Crysis 2: The Crisis Is Where Do We Go From Here

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After playing Total War: Shogun 2, one of my concerns was how I would view subsequent Total War games. As far as I’m concerned, The Creative Assembly has now perfected the Total War formula, so to play another might result in feelings of, “Oh, this again. Hm.” The same fear now applies to the first-person shooter genre post-Crysis 2, but not because the game is perfect (although it’s pretty decent). It’s just that we’re done here*. Someone needs to stand up and say, “Folks! We get it: you know how to create point-and-click shooty games with big explosions. Can we please move on?”

Crysis 2 has a proud lineage. Crysis, released for the PC in 2007, still stands as one of the best-looking games ever created. (For better or worse, the first thing anyone is going to discuss when it comes to a Crytek game is how it looks.) The engine powering the game has since been made to do some pretty incredible things, from rendering scenes from the movie Blade Runner to making virtual trees look better than the real thing. The gameplay itself was solid but not spectacular: the first, say, two-thirds was engrossing—the jungle was a perfect setting, and the KPA was a perfect enemy—, but it fell off a cliff once the other appeared. Its predecessor, 2004’s FarCry, generated similar interest, maybe even more so since nothing at the time even came close to matching its visuals. That’s one of the problems with Crysis 2, that you can’t say it blows away everything else that’s available. You don’t have to look hard to find people who are convinced that the first game looks better the sequel.

(There’s a 3D mode, and while I played it at an EA event several weeks ago and thought it looked quite spiffy indeed, I don’t have a 3D monitor as part of my regular gaming setup so I can’t really address it here. But if you can, you really ought to trying playing in 3D. Not that it’s the only 3D shooter available—I can think of Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and Metro 2033 off the top of my head—but you get the idea that Crytek is particularly proud of its work here.)

This time around you’re a man in a suit, sorta like last time around. Who you actually are in that suit is largely irrelevant since it’s the suit that does the talking, literally: tap the E key and you’ll hear it shout “stealth engaged” as you momentarily become invisible. Tap the Q key and your already sturdy armor becomes even sturdier (“maximum armor”). The game consists of you shooting your way up and down the island of Manhattan (anyone familiar with New York City will certainly appreciate running about Battery Park, Grand Central, and Times Square) fighting a mixture of human and alien baddies (which look a lot like Fulgore from Killer Instinct). I don’t want to spoil the specifics of the story, but let’s just say it’s standard-to-good sci-fi fare. I don’t remember if the first Crysis even had a story, so the fact that I can say that Crysis 2 does, in fact, have a reasonably OK (if typical—one part in particular had me going, “Really? Didn’t I see this same gimmick in Fallout: New Vegas a few months ago?”) sci-fi arc represents a tremendous improvement over the first game. Pretty decent soundtrack, too. I never found myself having to play my own music in the background just to have something to listen to.

The graffiti looks OK here…

It’s a solid shooter, but that’s part of the problem: the graphics don’t blow you away like Crysis or FarCry did (at least on the PC they don’t), so all you’re left with is the 900th shooter you’ve played in the past few years. It’s not too long, but it’s not ludicrously short. It took me a little more than seven hours to finish, just shy of what I’d consider the perfect length for a shooter. (I’d say around 10 hours is the sweet spot.) Any longer and you’re like, “Alright already.”

… this, on the other hand

Our man in Europe, Ivan, played the Xbox 360 version, so here’s a quick word about that:

The console version of Crysis 2 brings satisfying visuals. If you think of the hardware found in today’s consoles it’s a miracle this game even has a console version. There are drawbacks though: occasional hiccups occur when the environment is loaded with high-res textures. And then there is the weird sensation when a complete block jumps into existence in front of your eyes. Some textures get blurred pretty soon if you move away from them. Of course these things will not compromise gameplay. Crysis 2 is not a great game because how nice it looks but because of the refined mechanics of a semi-tactical FPS. You will not spend hours figuring out tactics for sure. But without thinking you will perish quickly both online and offline. Crysis 2 is a pleasant surprise in not being a dumb engine demo. It’s easy to recommend the console version.

I’ll also commend Crytek for giving you a number of different ways to play. You can play like you’d play any Call of Duty, shooting everything that moves until the credits roll. I, however, decided to stealth my way through much of the game. Outside of a few forced events, you can get reasonably close to beating the game without firing a single bullet. There are parts where firing and shooting about may be more exciting, but I liked the inherent tension of managing my energy meter, trying to find cover so I can re-charge my suit so I can then sneak past the bad guys without firing a shot in anger.

Don’t mind me, good sirs

More than a few things annoyed me—shock. As I mentioned the other day, textures are an uneven hodgepodge of perfectly acceptable to head-scratchingly bad. Some of the vending machines look like they’re straight out of 2001. The floating head companion convention is straight out of BioShock (and even that wasn’t the first to do it), and the lip syncing is fairly poor at points, like you’re watching an anime cheaply dubbed into English. Subtitles often don’t match spoken dialogue. People say the word “man” (as in, “Watch out, man!”) every five seconds. Why is there no car damage after you super-kick it? The PC version launched with a number of glitches, too, including one that made it all but impossible to play with a dual-GPU setup unless the main .exe file was renamed.

Again, the unevenness is sorta jarring

Then there’s the tactical options. Parts of the game let you know—more like bang it over your head—that there’s more than one way to get around a particular obstacle, with numbered icons representing actions you might take: grab a ledge up and over, shoot your way through with that turret over there, etc. But wouldn’t you rather discover these things on your own rather than have the game tell you “You can win by going that way!”? It’s particularly egregious in the beginning sections of the game when it refuses to return control to you unless you use your binoculars to inspect the numbered icons. Hand-holding gone too far.

All in all, Crysis 2 is a fine game, but if you’re not a fan of the genre you there’s nothing here you haven’t seen before. I genuinely don’t know if I’ll have the patience or interest to play another for quite a while (unless I have to!), but that’s partially because Crysis 2 does enough things right to make me feel like the entire genre is approaching a wall. Die-hard PC gamers may feel let down by some of Crytek’s decision (Why can’t you change the graphical settings without using a fan-made application? Why is there no Direct X 11 support (yet)? Why is the default FOV clearly a leftover from the console version and patently unsuitable sitting-close-to-a-monitor consumption, and why can’t you change it in-game? Why is the multi-player mode so small? Why can’t I quick-save? And on & on…), but it’s pretty clear we’re a dying breed and our opinions increasingly mean absolutely nothing. You know things have gotten bad when I go out of my way to thank Crytek for not encrypting the .ini files~!

*Until Half-Life 2: Episode 3 comes out, of course.