Here we are. Crysis 2 has arrived at last. It’s a seminal moment – not due to some monolithic expectation of gameplay, but rather a test of hardware. Hell, the original Crysis still can’t run on the average PC and certainly couldn’t run on PS3 or 360. So how could developer Crytek pull this off? The answer is in CryEngine 3. Whatever they did to optimize the code, it worked. Crysis 2 does run on consoles, and it does so beautifully. We’re calling it now: Crysis 2 is possibly the best-looking console game ever. It’s not leaps and bounds ahead of other graphical heavyweights, but it’s probably just a bit more polished, a bit more detailed… and yet running at a very respectable framerate. It also sports what might be the best 3D we've seen in a game (you can see our analysis here). We didn’t believe it could be done, but now there’s no question the tech is a success.
So what about the game? This is especially a big question for those who haven’t played the original Crysis (and unless you’ve invested cash into your PC, you haven’t played it). Other than the snappy visuals, the main hook of the Crysis series is the nanosuit, an outfit that makes you look like a naked, cooked cyborg (it covers you in fibrous material that looks like exposed, gray muscles). The suit gives you semi-realistic super powers: you have super strength and super jumps, but you’re not exactly Alex Mercer from Prototype. You also fight aliens. Strangely, the aliens in Crysis 2 don’t look exactly like the ones in the first game, but we’re sure they’re supposed to be the same species – we just imagine the artists didn’t want to repeat themselves.
Without the nanosuit, Crysis 2 would be just another “save the world from the alien threat” shooter. The suit is the core of the game, though, and it feels like more than a simple gimmick since to use it well you must manage your very limited energy and you must come up with creative ways to exploit every aspect of its powers. The idea behind the nanosuit is that it can alter its structure to suit your needs. What this boils down to in gameplay terms is that you have super speed, strength, and jumps by default, but you can also activate an armor mode and a stealth mode by hitting the shoulder buttons. Let’s ignore the special modes for a moment and focus on the agility factor. Your sprint is faster than most shooter’s sprints, but then it uses up your suit’s energy (and is nowhere near as fast as the sprint from Crysis 1, which is something we miss here). While running, if you tap crouch you’ll go into a cool-looking slide, and if you want to be a super –smooth killing machine you can even fire your gun or perform a kick while sliding.
Above: Or maybe a shaved gorilla?
The super jump is something we just never get tired of. Hold down the jump button and you’ll spring about fifteen feet in the air – it’s not a crazy, anime mega-jump, but we like it how it is. Something about the movement is just fantastical enough and yet bound by realistic gravity that it really makes us want to say “whee!” every time we do it. Also, when combined with the sprint, the super jump will actually get you across some surprisingly large gaps and it always feels rewarding to barely make a jump that looked too big. Helping this along is the grab feature: launch up near a ledge and you’ll heave yourself up quickly, but with a chunky feeling of weight and momentum that’s really satisfying. During a super jump you also have another option – the air stomp. Tap crouch and you’ll bomb downward, your fist smashing the ground and pulverizing any foe underneath you - another move that never gets old and allows you to play out your long-standing first-person Super Mario fantasies.
All of these little touches come together to allow you, once you get the rhythm down, to be a greased kangaroo sliding and bouncing all over the streets of Manhattan, and reminds us of a certain game that holds a place in our hearts, even if it wasn’t perfect.
Above: Faith has returned in spirit. Want more Mirror’s Edge in your shooter? Here it is
You can also kick cars into people. That’s never not a fun thing to do. Want to make it more hilarious? Stick some C4 to the car first. Now we’ve touched on another of Crysis 2’s strengths: the ability to tackle the game’s problems (be it single-player or online) in many, many different ways. On that note, let’s get back to the nanosuit’s powers.
So there’s the armor mode, which does the obvious, but it also slows you down and drains your energy, so you can’t use it all the time. A big skill in the game is knowing when to turn it on reflexively to save your ass and when to leave it off so you can get to cover faster. It also absorbs fall damage, so if you want to go running and jumping all over the place, you can leap off really high ledges and flick on armor at the last second to survive. The game rewards planning, so you can time a frontal assault by activating armor just as you step out into the open.
The real game-changer is the stealth mode. It means that you can play Crysis 2 in very different ways: you can be Duke Nukem in your armor, Faith with your agility, or Solid Snake with stealth. In the single-player campaign stealth will make you invisible unless you get right up in an enemy’s face. The balancing factor is that the energy drains quickly. The drain is relative to how fast you move, so you can sprint from cover to cover and recharge out of sight, or creep along and break necks at a measured pace. We played through the game using every power of the nanosuit, but you could easily ignore stealth and play a straightforward shooter, or even get through most of the game without killing a single enemy (we crept through entire stages barely killing anyone).
Above: Only a melee attack from behind will allow you to remain in stealth during a kill. Easy in single-player, but much more challenging to pull off online
The nanosuit also provides two types of vision: tactical and thermal. The thermal vision doesn’t do much in the single-player, but becomes vital in multiplayer since you deal with lots of invisible (and smart) opponents. The tactical vision adds another layer of choices to the single-player which encourages creative thinking. Anyone who’s played any of the “Cry” games, dating all the way back to Far Cry, will be familiar with the tactical vision. At certain points in the campaign you’ll be prompted to check out your tactical options. Perch on a ledge and whip out the goggles and you’ll see not only enemy and weapon locations, but the visor will point out tactical approaches such as “flank,” “stealth,” or “avoid.” It’s fun planning out a route of attack and brings quiet moments between the bullet-flinging.
The nanosuit is the star of the show and rightfully so. Yes, it’s been simplified since the last game and we miss the super-super speed mode, but it makes ordinary shooter gameplay into something you can customize and play around with on the fly in a way other shooters don’t quite offer.
The campaign (or yes, it’s NYC again)
We love a good romp through a tropical island as a game setting. The original Crysis had huge, open swaths of jungle to creep through, keeping things gorgeous and varied. When we heard that Crysis 2 would be set in Manhattan, we were disappointed. Not only has the city been done to death, but a bunch of streets and buildings is far less interesting than jungle and mountains – both visually and from a level design perspective. We ended up not minding the setting as much as we thought after all, for two reasons: it’s the best-looking version of Manhattan ever, and the destruction of the city means that the level design is not a bunch of straight lines and right angles at all. Crumbling walls, cars hanging precariously over ledges, giant craters and gorges right in the middle of streets, downed alien spacecraft, and massive metal tentacles piercing through the landscape ensure that the environment is constantly visually interesting and offers unexpected spatial dimensions to navigate.
Above: This is Manhattan, not some alien planet
The overarching level design is more linear than the first game, but it’s by no means an A to B corridor punctuated by set pieces. There are a number of huge open spaces that offer exploration, and with the nanosuit’s powers combined with the tactical options, there are numerous paths for tackling just about every situation. If one were so inclined, some replay value could be gleaned from going back through the campaign and doing the opposite approach in each encounter. Even for a single playthrough, though, Crysis 2 is no slouch: you’re looking at a good 8-10 hours if you employ a combination of stealth and Rambo approaches. We’d bet some players will blow through it more quickly, but it’s a bigger campaign than a lot of its contemporaries.
There are also plenty of “wow” moments that make it feel like a Hollywood blockbuster, but at the same time the campaign only occasionally really blew our hair back. A few factors come together to make the single-player a bit less engaging than it could have been. The first is your non-character. All you know is that your name is Alcatraz. You’re yet another mute empty shell, and we’re really, really getting tired of these non-entities. We don’t feel more connected to our character because he inexplicably never opens his mouth – we feel less so. It would be much more interesting if he had a personality, and it’s distracting and unrealistic when no one questions why you don’t talk. If books and movies can get the audience to identify with a character that’s not a sack of meat, so can videogames.
Above: Alcatraz, whose character traits include running, jumping, and shooting
The aliens are also fairly generic. They have tentacles and armor plating and glowing eyes, but there isn’t enough variety in them. There’s a soldier, a wall-climbing stalker, and a big ogre guy, and that’s basically it. There are some ships and few other things we won’t spoil but the bulk of the aliens are just freaky-looking versions of human opponents. They don’t have any special attacks we haven’t seen before that force you to deal with them differently. They’re kind of cool looking, but not memorable.
The biggest flaw in the entire game is something we were not expecting at all: the AI is often buggy. It seems to be a problem with the aliens getting caught on the environment, because we didn’t see too many problems with the human opponents. We did see, though, aliens often freaking out against some obstacle or completely ignoring us while we plinked away at them. We even beat the final battle because the AI couldn’t figure out how to get to us, even though we were just up on a hill. It’s an immersion-breaker, and even more so when the game looks so damn good otherwise. These AI problems were not everywhere and didn’t significantly mar the experience, but they happened more often than what we could just blow off as an occasional bug.
Above: This guy looks scary, but its pretty easy to put an obstacle between you and him and hit his exposed parts, or just wait for him to get confused with the terrain
So the campaign isn’t completely spectacular, but it does have spectacular moments. If you have no interest in multiplayer and like the idea of playing around with the nanosuit’s powers, Crysis 2 is still worth your time and money. Outside of the AI issues, you’ll get a proper big-budget experience with a delectable sheen of gloss that’s possibly unmatched anywhere.
The multiplayer – where smarts rule
Crysis 2’s multiplayer doesn’t exactly have original ideas, but the way it blends familiar concepts works beautifully and somehow creates a competitive experience that feels new. It also allows players to blend playstyles and “classes” on the fly, which for those who didn’t play the original Crysis will find refreshing in a shooter market that typically restricts you to a single tone of gameplay per life. What we mean is, typically in a shooter you either have a predetermined or custom class that you can swap out between lives, but in Crysis 2 you can change roles literally from moment to moment, thanks to the nanosuit. While this was also possible in the original Crysis, the sequel streamlines this process, making the multiplayer faster and more fluid.
Above: If you can kill someone while you're sliding on the ground, pat yourself on the nanosuited back
We’ve already talked about the nanosuit powers and how they work in the single-player campaign, but in multiplayer they take on a whole new dimension. Against AI you can turn on stealth and be entirely invisible, whereas in multiplayer a keen-eyed player can see your Predator-like shimmer, and furthermore players can use various suit modules and the nanovision to spot would-be ninjas. Invisibility in any multiplayer game is difficult to balance, but Crysis 2 handles it with finesse – there are numerous options for spotting and dealing with stealthers, but at the same time the stealth is still immensely useful and absolutely integral to the gameplay.
We discovered three core “classes” in multiplayer – two of which are obvious, while the third was something we devised on our own. We put quotes around “classes” because we’re not talking about the default loadouts – we’re talking about the three pillars of the nanosuit, which are armor, stealth, and mobility. While you can use all three of them at will, it’s also possible to focus almost entirely on one of these strengths and use it as a playstyle, or “class.” So for instance, you could ignore stealth completely and only use your nanosuit’s energy for armor, turning yourself into a tank/assault frontline fighter. The other obvious style is to focus all of your energy on staying invisible as much as possible.
Above: Unlike the single-player, where you're the sole ninja, in multiplayer you need to be real paranoid about what might be just behind you
As is typical with most shooters today, you’ll gain experience and unlock weapons and perks. Crysis 2’s version of the perk is called the suit module, and they each have three levels of increased effectiveness that are unlocked with progress. You can customize your suit modules to maximize your playstyle – for instance, you can use one slot to speed up the time it takes to enter stealth mode. It was through these modules that we devised the third “class” in multiplayer – the mobility-based run-and-gunner. The first two classes are obvious because armor and stealth both drain your energy, so focusing on one ability makes for efficient usage of energy. Sprinting and power-jumping, however, also use energy, and when we saw a suit module that reduces this energy drain, we realized there was another whole playstyle possible.
We created a custom class focused purely on mobility – we equipped only a light SMG as our primary weapon with no attachments (attachments slow you down), we set up the Mobility and Air Stomp suit modules, and we proceeded to not use any armor or stealth at all – instead sprinting, leaping, and sliding all over the map. At first it was difficult to adjust to, but then we were pleased to see it’s a totally viable playstyle, especially on certain gametypes like Crash Site, where we were often the first player to arrive when the pod dropped (heck we were often already below the ship waiting before the pod even dropped).
Above: Of course, you might not want to get too close to where to pod lands
Since the real beauty of Crysis 2’s multiplayer is that you don’t have to focus on one class, the best player will be able to blend mobility, armor, and stealth as needed. After we got comfortable just focusing on running and gunning, we started working stealth and armor back into the playstyle, but in a limited capacity – if you’re reloading and have plenty of energy, why not reload while invisible? If you get ambushed and shot in the back, flick on that armor to save your ass. It’s easy to see how you could focus your playstyle in one area but use the others to supplement it, or balance them all as a jack-of-all trades type.
While there are killstreak rewards in the multiplayer, they are not nearly at the ridiculous degree as Modern Warfare – you won’t see any rewards past a killstreak of seven. There are just three of them, known as Support Bonuses, for killstreaks of three, five, and seven, and only the last one has any potential for actual direct kills. These Bonuses also change depending on the map instead of being customized by the player, so for instance on one map the Bonuses might be Maximum Radar (3 kills), Radar Jamming (5 kills), and Orbital Strike (7 kills). There’s another element that makes getting killstreaks just slightly more difficult and risky than in other games – dog tags. See, just getting a kill doesn’t automatically count toward your streak – you have to run over to the person’s body and pick up the glowing dog tag on the ground. This means you have to occupy yourself with a potentially dangerous activity if you want that killstreak, and it also means that snipers can’t just sit back and rake in killstreaks, which is a great design decision.
Above: So, what's that guy on the left doing? Looking for change? Tying his shoe? Still hung-over?
The lamest aspect of multiplayer is something minor in effect but we find abhorrent in its principle: automatic taunting, which occurs sometimes when you die. This is not a taunt controlled by the player, but rather something the game just throws in there to anger and humiliate you when you get killed – you’ll hear your opponent talk trash along the lines of “How do you like that, motherfucker” or “Fuck you, asshole!” Yes, the game implements automated immature 12-year-old trash-talking as a feature. And the player who gets the kill doesn’t even get to enjoy hearing their own character doing the trash-talking – it’s there merely to make the loser feel bad. This is a small complaint, but look at it from the perspective of new or casual players – it’s an utterly unfriendly environment that pounds your ineptitude home by insulting you if you die a lot. On top of this, if your team loses a round, you’ll hear some random commander tell you how terrible you were – it’s like the game specifically wants you to have as little fun as possible when you’re losing. We guess it wants to motivate you to win, but it’s the wrong way to go about it.
That one annoyance aside, the multiplayer is still fantastic. The game modes, when combined with the nanosuit powers, make for some clever competition. Instant Action, which is regular deathmatch, becomes hilarious chaos when people are zooming around like methed-up rabbits while invisible assassins get air-stomped right after cutting guy’s throats. Team Instant Action can be dominated by coordinated teams all using the same suit powers together – imagine a phalanx of armored-up dudes or six guys all cloaked at once waiting in ambush. This trailer captures a lot of the mayhem that can be encountered:
There’s also Crash Site, which is a moving king-of-the-hill mode. Being mobile is huge because you can see where the next capture and hold point will be – an alien ship flies around and drops the pod so you can follow it if you’re fast enough. Then there’s the mode that really changes things up: in Assault you’re restricted to special classes designed just for that mode. One team has nanosuits, but only pistols, and their job is to sneak up to one of several computers and hack information from them. The other team has no nanosuits, but gets bigger guns. Everyone only gets one life, so it’s a tense mode of creeping around and running from danger. It turns the game into something like this:
Above: Splinter Cell is not dead!
The multiplayer is the stronger of the two game components, so if you favor online play, you’re in for a sprinting, super-jumping, sneaking good time. The single-player is by no means something you’ll want to ignore, though. If you’re into both modes, the game is quite the package when all its strengths are considered, despite some flaws.
Is it better than… ?
Homefront? Yes. Homefront’s campaign is shorter, more restrictive, and doesn’t offer the fun of the nanosuit. It tells a story with more emotional weight, but its gameplay doesn’t stand out from any other modern military shooter. Crysis 2 is permissive, inviting you to play any way you want, while Homefront wants you to play one specific way. Homefront’s multiplayer is a lot of fun, but it doesn’t do anything vastly different from its competitors. Crysis 2’s multiplayer is genuinely different.
Crysis? No. The second game’s multiplayer is more refined, more energetic, and more robust, but not by a huge margin. The sequel, despite being an amazing visual achievement for reaching multiple platforms, doesn’t really look better than the original, and we much prefer the tropical island setting of Crysis. We also like the more complex nanosuit of the original, if only for the super-duper sprinting, which was a joy to use.
Bulletstorm? No. The nanosuit blends concepts we’ve seen before into something that makes the shooter exhilarating, but the game as a whole doesn’t take risks the way Bulletstorm does. Instead of simply giving you powers to run around and shoot guys in different ways, Bulletstorm rethinks the shooting itself, shaking up the very foundation of the shooter genre. Bulletstorm also daringly tosses aside standard multiplayer modes for purely co-op play that feels more original than Crysis 2’s (still fantastic) pastiche of existing ideas.
Just for you, Metacritic!
Crysis 2 is an astounding technical achievement. It’s one of the best-looking games ever, and it knows how to bring the spectacle. Its single-player provides a playground for the joyous nanosuit powers, although some buggy AI and generic aliens keep the campaign from soaring as high as it could have. The multiplayer, meanwhile, is a fantastic buffet of playstyles that rewards the creative player.
Mar 22, 2011