E3 06: Crysis first look

Imagine for a moment that you're standing in a jungle clearing, the darkness around you lit only by the flaming hulks of what used to be an alien armada. You pause to catch your breath, and that's when you hear a crash so loud that the ground itself shakes. You look up, and out of the gloom stomps a mammoth, four-legged bio-mechanical creature that's staring right at you. It rears up, opens its gigantic mouth and lets out a shriek that shakes the ground and actually bends the pillars of smoke streaming up from the wreckage.

Meet the Hunter, one of the alien monsters you'll fight in Crysis. Due out in winter, this shooter from the developers of Far Cry will take you through jungles, tundra, an aircraft carrier and - eventually - an alien ship, complete with zero-gravity gunplay. And as a showcase for Windows Vista and DirectX 10, it promises to do so with an unprecedented level of realism.

At first, Crysis looks a lot like Far Cry, in that it begins with you fighting mercenaries and mutants in a jungle. But it's a jungle like you've never seen; everything down to individual leaves can be pushed out of the way or torn apart by gunfire. Tossing a grenade past your enemies will likely topple a tree or two, which might then fall and crush one of the baddies.

There'll be more to the gameplay than just blowing stuff up, though, and the developers stressed that adaptability will be the order of the day - since your enemies are smart, you'll need to constantly switch up your tactics in order to outsmart them. Likewise, many of the enemies can't be beaten - at least not easily - by just emptying clip after clip into their faces. Instead, you'll need to figure out new strategies and techniques to cut them down, which will help you do it much faster the next time.

To drive home the point, your hero is decked out in an adjustable suit of armor that makes him look like a stormtrooper. Equipped with an artificial muscle structure, it can be adjusted on the fly for strength, speed or defense; in an aircraft-carrier sequence we saw, for example, the developers used it to lift a girder off a fallen comrade, after which they beefed up the defense to sprint through fire blocking a flight of stairs. Your guns will be similarly customizable with scopes and other accessories, and we're told you'll even be able to change the function of bullets right after you've shot them, changing what might otherwise be a lethal shot to a homing device.

Your enemies can adapt to their environment, too, and can pick up objects and find creative uses for the destructible scenery. To wit, at the end of the aircraft carrier level, the hero gets attacked by a Hunter. A friendly gunship swoops in to deal some damage, but gets too close, allowing the Hunter to snatch it out of the air and throw it at the carrier's bridge. The bridge and gunship both explode, and communication towers come plunging down, narrowly missing the main character.

In any other game, that would be a standard pre-planned event. But given Crytek's assurances that enemies will be able to do this kind of stuff at will, and given how good the Far Cry games have been, we've chosen to be impressed. If Crysis is anywhere near as good as it looks from what we've seen so far, then this could be a top incentive to upgrade to Windows Vista this winter.

May 10, 2006