Welcome to the Big Apple, son”! Welcome to the era of bold and arrogant claims. Welcome to the ‘realization’ of Crytek’s dreams. Welcome to Crysis 2. Jokes aside, this long-awaited shooter surely has much to prove, in wake of the developer’s ambitious goals. Interestingly, the original PC shooter was largely hailed as a graphical benchmark tool than it was as a gaming experience. Some even went as far as calling it nothing more than a tech demo. With such criticism in mind, Crytek hopes to have developed an antidote in the form of its latest ‘magnum opus’. Whether it has lived up to all the hype, however, remains to be seen.
Set in the year 2023, Crysis 2′s storyline is a futuristic take on your average ‘dude bro turned robocop’ affair. The city of New York is at the brink of utter chaos and destruction, thanks to a full-scale alien invasion. Unsurprisingly, an unfortunate rookie marine soldier is burdened with the responsibility of donning the high-tech suit and ridding New York of the Ceph infestation, while also dealing with the CELL military operatives. The plot unfolds via incoming radio transmissions and a bunch of set piece segments, which at best do a serviceable job of getting the point across to the player. Sadly, the game takes its sweet time in picking up pace, and when it finally does, the lack of substance is clearly evident from the poorly scripted dialogues and sporadic occurrence of plot events. Ultimately, it all boils down to a supposed storyline twist, which was all but crystal clear fairly early into the game. Makes you wonder what kind of involvement writer Richard Morgan actually had, if any at all.
Previous Crytek games, including the original Crysis, have heralded the concept of open-world game design in first-person shooters. While some criticized it for being less intuitive and more of a ‘level editor’, others appreciated it for the subliminal, infinite possibilities available to the player within a non-confined setting. Crysis 2, on the other hand, is a stark departure from this design philosophy. In a nutshell, take the nanosuit and weapons from the original game, and fuse them into a Call of Duty-esque urban corridor shooter. Of course, the difference here is that the level design isn’t as confined. In fact, in some instances of relatively open areas, it even bears some semblance with the original. However, having said all that, Crysis 2 is still largely a linear experience at its core, with a single destination or point of exit from a given area. Whether this is a welcome or disappointing change, depends on what your stance on the original was. Crytek has undoubtedly treaded along the path of bold and drastic changes, with the sequel boasting superior flow and sense of progression, streamlined and less cumbersome suit controls, and some genuinely exciting set pieces.
All is not well in the land of Crysis, however, as a few crucial shortcomings hinder it from achieving greatness. For starters, the core shooter experience still feels significantly poor, much like it did in the original, and it doesn’t help that other shooters have tremendously excelled in this particular area. The phrase “weak FPS elements” has been thrown around quite a lot lately, and Crysis 2, much like its predecessor, is probably the most authentic embodiment of this phenomenon. Most of the weapons are just downright generic in their feel, handling, or even their utility. This is further worsened by the somewhat overpowered nanosuit abilities. Why waste time trying to shoot down an approaching enemy with a toy gun, when you can do it more effortlessly, not to mention elegantly, with a single cloaked melee strike. Though, to its credit, the intuitive cover mechanic does help in alleviating this shortcoming to an extent, often giving you the opportunity to shoot down enemies from a safe distance.
It’s good to have tactical options, but when they bring out the worst of an already excruciating issue, it just doesn’t make sense. The artificial intelligence, or rather the lack of it, genuinely kills the probability of any challenge or intensity one could hope to derive from this experience. At the default difficulty, it is almost fundamentally broken to the extent that half-decent use of the cloak ability can ensure that you will hardly ever need to indulge in combat (minus the key fights essential to progression, of course). Even when your cloak meter runs out of energy, the enemy AI routine will often continue to remain caught up in an infinite loop of indifference. During other instances of odd behavior, the enemy AI’s maximum ‘sixth sense’ may randomly give away your location, even if you have carefully crept away to a well-hidden position before disengaging cloak. Getting caught doesn’t really matter, though, since re-entering stealth mode while in an enemy’s light-of-sight will usually result in them going back to their patrol routine. Turning up the difficulty does make things more challenging, however, as enemy brute force and accuracy is ramped up considerably. Still, the AI is just as broken, and enemies just as easy to exploit with the aid of some cloak abuse.
Taking cue from the single-player, Crysis 2′s multiplayer is even more in-line with the Call of Duty offerings. Match types include your standard team deathmatch, capture the flag, and capture-and-hold variants. The similarities don’t just end there, though – there are experience points to be earned, plenty of perks to be unlocked, and killstreak bonuses to be achieved. The biggest difference here, however, is that you get to utilize your suit abilities within this Call of Duty-like scenario, which is actually quite refreshing as opposed to being a tacked on feature. It’s a shame, really – had the gunplay been any better, the multiplayer could have unquestionably been a unique selling proposition for Crysis 2. As it stands however, the “weak FPS elements” hamper it from being anything beyond a shallow multiplayer experience that will hold your interest until the nanosuit’s ‘appeal’ wears off.
At least it looks utterly gorgeous, right? Well, the answer to that depends on what platform, particularly what PC configuration, you’re running the game on. On a well-equipped PC, Crysis 2 truly shines in its ‘maximum’ glory (pun intended), and is among the finest looking games out there. Where the original severely lacked from an artistic standpoint, its sequel paints a picture that is aesthetically more pleasing on the eyes. Most importantly, it effectively manages to do away with the classic ‘level editor’ look of the former. On the flip side, unconvincing weapon/character movement and stiff death simulations leave much to be desired from the animations and ragdoll physics. As far as this particular aspect of the visuals is concerned, Crysis 2 doesn’t hold a candle to the standard set in some of the other shooters of today.
As for the technical side of things, CryEngine3′s much touted global illumination represents a new benchmark in the use of dynamic HDR lighting. The way different light sources interact with moveable objects, casting dynamic shadows, all in real time – it looks remarkable. Also, it would be a crime not to mention the CE3 trademark ‘god ray’ effect, which is equally a sight to behold. The odd choice of opting for ‘Post MSAA’ (Crytek’s alternate term for temporal anti-aliasing) is quite a bit of a setback, though, especially since it produces an unwanted ghosting effect that is more noticeable while in-motion. Coupled with the motion blur, it’s almost as if someone is deliberately smudging away at the image quality. Other disappointments for hardcore enthusiasts include the lack of DX11 support and the limited graphical tweaking options. Interestingly, the ‘High’, ‘Very High’, and ‘Extreme’ settings don’t look all that different from each other, with variation mostly limited to the lighting and LOD. Additionally, texture detail, while great, is not as impressive as that of the original Crysis.
On the consoles, however, Crysis 2 is a sub-HD game, with the worst offender being the PS3 version. Although disappointing, even with this shortcoming, the game manages to impress on both platforms, boasting a level of detail that closely resemble the PC ‘High’ setting. In fact, for now, it is among the finest looking Xbox 360 game out there. The PS3 version, however, gets schooled by graphical powerhouses like Uncharted 2, God of War III, and Killzone 2/3. Still, this is the most impressive use of lighting seen on either console, and that is a fine accomplishment in itself.
Sadly, the game doesn’t do much in the audio department. Save for a select few tracks, the music is mostly forgettable, filler material. Similarly, the quality of voice overs is below average, not to mention downright laughable at times. The sound effects are a bit of a mixed bag – while explosions and other bells and whistles are decent enough, the extremely unconvincing sound of gunfire somehow manages to do full ‘justice’ to the awkward toy gun feel of weapons.
Overall, where Crysis 2 shines as a visual tour de force, it doesn’t quite reach the same greatness otherwise, especially when it comes to certain crucial gameplay elements. It’s kind of sad, really, because in the humble opinion of this reviewer, it actually manages to do away with plenty of the glaring issues that plagued the original. Still, as far as game design goes, it is most certainly brimming with untapped potential. At the very least, it’s good to see that Crytek is headed in the right direction, with respect to its design philosophy.
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