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TVG gets nano-suited up by the good folks at Crytek for a juicy hands-on with Crysis 2's multiplayer...
It's the end of the world again. Aliens have crash landed in New York and committed their usual cultural faux pas - kicking the shit out of everyone and smashing up buildings. I don't know why aliens are always so angry to be honest, perhaps they weren't breast-fed or something. I suppose it's possible that games just haven't matured enough as a medium to explore the more nuanced facets of human emotional experience beyond raw primal aggression; or perhaps we as gamers simply aren't yet ready to explore them. Sometimes though, I wish games would just deal with normal everyday situations, like realising you've forgotten to buy a pint of milk and having to rush back to the shops before they close, or needing a wee really badly when you've locked yourself out of the house - quotidian issues that resonate with the human condition, sort of like Neighbours before it moved to Channel Five and started having gang-bangs and murders every week. Frankly though, only a simpleton would play a console FPS for the story and this is a multiplayer preview anyway, so who cares? Only a maniac would play multiplayer for the story.
The central gameplay conceit and unique selling point of Crysis 2 is that you can dynamically tweak your play-style on the fly through a range of upgradeable 'nano-suit' modules. At the heart of the system are two core abilities: a shield, which gung-ho players can activate to help diminish damage, and an invisibility cloak, which clandestine types can utilise to blindside unsuspecting opponents with devastating results. The real beauty of the system lies in the fluidity with which you can switch between these modes in response to the circumstances of battle; cloak around a corner for a melee kill on an unwary adversary, and then flip into shield mode when you're spotted by his team-mate. In a concession to balance, you always de-cloak when firing a shot, and a rechargeable energy bar ticks down when you activate either mode, to encourage tactical deployment of the abilities.
A stage set in the devastated streets of a post-apocalyptic Manhattan showed off the 'verticality' of the map design in the game. Press jump while next to a high wall or below a precipitous ledge and you launch up to grab hold and clamber over it without breaking your stride. Leaping up several storeys into a car park to find the perfect cloaked sniper hole is fairly effortless once you get used to it, but you do have to develop a sense for what the game will allow, and it doesn't always work as intuitively as you expect at first. At one point, while trying to jump atop a lorry positioned astride a high platform, the game would only launch me up to the platform's edge (which was un-grabbable), leaving it frustratingly out of reach.
The game mode for this map was 'Crash Site', in which you have to capture alien pod drop-off points and defend them against the opposing team. New pods periodically spawn on the map and your team has to scramble to secure them before your adversaries. The nano-suit abilities present a range of tactical options in defence here; you can stand your ground with shields activated to mitigate the damage from a surprise attack, or position cloaked snipers at nearby vantage points to ambush potential assailants. Sentry guns dotted around the map can then be picked up and used as mobile heavy machine guns to clear out captured areas at the cost of massively reduced movement and consequent vulnerability to cloaked attacks from the rear.
Cloaking is great fun. Playing 'Team Instant Action' (Team Deathmatch) in a crumbling office block, I selected the 'Defence' class and loaded out with a shotgun and flash bangs. There's a great pleasure to be had in spotting an oblivious opponent, cloaking, and then sneaking up and unloading a point-blank shotgun blast in their face, Predator-style. You do have to be careful that they don't spot your faint shimmering outline first though, as the delay between un-cloaking and shooting leaves you temporarily defenceless and vulnerable to pre-emptive attack. It's always fun to be the predator, but not so much to be the prey, especially when you're killed out of the blue. Presumably some of the unlockable 'vision modules' for the nano-suit provide further counter-measures against cloaked opponents - an infra-red viewing mode appeared in the multiplayer launch footage which might potentially be designed to detect cloaking players.
The perks that unlock as you progress are a reflection of your personal play-style. Stealthy players will gain nano-suit modules that facilitate cloak-and-dagger tactics, while those who favour the shield will accrue abilities geared towards more direct methods of attack. There is the danger that this could initially pigeon-hole players, and undermine the fluid style-switching mechanic at the core of the gameplay, but presumably all perks are eventually available to each player over the course of the 80 rank (and 80 hour) levelling system.
Crytek UK (nee Free Radical) have deployed a 70-strong team to develop the multiplayer of Crysis 2, in what amounts to yet another EA franchise relaunch taking aim at the mighty CoD behemoth. The original Crysis was targeted exclusively at hardcore PC gamers and, although the sequel will be available for PC, EA is quite openly lining up its sights on the lucrative console FPS market. Surprisingly, for a series that is defined by graphical excellence, the Xbox 360 multiplayer demo at EA's recent Winter Showcase was a markedly jagged and grainy experience; somewhat like playing through a coarse sieve. Having said that, the build on display was four months old (representing a game nine months from release) so it's likely a great deal of polishing will occur before the game's launch next March, and as such it would be unfair to draw any significant conclusions about the visuals that were on display at the event.
The nano-suit abilities in Crysis 2 have the potential to mark it out as something unique amongst the current FPS throng, and Crytek will be unveiling more maps and game modes over the coming months. In the meantime, check out our impressions of the single-player campaign from earlier in the year.