The major concern, of course, is that the new setting will undermine the sandbox nature of the original. Camarillo doesn’t think so. “When we started thinking about Crysis 2, we first figured out what we could improve, in which direction we’d like to go, and what the next playground could be. Crysis 2 is a sandbox game. In contrast to the common sandbox, Crysis has borders and a world that extends beyond those borders but – just as importantly – we go into more detail within our play space too.”
As cynics, we need to butt in here to point out that ‘more detail’ usually means ‘smaller environments’, but then again, there is far more background detail to represent in a city, not to mention a greater number of people and objects to interact with. The major problem with city-set games up until now (Grand Theft Auto IV aside) is that they just haven’t had the processing clout to present a lifelike city in its expansive, people-packed glory.
With the power of CryEngine 3 behind it, Camarillo doesn’t see that problem, or the problem of offering the player genuine freedom of movement, as an issue. “I think the freedom of Crysis 2 will surprise console gamers. Crysis is not about ‘go anywhere’; it is about looking at a situation from a great vantage point and then formulating a plan that you proactively initiate to defeat your foes. You have a lot of freedom in what that plan entails, and what weapons and world interactions you use. This is what we’re calling Veni Vidi Vici gameplay: I came, I saw, I conquered, and it should be quite fresh to the console market.”
It should be, but let’s not forget there is one game already offering something similar. Like Crysis 2, it’s a game with super-powered agents in a vertically open, urban playground; the game, of course, being Realtime Worlds’ Crackdown. Unlike Crysis, Crackdown didn’t portion out its powers into several different modes – while the Agent was blessed with enhanced strength, agility, armour and speed, all four abilities were active at once. And Crysis 2 appears to be heading down a similar route. Gone are the separate active powers, replaced by a system that’s a bit more difficult to describe.
“Crysis 2 introduces a new and improved version of the Nanosuit,” reveals Camarillo. “The Nanosuit 2 is mapped to play styles rather than individual powers. It enables players to customise how they approach different combat situations and challenges.” Which could mean anything, really. Although there didn’t seem anything majorly wrong with the system in the original Crysis – mixing and matching abilities to fit tactics was as simple as swapping powers out in the middle of battle – if it can be refined and perfected in Crysis 2, then we’re definitely on board.
Of course, there is an elephant in the room where Crytek’s decision to set the game in New York is concerned. On a purely technological level, a city is geometrically easier to render on a console than the vast, complex foliage of a jungle.
No matter how excited Crytek seem to get about the opportunities the Big Apple provides, it does seem to fly in the face of what we’ve been led to believe: that Crysis, in all its stunning tropical glory, is possible on a console. Was the decision to switch simply down to the consoles’ more limited processing clout? “I would not exactly call this generation of consoles ‘limited’,” says Camarillo. “However, the challenges have allowed us to avoid overdesigning features, to keep the focus narrower and tight for a compelling experience on all platforms. In the end this will make for the best experience for the gamer, because we will spend more time per feature, making it more polished, rather than spreading ourselves thinly just because we can. Creative constraints can be refreshing.”
Between the new setting and talk of making the game more ‘focused’ there is a worry that Crytek may have compromised the soul of Crysis in order to make it work on another format. But even if that’s true we can probably still expect something of a technical marvel – CryEngine 3 is a remarkable thing. “It’s an all-in-one solution,” says Nathan, “AI, physics, networking, multiplayer, audio and high-end effects are all included within the engine and built solely for CryEngine 3.”
This should help considerably with the porting process – or, eventually, perhaps eliminate the tiresome requirement entirely. If the tech videos Crytek showed at last year’s Game Developers Conference are indicative of the final engine, the differences between all three versions of the game should be extremely slight. Presumably, anal picture-quality-obsessive owners of high-end PCs may well see some benefit, but compromises for the sake of multiplatform development shouldn’t be anything like as drastic as some people were anticipating and bemoaning in advance.
“The big challenge during the development of CryEngine 3 has been scaling the engine whilst maintaining visual quality and performance,” Camarillo goes on to tell us. “This is always challenging; problems occurred, of course, but we’re really proud that our teams have managed to solve them.” But did they solve them by eradicating the jungle, or was the new setting their intention all along? More importantly, will NYC fundamentally alter the nature of the series – and if so, will it change it for the better or for the worse?
Crytek have made their name perfecting tropical environments, and their games are specifically geared to take advantage of them. They can’t simply change the background and hope the rest falls into place; in order for Crysis 2 to work on the same fundamental level as the original, the action will need to change too. This could bury Crysis, or it could morph it into an entirely new game, one that PC gamers and fans of the original might not be happy with – chatter that it’s ‘dumbed down’ for the sake of consoles is going to be difficult to shake off.
So, there’s a mountain of worry, but there’s plenty of hope, too. Without playing the game, and based on the small amount we saw, it’s difficult to tell if the tech videos Crytek showed paint an accurate portrayal of the game – but CryEngine 3 shows huge promise, and Crysis 2 has enormous potential. It might not be the sequel we were expecting, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re being cheated out of the Crysis experience; just that Crysis 2 may offer something different. And if that something is leaping between buildings in a single bound, punching soldiers off rooftops and crushing cars beneath our super-powered feet, then it’s a change we think we can live with.
Mar 1, 2010