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Crysis 2 in Review (360 Version)

Crysis 2, Crytek’s follow-up to their 2007 graphics card-melter is both a technical achievement as well as an amazing piece of gameplay design that boasts a level of tactical and exploratory freedom uncommon among post-Call of Duty shooters. While playing through the game, I almost felt as if the German developers took out a sheet of paper, wrote “What’s Wrong with First Person Shooters Today” and made a checklist of things to avoid in their game and used that as a design document. The result is a truly spectacular example of the genre that may not always hit the level of perfection strived for or the level of innovation aimed at, but it remains a thrilling and forward-thinking game at a time when the genre is desperate need of new direction.

Ironically Crysis 2 moves forward by looking backward, offering a return to the free-roaming, more open-ended gameplay of earlier shooters, due most likely to the developer’s roots as a PC developer. Unlike the current shooter model which is focused on extremely rigid, linear progression with Hogan’s Alley-like shooting segments bookended by set pieces, quicktime events, or cutscenes, the game presents the player with a tactical situation and lets them decide how they want to approach it. At several points during the campaign, you’ll come across observation points and the suit’s inhuman, internal voice will announce that options are available. Flip on the tactical visor, and you can survey the situation, marking enemies on patrol or setting waypoints for optional objectives. These objectives are classified by their utility- “Snipe”, “Destroy”, “Avoid”, “Resupply”, and so forth.

A plan of attack might mean that you go into stealth mode and sneak around, using silenced weapons for a low-profile assault. Or you might tag a climbable ledge which leads to a mounted heavy machine gun. If you’re feeling tough you can toggle the Maximum Armor boost and go in with guns blazing. On a single playthrough, it’s entirely possible to completely miss areas of each section of the game simply by bypassing them based on your decisions.

This kind of freedom can be exhilarating. There was one point early in the game where I was trying to make it into this waterfront lab. I assumed that an invisible wall would stop me from jumping off a pier and swimming around to flank the guards. But I was able to do exactly that, after trying a couple of other unsuccessful approaches. Be warned that on the console version, at least, that the checkpointing can sometimes mean that you’ll have to replay ten or fifteen minute sections if your plan goes awry. It’s usually worth it though. The thrill of overcoming the odds and besting difficult situations feels empowering and is always exciting in a way that simply shooting bad guys is not.

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The Nanosuit, with its upgradable abilities and super-human advantages, is key in creating this sense of freedom and power. Much like Arkham Asylum’s conveyance of empowerment and prowess, the suit makes the player feel like a total badass and learning to use its tools effectively is a chief gameplay concept. The abilities include some really neat concepts like a device that traces bullet paths so you can determine where an enemy is and a unit that tracks enemy walking paths. There are four upgrade categories with three selections each, and it’s entirely up to the player as to which items to purchase and equip throughout the game. The suit’s energy level is a constant reminder that power is not limitless and managing resources wisely is a critical directive.

Unlike other shooters where you may often feel like a pair of hands and a gun on a roller skate, in Crysis 2 the player is always aware of their presence in the world as a guy in a super-powered suit of armor. I’m reminded of Metroid Prime and how simple effects like the reflection of Samus’ face in the visor put the player squarely in the game as a participant and not an observer. The game never breaks the illusion- outside of a standard pause menu, all upgrading and cut scenes are presented from the player’s in-helmet viewpoint. This really sells the suit’s power as well as its impact on the game world particularly when the suit breaks down or control is taken away from the player.

As for the game world, there has never been a better depiction of New York City in gaming, period. This is also one of the major reasons why I am head over heels in love with this game, because I love Manhattan. No, they’ve not gone so far as to render a Duane Reade on every corner and I still can’t find a Ray’s anywhere, but Crytek has completely nailed the look, feel, and most importantly the scope of the city. The architecture, which mixes old with new, is dead on and I don’t know that I’ve ever played a game in an urban setting where I’ve felt like the buildings around me were literally skyscrapers built to scale. Parks, subways, churches, convenience stores, office buildings, and other locations provide more variety than you might expect.

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As beautifully as New York is rendered, what is perhaps more amazing is how fabulously Crytek has destroyed it. The vistas of Armageddon are sometimes breathtaking, with city streets crumbling into subterranean tunnels and skyscrapers collapsing into areas you’ve just passed through. In one level, a multi-level freeway collapses around you leading into a spectacular firefight in a cloud of dust. I’ve been truly blown away time and time again by the sheer scale of the game. There is also a definite sense of size and place.

The work done with Cryengine 3 that enables all of this is truly remarkable, and reports that this is the best looking game yet might be hyperbolic, but they’re not that far from the truth. I don’t have an ultra-high end PC so I can’t comment on that version’s visuals, but I’m stunned at the results the team has accomplished on the aging 360 hardware. Metals gleam, light refracts, and water actually looks like water instead of a viscous gel for a change. Fire and smoke are photorealistic and completely 3D- a very arresting effect when you see a jet of flame pouring out of a broken gas line.

The game seems to run- and don’t quote me on this- around 24 FPS. That may cause some to panic, but bear in mind that feature films shot on film stock are 24 FPS. Crytek has wisely added a slight grain effect coupled with some judicious blurring and the result is actually a very filmic look. It may not be the extremely high resolution, crystalline sheen that a PC running full-bore might be able to produce, but its effective and it looks great on a 1080p television.

With that said, it is clear that compromises were made and you can practically hear the console’s GPU protesting during some sequences. Pop-in is a sometimes major issue. There was one point where a barrier popped in right in front of me, and there are other times when textures are very delayed in loading, thus breaking the game’s immersion. There are also some glitches, the most obvious occurring when enemies will caught in objects or sometimes walk straight through them.

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As for the story, it’s somewhat confusing and not particularly great compared to other story-focused shooters but it’s also several cuts above the usual juvenile Bungie or Infinity Ward/Treyarch offerings. Enemies aren’t terribly diverse and it plows the same commandos/aliens plot that Half-Life and other games have mined to great success so it’s hardly groundbreaking in that regard. Despite its near-miss in the storytelling department, there is a compelling twist present given the events of the game and what happens to its central character. But truth told the concept of fighting through a ravaging Manhattan is sometimes enough to drive the uniformly excellent game play so it’s not a tremendous fault.

Multiplayer is outstanding. Just as the suit empowers the player in the campaign, it also imparts a sense of ability, agility, and prowess in the online game. It combines the more acrobatic, looser feel of Halo with the on-the-ground heft of Killzone but with the addition of tons of upgrades and unlocks that offer limitless loadout options. Game modes are fairly standard with objective-based options offering the best combination of action, teamwork, and strategy. I wasn’t impressed by the early multiplayer demos, but after playing the full version it has become my online shooter of choice. It’s just so well done, and the scoring and reward system is among the best on the market.

After the disaster that was Homefront, I was sure that I would be returning to Killzone 3 but after playing Crysis 2, my career in that game has been put on hiatus. Between the replayable and frequently stunning campaign gameplay and the longevity promised by the extremely fun multiplayer, it has become the top shooter on my stack of games edging out last year’s masterful Metro 2033 only by virtue of greater replayability. It’s made me wish that it was Crysis 3 that the punters will be scrambling for come November instead of whatever Call of Duty game comes next. But I’d really rather see Crytek take another couple of years to work and grace our next-generation consoles with the kind of future game that this one seems to point the way toward.

Bill Abner

Bill has been writing about games for the past 16 years for such outlets as Computer Games Magazine, GameSpy, The Escapist, GameShark, and Crispy Gamer. He will continue to do so until his wife tells him to get a real job.

14 thoughts to “Crysis 2 in Review (360 Version)”

  1. Metro 2033 was brilliant, and it was my favorite game of 2010. Yes, it’s a little raw in spots, but it’s also more alive and creative than anything Bungie has released since the first Halo and it’s at least as good as either of the Bioshock games. I like it better than Half-Life 2, as was documented on one of the Jumping the Shark podcasts where I squared off against Chick on it.

    It’s a smart game, and most of the “issues” I’ve seen people raise with it are deliberate design and stylistic choices. If you’re not down with those, then yeah, you’re not going to be down with the game.

    Crysis 2 shares with Metro 2033 that sense of freedom where you’re given a tactical situation with limited resources and it’s up to you to solve it, and there is no set solution. This is a very different concept than what most FPS campaigns offer these days.

    Crysis 2 is definitely more polished and mainstream, if that’s what you’re looking for.

  2. Aaaaand, now I want to play both Metro 2033 AND Crysis 2.

    As a side note, this kind of freedom in an FPS is the kind of thing I hope to see in the new Deus Ex game. Creating open environments is the first step to allowing multiple paths through a game, and I hope they can pull it off.

    It’d be really nice if this open-environment thing becomes a trend in the FPS genre. I’ve had enough hallways in the past decade, for sure.

  3. I’m enjoying it so far- but I have issues with the stealth. It makes me feel like I’m doing it wrong, but lets say I have stealth on and run to a wall behind an enemy. I hide behind the wall where I’m not in anyone’s line of sight, then I turn off stealth to regain my energy meter- and everyone starts shooting at me. It feels like enemies consistently see me when they shouldn’t. Other than that, fun game.

  4. Despite the fact that this game is clearly a triple A title, it seems like a sleeper hit. Everyone seems pretty stunned that the game is as good as it is.

    It’s definitely been bumped to “must have” status on my list.

  5. however…

    I disagree that it was a good game [i]on a console.[/i] To me 3 things that you should never do in a console FPS are:

    1. Make 90% of your ammo weak to the point of needing 3 head shots to kill an enemy on normal difficulty.

    2. Use a game mechanic which involves obscuring your view of the world with a face mask that gets progressively harder to see through as the fuel runs down.

    3. Include enemies that swarm you and cause you to have to look down at your feet constantly as you try to fight them off. That may work with a mouse. But when using a controller it is extremely annoying. Tickers in Gears of War would violate this rule if Gears were a 1st person game.

    I gave up in frustration on the 360 version when I could not get Miller through chapter 6 without him dieing and having to reload 20 times.

    I finally did play it through to the end on my PC earlier this year after getting it cheap on Steam. Is Metro 2033 as good as the two Bioshocks and better than Half Life 2? No way.

    All I will say is that I hope Crysis 2 is a better console FPS than Metro 2033 is.

  6. I have been looking for a new shooter and my opinions seem to be pretty much in line with most of yours. I just started a new job where I can listen to a mp3 player I have been going through the backlog of the podcast. After reading this though I am surely going to pick Crysis up, and then possibly take on the fight of trying to protect Vladimir. I already have punched the pope, I think Vlad is really the next step.

  7. Graphically, Crysis (the original) is far better than Crysis 2 with high resolution textures, with huge maps. The beauty of the first game was that you were given options to adjust textures, motion blur, physics, shaders, etc.

    Anyway Crysis 2 is a gorgeous, meticulously crafted shooter that tells a great story about the fight for survival of the human race. I bought it and I recommend you do the same no matter what platform you have.

    [blog]: Space Strategy Games Sector

  8. While Crysis 2 got a ton of things right, it got a few simple things VERY wrong.

    A minor gripe is issues with the physical world around you. There are constant ledges (both single and multiplayer) that you can’t grab on to and Crysis gives no indication as to what those ledges are. The ground pound ability is a joke and only works about 50% of the time. Why have it in the game?

    The AI in Crysis 2 is ok when it works and awful when it doesn’t. For most firefights, the AI will stand in place and shoot at the enemy. Once every 10-20 foes, an enemy’s programming will bug out, and he’ll just walk into a wall into you kill him. It’s acceptable that it’s in the game, but not that often. It’s pitiful.

    The really bad part of Crysis 2 is its pacing. Yes, it’s amazing that they give you an open world for every fight. However, here’s how those fights go. Bottleneck. Opens to an area with around 8 enemies. Kill those 8 enemies (on higher difficulties with only stealth). Proceed to the next bottleneck. Rinse and repeat FOR HOURS. The game gives you the illusion of free will, but when you use up every form of that free will in the first 3 fights, it removes the illusion. The pacing in the game is awful. You bash Halo many times in this article, but Halo (and just about any simple shooter this generation) is able to get pacing correct and Crysis isn’t. The game gets stale quickly and only continues along those lines after you realize it.

    I dunno, the game is well made, and when people hype Crysis 2, they hit every great portion correctly. It just baffles me that people can have blinders up for all of the things that Crysis 2 does VERY wrong.

  9. There’s definitely some glitchy, inconsistent elements. But I felt like it was so overwhelmingly great, that a lot of that stuff you mentioned doesn’t bother me. As far as the physical world stuff, the main problem I had was grabbing guys and then throwing them- it always looked screwed up, and then you’d just throw them through a wall.

    As for the ledges, I didn’t mind that. I liked that it didn’t do the whole glowing “jump here” thing. It encouraged exploration and discovery, and I felt like after a while it was easy to determine where you could jump.

    The AI is weird, no doubt. Sometimes it’s freaking ruthless. Other times, it’s unbelievably glitchy. There’s a part toward the end where it was just tearing me to pieces (on Veteran), L-tagging the shit out of me everywhere I went and hunting me down. But then there’s been a few times where I’ve pretty much bum rushed guys and came through.

    Pacing…I didn’t have an issue here at all, other than the fact that game is REALLY long! I was kind of stunned at how long it is. It’s not a problem, really, I just didn’t expect to be playing the campaign for two weeks. As for the arena-hallway-arena format…well, it’s not an open world game, and I think this works. This is an OLD gaming convention that goes back to Metroid, really. I don’t think you use up all the free will, so to speak- tactical situations change. But it does remain a shooter, and the core gameplay is the same throughout.

    I didn’t bash Halo- I think you’ll find that I’m a lot more charitable toward Halo than other writers working outside of the big sites. I loved Reach, had a great time with it…but I do think that the writing in every single one of the games is disgraceful. And I thought the pacing in ALL of them has been horrible. Remember that endless slog at the end of the first one, or the boring first third and unbelievably awful last third of the third game?

  10. Whoa, see, I think you missed some of what makes Metro 2033 great.

    1. The point is that most of the ammo you’re using is crappy, handmade reloads- which is why the military grade ammo is at such a premium. In addition, you’re using crappy, broke-down guns that can’t shoot straight or with consistent power. These are stylistic choices. You can’t expect that a pneumatic, hand-pumped sniper rifle that fires ball bearings to act like an AR-15!

    2. This was brilliant, immersive, and evocative. I loved that the mask cracks as it takes damage. Chick called the mask and other elements the game’s “fiddliness”, and praised it. I agree, I think thinks like the mask were a neat choice.

    3. OK, it’s almost not fair for you to bring that part up- I didn’t like that part either, and it was incredibly frustrating (ESPECIALLY on Ranger difficulty). That was the _only_ weak segment of the game, and yes, I agree it was poorly concieved.

    Definitely better than Half-Life 2!

  11. I think you might be doing it a little wrong. You’ve got to remember that the stealth only obscures direct vision. If you’re close enough, they can still see you- and HEAR you. The stealth meter seems to gauge a total awareness of presence. Also, the AI does seem to remember roughly where you were and they will pursue you if they see you duck behind a wall, and don’t forget that you’re not actually completely invisible, as in the MP game.

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