Sunday, April 24, 2011

Review: Crysis 2

“Welcome to the future, son, welcome to the war”

Even staunch console gamers will be vaguely aware of the supercomputer-style technical specs required if your PC was to stand the remotest chance of running the original Crysis. Crytek themselves have even given a cheeky nod towards Crysis 2’s uber-powered predecessor. One of the first achievements you’ll unlock humours the now infamous question in PC gaming circles - “Can it run Crysis?”.

Thankfully, this time around, the experience isn’t strictly reserved for those with futuristically advanced hardware. With the help of the Cryengine 3, console players now get the chance to adorn the multipurpose nanosuit, without powering down the national grid in the process.

Let’s make this perfectly clear from the off, although the narrative works efficiently and the scripting and voice acting are perfectly up to scratch, this game is all about the aforementioned nanosuit. What starts as a fairly confusing sci-fi storyline, soon winds its way into familiar ‘repel the alien invasion’ territory. You’re not out in the sticks anymore. This is the urban jungle, and it's a crippled and crumbling New York City that needs saving.

As the faceless protagonist, Alcatraz, you’ll predominantly be taking orders from various sources of authority (a ‘should I trust them? Mmm, probably not’ mindset will be in play perpetually) and carrying them out. Get from point A to B and kill everything in-between will be the most common occurrence here. Now although it sounds like your standard cookie-cutter FPS procedure, thanks to the nanosuit, Crysis 2 feels different enough to affirm its own identity.

The suit comes equipped with four modes that subsequently constitute your tactical options. Stealth, armour, nanovision (read - thermal imaging) and sprinting/jumping. Where your standard Call of Duty affair would revolve around the ‘duck and cover’ mechanic and little else, Crysis 2 is promoting a multi-tactical approach. All of the abilities mentioned require a certain amount suit power to effectuate, meaning that you’ll have to pick and choose the most beneficial moments to utilize them.

While stealth will install a temporary cloak, it will drain much of the suit’s power whilst on the move. This is good for darting from place to place and performing silent kills, but the swift power drain means it has its obvious disadvantages when caught in the open. Armour sets up a hardened shell around Alcatraz, meaning that normally lethal hails of bullets bounce off for as long as the mode remains powered up. A sort of walking tank if you will.

Sprinting and large suit-driven jumps are beautifully smooth and fluid. This results in a true feeling of futuristic empowerment. Jumping from rooftop to rooftop and shifting in and out of cloak mode to assassinate enemies is where Crysis 2 really lives up to its billing; this is where it plays to its strengths and pulls it off with a seemingly effortless ease.

As you move through the game you’ll gain access to various suit upgrades that elaborate on its base traits. This could be reduced sound from your footsteps in stealth mode or taking less damage from falls while employing the armoured shell. Combine this with a decent (if a little unambitious) arsenal of guns and Crysis 2 embodies its “be the weapon” tagline.

Of course all this is well and good, but if your limited to narrow corridors and tight spaces all the time, having all these tactical options is somewhat redundant. Thankfully, in the same vein as its predecessor, Crysis 2’s set-pieces predominantly take place in open environments. This means that although you’ll still be trying to get from here to there, there’s a multitude of routes to take to your destination. Wade headlong into the alien hordes all guns blazing, or take a quieter, conspicuous route through the sewer tunnels?

Although this is welcome approach considering the often linear level design of FPS’s, it can be detrimental to the experience in some cases. It’s often far to simple to stealth your way through large enemy infested sections. This still requires a certain amount of skill, but it’s a boring method which by and large goes unpunished. It means that should you choose to play this way, parts of the game that were intended to be epic Hollywood-style battles are instead bypassed fairy easily without penalty.

There are some scenarios where you’ll have no choice but to take out your enemies (whom are unfortunately rather lacking in variety), but others where the player is allowed to get away scott-free with simply hiding, shuffling on, and reaching their goal. You could call this a design flaw, but it’s certainly not how the game should be played. In fact, you’ll feel that you owe it to yourself to man-up and experience Crysis 2 in the right fashion.

This is largely due to the fact (alongside the enjoyment of experimenting with the nanosuit) that the game looks absolutely phenomenal. The Cryengine 3 pulls no punches and your senses will be constantly bombarded from the outset. Whether it’s huge explosions, vast toppling buildings, lashing rain or beautifully realised lighting effects, Crysis 2 is quite possibly the best looking title out there (at least on console).

The attention to detail is stunning, as you’ll take a virtual tour around the alien-ravaged heart of New York, battling alongside some of the city’s most iconic landmarks. Regrettably there’s a slight lull mid-way through where you’ll be forced into a dark underground section, but it doesn’t last so long as to stagnate the overall campaign. Before long you’ll be up on the streets again and firmly back into jaw-dropping territory.

Crysis 2 does have some other minor niggles. Occasional AI bugs stick out like a sore thumb when they do occur, and the cover system seems a bit like a tacked-on inclusion rather than a genuine gameplay aid. However, if you go about it the right way - playing as to intake the game’s undeniable strengths - the nanosuit-inspired single player is an exhilarating and visually exquisite experience.

And so we move on to the inevitable multiplayer. It’s a fast paced and frenetic affair that turns out to be a real blast. The science fictional nature of the nanosuit, but in the hands of every human player, creates a chaotic battleground, and one that feels different to your run-of-the-mill military shooter. Equipping a cloaking device, sneaking up behind an enemy and unloading a shotgun at point blank range is as grin-inducing as you’d expect.

Just a quick word of warning, though; it may take you a while to get your head around the pathetically weak melee attack, whereas it’s usually a guaranteed one hit kill in other shooters.

Multiplayer effectively forces the excitement of the best adrenaline-fuelled single player moments into a compact, competitive situation. While the base traits of your nanosuit still exist (stealth, armour etc), you’ll be able to gear it up with modules, which are, in more basic terms, perks. This could be carrying an extra ammo clip, scrambling enemy radars, or reducing your suit’s power drain in armour mode.

Whilst this starts off as an exercise in trial and error - mixing and matching modules with contrasting fortunes - you’ll eventually figure out which work most effectively on which maps, giving you a tactical advantage and offering a deeper side to play. The usual multiplayer modes return in all but name (capture the relay instead of capture the flag for example) but shine due to Crysis 2's futuristic slant on proceedings. Unlockables, upgrades, collectibles and customisation options are enough to keep you coming back for more; the sci-fi premise being a sure-fire deal breaker for those who’ve grown disillusioned with more conventional multiplayer frag-fests.

Crysis 2 isn’t the complete package. It borders on greatness but doesn’t quite reach those lofty heights due to minor niggles that could possibly have been avoided. That said, though, it’s still an absolute riot. The nanosuit is the star of the show if utilized to its full potential and the visuals are as close to ‘next-gen’ as we’re likely to see until a new era of systems is finally ushered in. There’s a little room for improvement, undoubtedly, but Crysis 2 is an all round solid shooter with an identity of its own.

*Reviewed on Xbox 360