Crysis, in case you missed it, was a first person shooter exclusive to the PC. It was a game renowned for two things. The first was it’s graphical capabilities, so advanced that there where no PC’s at the time capable of running it at full detail. The second thing, where the claims made by it’s developer Crytek that piracy hindered sales figures, in spite of it selling more copies than what where originally predicted. Both of these seem to have had a bearing on diminishing the worldwide success that Crytek where clearly aiming for, so it was no real surprise that the sequel went the multi-platform route.
Equally unsurprising, was the reaction to this news by the PC gaming elite who saw Crytek as one of the last bastions of PC only game development. Those vocal few have also been quick to attempt to stick the boot in, spreading forth disparaging comments as to how selling out to the console crowd has resulted in a lacklustre sequel. In actuality, what Crytek have produced does live up to the standards they set three years earlier with Crysis. What made that game good returns here, and in some instances is even improved on. But the observant will be hard pushed not to have noticed the few discrepancies between the two.
Specifically, it’s to do with the change in setting. Switching from the openness of a lush tropical island to the confined inner city streets of New York has reduced the size of the levels. It’s debatable whether this has anything to do with the new improved graphics being unable to render the huge spaces of the original, or is simply because an urban sprawl doesn’t lend itself well to wide open expanses. That freedom of movement, however, remains intact. Crytek know how to do scale, and use every opportunity to hammer home the fact that while you’re in a city, you’re in a huge city.
A big, dilapidated largely destroyed city. There’s no prizes awarded for originality, and this certainly won’t be the first time you’ll have clawed your way through the crumbling rubble of a cityscape beset by alien invaders and corrupt Private Military Companies. Crytek’s design flair remains impeccable throughout though, seemingly taking an enthusiastic glee in rendering each and every facet of this once glorious metropolis in great detail. Never once does it become a chore to wander through, with ever turn of the corner throwing up some huge visual landmark for you to stand in awe of.
Whether you choose to believe it or not, the game retains the high graphical quality of it’s predecessor throughout. The PC version gets the most love in this regard, benefiting from the extra processing power and bombarding the screen with effects that dazzle throughout. The beams of sunlight that glare through the cracks of a partially collapsed skyscraper. The sparks shooting forth from a large explosion or the lense flare or a jet of flame erupting from an exposed gas pipe. Every effect in the game is rendered beautifully, and not once does it let up.
It’s also nice to see that some lessons have been learnt. Crysis 2 is much kinder to older hardware, sacrificing a few details here and there but not letting up on the important bits and pieces, rendering a great looking game even on lower settings. What may come as an unwelcome sting in the tail is the complete lack of customisation with those settings.
You’re only allowed to choose from High, Very High or Extreme with absolutely no option to tinker or alter anything in between. For those who like the freedom to get stuck in and change settings to their own specifications trying to pump every last bit of power out of their computer – pushing it to it’s absolute limits – this will come as something of a slap in the face. For everyone else, it’s an omission that can be lived with.
The gameplay retains the mix of stealth and all out action and is once again kind enough to allow exploration of both at any time. Although the levels still funnel you along a pre-determined route, they’re open enough to allow multiple approaches to each situation. There’s always more than one option available when tackling the enemy patrols, always a hidden side passage that can be used to circumnavigate trouble or a weapons cash providing the tools to cut your own bloody path. Nothing is restricted, instead using your own initiative is something that is actively encouraged and embraced rather than shunned and put to one side in favour of heavily scripted scenes.
The nano suit still remains at the centre of it all, a Swiss army knife tuxedo allowing the quick adaptability to utilise armour enhancements or cloaking when the time calls for it. It’s gone through something of an upgrade since the original. The speed boost is now automatic and cloaking remains active even when firing a weapon. What’s not changed is the fact that each power drains energy, meaning that while initially the suit’s abilities may come across as overpowered, prolonged use can deplete energy and leave you exposed. Improvisation becomes necessary in most situations, and there’s a nice satisfaction to be gained from quickly adapting to powers when your own survival depends on it.
This being an all new nano suit, it also gets it’s own upgrade options brought about by the collection of nano spores dropped by the tentacled Ceph aliens. It’s a simple enough feature that doesn’t bog down the action with unnecessary point allocation screens (though does irritatingly ask you to spend accumulated spores frequently) but does allow customisation of the suit’s abilities to whichever specifications you desire. New abilities learnt can help, but never feel necessary. In actuality, some feel like a hindrance, sometimes giving you advantages such as seeing projectiles of enemy weapons. A nice feature to have but one that often makes things seem a little too easy, giving an unfair advantage and diminishing that sense of a challenge.
It’s not as though you can rely on the AI to make up for your high tech, super suit wearing antics either. Often displaying some tactical thought in laying down suppressing fire as they – human and alien alike – dart for cover, you almost get fooled into thinking the villains of Crysis 2 posses some forward thinking. But you’d be wrong. For all the impressive uses of cover, they very rarely seem to realise just how dangerous the usage of explosive are, often recklessly throwing hand grenades in the off chance they hit you. More often than not, they end up killing a colleague, or worse, themselves. Crytek have never been particularly good at AI, and sadly do little to compensate for that fact here.
But for the most part the gameplay is a frantic thrill ride of explosions and huge gunfights. What few scripted scenes there are also impress in their scale and there’s enough variety to prevent that sinking sense of repetition. The one area it disappoints in is with the story. So intent on telling it to you, every cut scene that plays out does so whether you like it or not. It wouldn’t be so bad if what was being said was worth listening to, but often the story just fails to engage.
Even with the writing talents of Richard Morgan contributing, who does manage to flesh out the science fiction of the game and add some weight to one or two of the characters, there’s little here to make you care about what’s going on. It’s yet another tale of a super soldier fighting his way through an alien invasion, occasionally battling evil PMC types and helping the US Marines save the day. Some of the loose ends from the original do finally get tied up, but there are still huge question marks over certain events.
What happened to Nomad and Psycho? The two nano suit commandos last seen flying towards the source of the alien menace of the first game. Why have the Ceph suddenly developed from floating tentacled machines with a fondness for sub-zero temperature to bipedal squids who don’t mind milder climate? These aren’t necessarily important questions that need answering, but given the hit in the kidneys the cliffhanger ending of the first game was, it would have still been nice to see some of those plot holes finally plugged.
With a play time clocking in an impressive 13 hours, you end up forgiving a lot about the negative aspects of the single player. But the rule these days is that it isn’t enough to just accommodate the solo gamer, hence why the obligatory online portion of the game features prominently. Putting the responsibility for this under Crytek UK (who where once known as Free Radical Design) was certainly a step in the right direction. The results, however, are far removed from the Timesplitters games the developer was once renowned for, and settle more comfortably, if predictably, alongside Call of Duty.
Those comparisons aren’t entirely fair, but neither are they unfounded. It sticks close to the same template. There are several modes that take you through variations of the usual team-based and capture point games, and classes can be customised to utilise a variety of modifiable weapons and suit perks. Player size doesn’t exceed that of 16, which seems a step back from the 32 players favoured in Crysis, but makes sense here given that the scale of the maps has been cut back. Where in the original game it was the use of open expanses and vehicles that where the main draw, here it’s the nano suit abilities.
Initially it can be difficult to adapt to a game where everybody has the ability to cloak and smack you in the back of the head. Gameplay is fast and frantic and isn’t kind to players who bide their time. But once you’ve breached that early learning curve and begin to experiment, things settle, and a competent online game emerges.
Suit abilities may come across as being overpowered, but stuck with the same limitations they have in the single player means they can’t be relied on. They drain energy fast, meaning matches require you to evolve strategies on the fly, to adapt to the ever changing situations that occur around you in order to survive. There’s incentive to do so. There’s plenty of suit upgrades and weapons to unlock from the ranking system, and a variation on the Kill Streaks of CoD also reward your ability to survive. The difference here is that killing a player alone doesn’t just reward you a temporary radar sweep or Ceph gunship support.
You have to then run out into the field and collect that player’s dogtags, gathering enough to unlock those bonuses. This throws up problems. Do you risk heading out to collect that one dogtag you need for support, or bunker down and try and survive a little longer, hoping the next player is closer? There’s some actual skill required here that means people who acquire those support options have to work for them. It also prevents entire matches being swarmed by gunships spewing out death every five minutes.
What is an enjoyable online experience is hampered somewhat by the unfinished state the game was released in. Calling it bug-ridden is a bit of an understatement. So far online matches are beset by random dis-connects, poor hit detection and unbalanced weapons. It sullies a game that really could have done without such problems, as in it’s current state it’s difficult to see Crysis 2 sustain any kind of active online community past the first few weeks.
As someone who values a good single-player yarn however, Crysis 2 has a lot to commend. It’s a nice change to current trend of sidestepping the need to adhere to solo players in that desperate bid to secure the same success brought about by the dominating Call of Duty games. For once the whole package feels complete, wrapping a huge substantial single player experience together with fun (if flawed) online component. This is what developers should be striving for. The fact that it’s all presented in such a gloriously beautiful looking package is just the icing on the cake.
And it is beautiful. Don’t be swayed by the elitist few claiming otherwise. Crytek’s mastery of visuals is unsurpassed, and their majesty at creating hugely evolving games is an excellent example of where the FPS genre should be heading, and whether you want to believe Crytek’s sincerity of retaining their PC gaming heritage or not, there’s no denying that Crysis 2 is a triumph both in style and substance.
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