E3 2006: Crysis

After all the waiting, we've finally gone face-to-face with Crysis, spiritual successor to Far Cry and easily one of the most exciting games of the year. But wait. Forget the better-than-life visuals, the stunning environmental effects and triple-digit AI IQ - it is the overwhelming, epic and terrifying atmosphere that has left us dazed and blinking.

Crysis jettisons Far Cry's story and characters, and casts you as a Delta Force operative sent to investigate an asteroid crash site located somewhere in a chain of Pacific islands. The North Korean Army is there first, however, fiercely declaring “finders keepers.” When the techno-savvy alien race encased in the asteroid emerges, however, both sides unite to repel the otherworldly invaders.

Instead of simply pumping out a prettier, more effects-ridden Far Cry, developer Crytek is ramping everything up to 11. The multiplayer elements have been given more attention, the epic scale is less B-movie and more War of the Worlds, and Far Cry's already intense action has been tweaked and balanced to emphasize tactical murderizing over plain reaction or twitch blasting.

A real-time modding system enables you to instantly adapt to Crysis' constantly evolving challenges. In our demo, we were treated to a level on board a US Army battleship under assault from the alien force, with us trapped below deck in the rapidly deteriorating hold. By using a gadget-laden suit - this is 2019, after all - we boosted our character's strength in order to block a door with a two-ton warhead, before lugging fallen girders around like cocktail sticks to rescue injured soldiers.

The next minute, we were wading through the awesome smoke effects, surprised by a spindly alien that stalked after us, bright lights on its armor glowing from within the smog. Quickly pulling out a high-powered rifle, we flipped open a menu displaying ammo options and loaded up with incendiary rounds, pulping the alien into submission with the explosive shells.

Once on deck there was a nice shock waiting for us. Through the wreckage of raging fire and clouds of smoke came a Hunter - a gigantic walking alien tank-like thing, lashing out with metal tentacles and splitting our eardrums with a deafening roar. When we got too close to the Hunter, we were swept up and thrown across the deck in a dizzying roll, and immediately the alien craft spat out a huge beam of ice that froze everything it hit.

Fortunately, we'd increased the armor power of the suit, protecting ourselves from too much freeze damage; as we shook off the ice, the Hunter was being strafed by what looked like hover-jets. But it merely speared one in mid air with a free arm, bashed it to the ground and hurled it over our heads and into the battleship's command tower, which toppled in an explosion that turned the night sky blister-red.

Non-stop action like this isn't a rarity in Crysis. You'll be pushed into one epic event after another. And to keep the action interesting, your surroundings will evolve around you. From thick, crowded and destructible jungle foliage you'll discover an area of island that is totally encrusted in ice, before a disorientating finale inside the alien mothership, fought almost entirely in zero gravity.

And it's not just eye-pleasing - each environment offers different gameplay options. Fell a tree to block your enemy's attack, crush them beneath a heavy trunk or shoot through and shatter icy foliage to distract a guard. Plus all the environments will be included in multiplayer modes, promising some unique zero gravity deathmatches.

Crytek is asserting that Crysis remains a PC-only title, wanting to focus on the one platform. However, it's likely that PS3 or Xbox 360 could do the game justice, even if Crysis doesn't reach console-land until long after the PC release at the very end of this year. And it would be a massive disappointment if that didn't happen. Crysis is going to be an experience no one will want to miss.

May 11, 2006


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