the game on the hardest difficulty, unlock some stuff... *yawn* Thankfully there are a few mission specific and original achievements in there too, which, by the way, we actually love.
Crysis 2 is a sterling follow-up to the benchmark setting original from Crytek, boasting an epic campaign in terms of scenarios and mayhem, and a multiplayer arena that is satisfying as long as you can get over the anti-newbie barrier. Perhaps we expected more of the plot itself from Morgan, but you can’t knock the campaign in terms of sheer scale, ambition and flair.