Posted Wed, Apr 06, 2011 by Ethec
Crysis 2’s predecessor set the graphical bar higher for first-person shooters, both in terms of eye candy and gameplay. In this next title in the series, Nanosuit Prophet returns as an outbreak of the Ceph virus in mid-town Manhattan leads to a full-blown alien invasion. The lengthy campaign takes players on a whirlwind tour of New York City twelve years in the future and embroiled in crisis, and multiplayer offers some interesting twists on online shooter gameplay, but does the game live up to its Empire State Building sized expectations and price point?
In the Venn diagram of first person shooters, there’s four big circles with varying degrees of overlap. There’s cover (Gears of War), stealth (Thief, Assassin’s Creed), unlockables / RPG tendencies (Call of Duty Multiplayer, Team Fortress 2, Borderlands), and ultraviolence (the Dead Space series, Bulletstorm). Each of these mechanics adds a degree of depth to what is essentially you and a weapon versus a map full of brain-addled, utterly predictable enemies. The problem with each of these variations is that once you design a game around any one of them, you can’t escape using it all the time. If every engagement requires you to take cover, for example, the pattern and pacing of gameplay become rush, cover, suppress / assault / toss grenades, cover, rinse, repeat.
Crysis 2, like its predecessor, goes the stealth route. Alcatraz (neé Prophet, from the original) the main character, seldom spends any time teamed up with friendlies, and the game doesn’t offer a co-op mode. Alcatraz often has to fight hoards of enemies on a series of tactics-testing open maps, given the urban environment, and the game’s trademark “nanosuit” is built to hit and quit. Try and slug it out, even in armor mode, is asking for a return to the last checkpoint
For those that didn’t play the original, nanosuit had three modes (stealth, armor, and power – power being the default charge up mod), I easily spent most of my time in action stealthed for fear of slamming headfirst into a charging or lurking enemy. Stealth, properly done, leads to intense moments of sneaking through a gauntlet of enemies, and Crysis 2 has its share of those moments. But, more often than not, I wasn’t sure how many enemies I was actually facing (tripwire spawns made things unpredictable, and not in a good way). As a result the decision to go guns blazing versus stealth often came down to a mental coin flip rather than the result of tactical deliberation.
On the other hand, a few times a level, players can view “tactical options” that advise you to do a ledge grab to set up a sniping position, for example, discover a position observe enemy movements, or explore a corridor that might result in a weapons or ammo cache. Often these tactical points, along with the objectives, wind up to be above or below where you figure they’ll be (a little user-interface guidance would have been handy), but it’s better than no guidance at all. To its credit, however, Crysis 2 never errors on the side of giving you too much information, and combined with the series of open maps, it’s a dusting of choice laid on an essentially linear experience, but it goes much farther than other games of its ilk.
Crysis 2 also dipped its toe into unlockables and RPG-esque collectables end of the pool as well. A set of abilities such as “Air Friction” (controlling where you fall) and “Covert Ops” (muffling the sound of footsteps) are available for purchase with nanobytes, golden clouds of goodness which must be quickly looted from fallen Ceph, the invading alien enemies.
The real game changers – abilities like nano recharge and deflection - couldn’t be unlocked until the final few levels, so there’s a long nanobyte draught in the mid-game where you could forget about these dozen or so unlockable abilities. On the collectables side, each level has a souvenir, flashback, or trademark NYC vehicle. It’s a nice gesture, but stops a bit short, in my opinion: collections don’t influence gameplay by adding stats or nano currency, so there’s little incentive to go out of your way in what’s already a lengthy single-player experience.
The weapons selection in Crysis 2 bogged down in mid-game as well. The game’s heavy hitters – the multiple guided missile launching Swarmer, the gravity-defying L-TAG grenade launcher, the Ceph dissolving Mike, and the ultimate all-occasions badass: the M320a Gauss rifle – for the endgame, and ammo is so precious that you’ll want to save these for the biggest encounters. Some weapons, like the stunning yet low-damage K-Volt, seemed perfectly designed for the largely missing co-op gameplay.
Preferring a narrow but deep pool of weapons, the designers of Crysis 2 offer you plenty of modded weapons (I even saw a silenced Marshall – is a sound-suppressed shotgun even possible?), but the pace of weapon availability just isn’t fulfilling. I completed probably three-quarters of the game with the Ranged Scar, DSG-1 (scoped rifle), and JAW (guided missile) I picked up very early in the game, and never found myself lacking for firepower, but a few more trade-ups along the way would have been welcome.
Finally, the bugs. Getting stuck on the map was bad enough (and happened more than once – especially to AI-controlled enemies as well), but weapons would routinely get stuck on the end of my barrel when swapping to a sidearm. My bullets would bounce off the alternate weapon handy-tack’d to the barrel of my chosen weapon and no amount of fiddling could restore things to normal. Given the paucity of game-saving checkpoints, I lost a lot of progress to game-ending bugs. As for multiplayer, the Crysis 2 team has been prompt in addressing exploits, but I never encountered the permanently armored, permanent-stealthed opponents in the 20 or so ranked matches I played.
But graphics is why most people will buy Crysis 2, and deservedly so. There’s no denying that the game is just as gorgeously cutting edge as its predecessor was, and I personally liked what the game’s environment team did with New York City much more than the jungles and otherworldly interiors of the original. I’d much rather sneak around Wall Street Church with the Liberty Tower soaring majestically in the distance or an alien-altered Central Park than slosh around in a mangrove patch.
Thankfully, time spent in the subway system was kept to a minimum as well – the game’s artists played to the city’s strengths rather than doing a bad remake of Metro 2033. While there are some tech-demo leftovers in C2, like a bunch of essentially useless items like duffle bags and radios that you can grab (and did little more than frustrate me as I highlighted them getting a UI prompt, scanned rooms for enemies)
When something important is happen visually, the game will prompt you to hit a key to watch the action unfold, often waiting a few seconds for you to hit the key. That might be the game’s biggest real innovation, and it’s a welcome one – who doesn’t hate to miss some sturm und drang while they’re sniping a nasty? The beauty of this game isn’t just hype, it’s real, and with Crysis 2 we get to see what CryEngine 3 can do with some large-scale verticality. The enviroments are surpringly moldable and destructible – nothing’s like seeing a skyscraper come sliding into jumping distance just as you’ve run out of battery in smacking distance of a Ceph heavy.
Speaking of lookieloos, the game becomes downright cinematic when a Ceph grunt charges you, complete with tilted camera and visual “shake it off” effects. However, what should look cinematographic - the cutscenes – occasionally pale in comparison to games like the Mass Effect series – character models look cartoonish, wooden, and overdramatized. C2 does best when telling the story using the gameplay and putting the focus on the environment rather than characters. That’s not to say the story is just window dressing – if you can follow the bouncing ball as the adrenaline’s fading, you’ll catch a few nice surprises along the way. Despite the plot dragging a bit in mid-game and more than a little grunt work (no pun intended), everything comes together pretty nicely in the end.
Just about any sound you could think of was modeled acoustically, from weapon noises to the flutter of disturbed pidgeons and the rustle of garbage in the wind (which tricked me more than once into thinking I saw enemy movement). Playing in 5.1 was an absolute treat as dropships whooshed by and skyscrapers tumbled. Best of all was the acoustic polish the nanosuit’s voice received – I never got tired of hearing “Stealth Enabled” or even the more personalized exhortations that occurred once in a while, like “Get up Marine, there’s no time for dying.” In a stealth-based game, hearing footsteps can be a lifesaver, and these are nicely modeled (except the loud chunk-chunk of hearing Alcatraz in armor mode was a little startling at first).
All that said, I have a few major gripes. In addition to tripwire spawns, the game had tripwire voices. You might hear an enemy cry out, “He’s in the security room!” when there simply wasn’t an enemy attached to that voice. In a game where you want to trust your ears as much as your eyes, it’s a nerve rattling problem. Equally nerve rattling is the B horror movie main theme, but the music becomes much more epic as new motifs enhance the track as you play.