Every now and then a game comes along and raises a bar or two. Whether it’s story writing, graphics or musical scores there’s always a battle to be had to come out on top. This time round Crysis 2 arrives to the arena ready to take on the likes of Uncharted to become the game that people talk about keenly when that “which game has the best graphics” debate crops up again. And it’s a fight that Crytek’s latest title isn’t going to back out of in a hurry.
The original Crysis was such a visual powerhouse it was often used as a PC benchmarking tool to determine the speed and quality of graphics cards and processors. The possibility of seeing a Crysis game on a console seemed less likely than Wayne Rooney winning a beauty contest, but sure enough it’s exactly what we’ve got. Not only that, but in a saturated FPS market there’s actually enough to be had to make Crysis 2 stand out from the crowd.
The story revolves around Alcatraz, a soldier who finds himself strapped into a nanosuit after being found close to death. For much of the game the fact you’re playing as this guy doesn’t really make any difference; everyone seems to assume the bloke in the suit is the one who found you half-dead and it quickly becomes apparent that Crysis doesn’t really focus on the man. No, what’s important here is the nanosuit itself and the fact that every member of an opposing military group seems to want to get hold of it. And it’s easy to see why – while you’re strapped in you feel like a Superman. Tapping one shoulder button clokes you and anything you’re holding, making you totally invisible to the enemy. Pressing the other alters the surface of the suit, giving you the ability to deflect massive amounts of damage. Both abilities, as well as powerful melee attacks and super-high jumps, use up the suit’s supply of energy and limit your use of the powers until you give it chance to recharge.
It’s surprising just how well this works. One minute you’re dashing head-on into a hail of bullets and grenades, ready to take on anything that’s thrown at you and the next you’re a silent, invisible and deadly enemy that would give Snake a run for his money. The tactical possibilities are immense and give you a world of possible routes through the game, but you’ll find you need to employ each and every one of your available tools if you’re going to make it through the game in one piece. Yes you can choose how you approach each situation, but no one method will be consistently successful. It makes such a great change from your usual FPS title where the idea of an alternative strategy is ducking behind a crate instead of a barrel. Alongside this is your tactical visor, showing you possible tactics ahead and letting you know where to head if you want to sneak past guards or just grab some grenades to make a bit more noise. Despite the linear route through the game, you very much choose how you move along the path.
Meanwhile, New York is crumbling around you, ravaged by alien invasion and huge explosive battles. The way that buildings break apart, glass shatters and sparking cables hang from ceilings is nothing short of fantastic. Earlier I suggested the this game is something graphically special, and this is exactly why. It’s not so much how things look, or the way your surrounds appear when they’re stationary, it’s how everything moves, changes, and interacts. Hide behind a pillar and gunfire will chip away at the concrete until your perfect hiding spot is nothing more than a destroyed decoration; find yourself in thick dust after a building has collapsed and you’ll need to fire up your thermal view to pick out your enemies. Everything comes together so flawlessly and feels so real it’s impossible to fully appreciate it without experiencing it yourself. Screenshots don’t even tell half the story, you need to see it move, feel it move.
Enemies always make or break a FPS, and Crytek have done a great job with the AI of those hunting you down. You’ll hear opposing squads barking instructions to each other when they spot you and move as a team to flank and surround you. I got caught out on more than one occasion by someone approaching quietly from behind me or sneaking out of a building that I’d passed without noticing them. There are odd moments where you’ll find your enemies frozen solid or running into a wall, but these moments don’t come around too often. You’re forever on your toes though, and just as you feel like you can stop and take a deep breath you remember that you’re probably not all that safe after all; someone somewhere is looking for you. Always. This makes things incredibly tense, especially considering checkpoints are some distance apart – this in itself causes issues when you battle through a tough sequence only to get caught out and have to go back and do the whole sequence again. I stopped once or twice out of frustration which is a shame, but I always wanted to go back and try again shortly afterwards so it’s not enough to put you off.
All of this visual and tactical tastiness carries over into the multiplayer scene, and despite pre-release concerns that cloaking and extra armour would make online life a lottery it actually makes matches far more nervous and skilful. To inject the old XP system with a bit of novelty you earn Power, Stealth and Armour XP depending on how you use your suit during the match. You can also earn upgrades to your weapons which gives the standard reward to concentrating on a single gun, but at the same time leaves inexperienced players with a sizeable disadvantage when first playing in an open lobby. Our enjoyment of the online mode was cut short by the current PSN troubles, but what was experienced was good fun and pretty intense and something I’ll definitely be going back to when the network is back online, even despite not being convinced by its lastability.
All things considered Crysis 2 leads the way for the current generation of FPS titles. The nanosuit capabilities give you something extra to think about and a much more tactical edge to your gameplay and the story does its job, even if it isn’t ground breaking. The (generally) great AI make you constantly think about your tactics, and the visuals? Brilliant. Naughty Dog have definitely got their work cut out if they want Uncharted 3 to get their crown back for graphical realism. If you’re bored of standard shooters, and developers trying to be original simply by changing the country the latest war is taking place, Crysis 2 is very much worth a look. It’s a genuinely great game, and with a little patch for the wonky bits it could be even better.