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Over three years after their first title, Far Cry, Crytek are back to wow us all once again...
- Visually stunning tropical environment.
- Brilliant non-linear FPS gameplay.
- Deep multiplayer modes.
- A very disapointing final act.
- You'll need to sell a kidney to run it.
- Very occasional glitching/questionable AI.
Consider this: can you think of any games developer, other than Crytek, with such a good reputation after developing just one game? It's hard, isn't it? So successful and critically acclaimed was their first game - 2004's Far Cry - that the Frankfurt based team has had some quite lofty expectations forced upon them for Crysis. While Far Cry itself saw many Ubisoft ports onto the consoles, the original version (designed for the most discerning of PC shooter fans) has stood the test of time as a revolutionary FPS. Its mix of non-linear level progression and the freedom to attack a set-piece from whichever angle you choose, has been difficult for developers to replicate ever since.
Understandably, PC purists have been chomping at the bit to get their hands on Crysis and now the wait is over. But has it been worth it? Well, the answer to this is mainly yes, but also a few cautionary noes. Crytek has certainly not distanced itself from its first title with Crysis, as the gameplay style takes on a very similar framework to Far Cry. Take, for example, the surroundings: a Philippine island (Crysis) and a Micronesian archipelago (Far Cry). The tropical surroundings take on a very similar floral/arboreal formula, although Crysis' are significantly more stunning (more on that later).
The game's plot also takes on similar twists and turns. You play as Jake Dunn (who's codenamed 'Nomad' for obvious allegorical reasons) in the not too distant future (2020). You are part of the US Delta Force (Special Ops.) and the game starts with a HALO jump onto the island via a big bird (in other words, you do a scary parachute jump from a large plane). Anyway, you're there because some archaeologists found something a bit weird; then they went missing and now the North Korean's are swarming around the place like flies on, err, dung.
You walk around the island for a bit, shooting the odd North Korean/disrupting their communications/blowing up their war ships. While you're doing this, your fellow Delta Force team members seem to acquire the uncanny knack of being kidnapped by large, metallic octopus thingies. They look kind of like the sentinel robots from The Matrix. Either way, everything smells a bit funky and suspicious. Then you come to a huge mountain which looks a bit, well, odd. This leads to 'Nomad' getting up close and personal with the aliens that the archaeologists unwittingly unearthed and the North Koreans want to harness. From there on out, everything gets a bit cold (literally).
So, that's the plot line in a nutshell. One thing that definitely isn't like Far Cry, though, is the top secret nanosuits that the lucky Delta Force team have. They make soldiers look slightly like bizarre insect bipeds, but they also harness awesome powers. Perhaps the coolest of its super powers is the Predator-esque invisibility power. For as long as your nanosuit energy store will allow you, you can blend into your surroundings like a chameleon. If you move about or fire a weapon, though, your energy stores will deplete faster (instantly in the case of firing a weapon). This creates a nicely balanced stealth feature and its oodles of fun to stand still and watch a soldier walk towards you, unawares of the bullet that's about to be put between his eyes.
The other three abilities are strength, armour and speed. Armour is your bog-standard ability and should be on in any open fire-fight as it effectively supplies body armour with the extra energy stores. Strength allows you to jump higher and beat down enemies more effectively, while your super speed ability allows you to move like The Flash for short periods (disorientating enemy NPCs in the process). All of the nanosuit's powers are finely balanced in a way that panders to the game's set-pieces, which have been specifically designed to complement the nanosuit perfectly. In short, it's a lot of fun. At one point you even come across North Koreans who strangely possess the suit and they really are quite hard to take down. Watching them leap on top of tall objects brings back memories of those pesky Velociraptors in Jurassic Park.
Nanosuits aside for a moment; I'm sure you're all itching to hear about the level layouts. Much like with Far Cry, while you are essentially shepherded along a line of linear objectives and environments, the levels are so vast and open that it really does provide a great deal of freedom. What's more, the physics of Crytek's Cry Engine 2 are so advanced that all the objects, vehicles and environments add to this illusion of freedom due to the wide variety of ways you can interact with them (just try shooting down a palm tree, for example). The result is a game which allows you to attack set-pieces from a myriad of different angles in a number of different ways. You'll often ask yourself, 'Should I chuck some grenades and fire some missiles at that oncoming North Korean patrol? Or try and get past without them seeing me by making well timed invisible dashes between rocks?' Both choices are fun, so I suggest a hefty serving of each.
We were relieved to find out that the AI was up to scratch. When we went out to Frankfurt for a day's worth of hands-on play in October, one of our slight worries was that the enemy AI was a little bit buggy. Thankfully, the final stint of development seems to have ironed out most of these niggles successfully. You'll find that enemy NPCs will track you down resourcefully, move on your position aggressively and find cover convincingly in an all around challenging manner. There is the odd glitch from time to time and very occasionally enemies will fail to realise you're right in front of them, but these events are few and far between. These occasional abnormalities are inevitable in such a vast and heavily unscripted game world in any case.
As you'd expect from Crytek, the gunplay is spot-on. The usual weapons are on offer: missile launchers, frag grenades, assault rifles, SMGs, shotguns, weird and heavy alien mini-guns etc. And they've all been lovingly recreated with their own strengths and weaknesses. There are also a wide variety of things to shoot at from tanks and helicopters, to speedboats and super-huge aliens (much later on). It certainly keeps you on your toes and, for the first six missions at least, you won't find that you tire of the weaponry related challenges that befall you.
Speaking of these vehicles, you can commandeer pretty much anything that you can walk up to. That means boats, humvees, tanks and surface to air units. However, while you can alternate positions in these vehicles using the number keys, you'll find that you very rarely move out of the driving seat (which you can usually shoot from) because Crysis really isn't a squad based shooter. Most of the game's progression is solitary as your crew members are picked off very early on and you're left to fend for yourself. But this isn't a criticism by any stretch of the imagination. With increasing numbers of squad shooters on the market days, we do long for the classic solitary shooter experience when we get the chance.
Much like with Far Cry, it'll be the first half of the game that gamers will remember most fondly, before Jack Carver got all mutinogenic and stuff. The first six missions of Crysis' 11 consist mainly of conventional warfare with the North Koreans, and it's here that you'll find the FPS set-pieces created by master craftsman. When you start getting tangled up with aliens the game just becomes a very run-of-the-mill FPS. It's made all the more unbearable by the fact that it's so anti-climactic after six missions of sheer brilliance.
The seventh mission, Core, sees you venture into the alien mountain where you quickly find that there's no apparent gravity and you're effectively weightless. In this mission, there's very little gun action and you're left to simply chase after ghoulish looking aliens in an attempt to strangle them. Crytek seems to have attempted to make the Core seem like a labyrinth with a smattering of puzzles throughout. However, it is in reality a frustrating exercise of going from one large weightless room to another, before eventually finding the exit. The resulting gameplay is really quite dull and monotonous.
Later levels see you exit back into your frozen surroundings (apparently xenoformed by the aliens), finding your commanding officer and returning to a US military installation. All the while, though, you're simply hit with wave after wave of the same irritating aliens who you have to fire at with annoying diligence before they stop bugging you. These sections exhibit a complete lack of the tactics and stealth that was required in earlier missions and the result is a very formulaic shooter experience. It's a bit like going from Call of Duty 4 to Clive Barker's Jericho in the space of a couple of levels, which is so very disappointing.
Nevertheless, the multiplayer game will regale you after the disappointment of the campaign's final act. 32 players can take part in two separate game modes: a regular 'Instant Action' deathmatch and one intriguingly called 'Power Struggle'. The latter is certainly worth the most attention as it seems Crytek has managed to fit a stripped down version of games such as Enemy Territory: Quake Wars or the Battlefield series into Crysis. 'Power Struggle' offers the same base orientated gameplay on large multiplayer maps that such online shooters do and also throws in a few objectives that have to be completed in order for a team to win. These include gaining control of alien crash sites to harness weaponry such as the freeze gun (which does exactly what its name suggests), as well as taking over military factories for the right to use vehicles such as the singularity tank (which eases the path to one of the winning conditions - destroying the enemies base).
It really is quite staggering that Crytek has managed to provide such depth in a multiplayer mode, particularly as Crysis is essentially a single-player campaign orientated shooter. This certainly increases the game's content quite significantly. As for the 'Instant Action' mode, it's very much the classic every man for himself affair. As a result, the nanosuit comes into play quite a lot and you'll find that certain players will utilise the suit quite differently depending on their particular approach and style.
So these multiplayer modes certainly don't do the game's longevity scores any harm, that's for sure. Which reminds me: the single-player campaign really is epic for an FPS game. An average length for an FPS title is perhaps 12 hours. Playing on normal difficulty settings, where the experience is considerably harder than a mere walk-through and some real patience is required, we estimate that there's a good 20-25 hours of game-time on offer. As I mentioned, a significant part of this is the lacklustre last act which feels a bit like padding at times. But, nevertheless, such an extensive single-player game is quite impressive.
Graphically, Crysis really is second to none at the moment (which you'd expect given that you'll need a beast of a machine to run it). The lush tropical island setting is eye-wateringly beautiful at times. What's more, visual strong points such as the detailed foliage and stunning water effects, work in conjunction with the game's impressive physics in certain ways. For example, bushes will sway in the wind realistically and rickety bridges will splinter apart under fire, to produce what is essentially a very visually convincing game-world. In fact, it's so convincing that when you come across certain objects on the island that look a bit more like they've come out of any other shooter (such as a military vehicle, for example), it kind of shatters the illusion.
But, overall, Crysis is arguably the first game to grab DX10 software by the scruff of the neck and pound it for all its worth. Evident in the stunning vistas throughout the island; glorious lighting effects that bounce off the ocean's surface and reflect convincingly off palm tree leaves; a dizzyingly realistic motion-blur effect which calls for a steady hand and, finally, omnipresent crisp textures throughout the game world.
Finally, the sound won't disappoint and basically provides a good auditory experience overall. Both the musical score and voice-overs are well put together for the most part, although we were slightly confused by North Koreans who decided to shout at each other in English.
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