I’m just going to come right out and say it: I never played the original Crysis. I didn’t have the super computer needed to run the game at a reasonable frame rate so if you’re looking for an across-the-board comparison between the two titles, you might want to look somewhere else. Having said that, considering this is the first time the franchise is appearing on a platform other than the PC, I imagine there are a lot of console gamers out there like myself who are wondering if they should invest in yet another sci-fi first-person shooter. Let’s find out.
New Rule: If you make a sequel that picks up immediately following the events of the first game, or shortly thereafter, you must provide a recap of the story so far. I don’t know, a cinematic or something. Anything. This goes doubly for Crysis 2 since, as I just mentioned, this is the first time the franchise is appearing on both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. The game opens with a brief intro scene, followed by the title screen and opening credits. As the credits roll a cinematic plays in the background, highlighting the series’ trademark Nanosuit. If you ask me, it would have been the perfect opportunity to brief players on the events in Crysis (something along the lines of the “Prophet’s Journey” trailer Crytek released back in late February). It’s no surprise the story suffers some as a result.
That story revolves around you, a U.S. Marine codenamed “Alcatraz” who is arriving in New York City to aid in the quarantine process following a deadly outbreak of the “Manhattan” virus. When an alien craft capsizes the submarine you’re traveling in, it quickly becomes evident there’s more going on in the Big Apple than you were briefed on. “Prophet,” the team leader from the original Crysis, rescues you and, without giving away too much information, it’s not long before you inherit his Nanosuit along with the task of saving New York City from the Ceph invasion.
Unfortunately the story is the weakest part of the solo campaign. For one, silent and obedient are traits I don’t much care for in my protagonist. Second, you can’t reference events from the Lingshan Islands, the fictional setting in the original Crysis, and expect newcomers like myself to have any sense of context. Third, there are recurring characters that have key revelations throughout the game, but again, without any context or significant character development their discoveries aren’t nearly as impacting as they should be. Last but not least, the plot as a whole, with its many twists and turns, ends up being a little confusing. So as you can see, a recap of the events in Crysis would have gone a long way in filling some of the holes in the sequel’s plot.
The Nanosuit is the star of the show. At the press of a button you can become super strong, super durable, super fast or invisible. Version 2.0 also allows its wearer to combine powers, such as becoming invisible and super durable at the same time. Using these powers drains the suit of its energy so you have to be constantly aware of the suit’s energy level. You may need to duck away for a moment to allow the suit to recharge since without its powers you’re significantly more vulnerable in firefights, particularly against the Ceph.
Gameplay in Crysis 2 alternates between firefights in tight corridors and open environments, with a few vehicular segments sprinkled in. When you arrive at an open area, the Nanosuit will prompt you to engage its Visor Mode. While in this observe-only state, you’ll be able to scout the battlefield for the location of specific weapons and ammo depots. The visor also provides tactical options such as sniping positions, flanking opportunities and potential stealth approaches. Ultimately it’s up to the player to decide how to tackle each encounter. Do you engage the Nanosuit’s cloak and stealthily eliminate the enemy or bypass a firefight entirely? Do you activate the Nanosuit’s armor mode to take on multiple enemies, mowing them down with heavy weapons, grabbing them by the throat and tossing them around, or smashing them by hurling objects at them? The freeform, dynamic gameplay keep things fresh, especially when you have to replay sections.
What you see isn’t all you get. When you kill an alien, they drop Nano Catalyst, a sort of currency that you can use to upgrade the Nanosuit. The Nanosuit has four upgradeable slots, one each for Armor, Stealth, Speed and Tactical. Each slot has three modules available for “purchase,” though you can only have one module active per slot. For example, if you purchase and equip the Stealth Enhance module in the Stealth slot, the rate at which your suit uses energy while cloaked decreases, while purchasing and equipping the Deflection module in the Armor slot grants you the ability to deflect some weapon fire from your body. Customization doesn’t end there. You can also customize your weapons with different attachments including reflex sight, laser pointer, sniper scope, suppressor, grenade launcher, and other scope and alt fire attachments.
The other highlight of the game is the graphics. Crysis 2 is the Mila Kunis of video games, stunning to look at. While it’s up for debate whether this is the best-looking console game ever, I’ll say this much: New York City has never looked so good. There’s no mistaking such landmarks as Wall Street, Times Square, the Metropolitan Museum of Arts, Central Park and Grand Central Station, even if they don’t always go by those names. As you fight in the streets amongst the skyscrapers, the sense of scale is incredible. Even as New York City becomes increasingly ravaged by the Ceph invasion, the ruins are a sight to behold. Crysis 2 makes great use of lighting, especially light bloom, and the character models and animations look really good. The only downside in terms of the visuals is the occasional slowdown and a few technical glitches that we’ll get to in a moment.
The soundtrack is the highlight in the audio department. Composed by Hans Zimmer, it features an eerie theme. Unfortunately the rest of the sound design isn’t quite as memorable. Compared to the likes of recent Battlefield installments, the weapon effects in Crysis 2 lack punch. The voice acting is decent (I like the effect used in the “voice” of the Nanosuit), but I don’t think enough actors were used for the voices of the C.E.L.L. soldiers. In fact, the voice that was used the most frequently sounded a little too much like Prophet’s. The first couple of times I heard it I actually caught myself looking around, half-expecting to see him.
Now, about those technical issues I mentioned earlier. In several instances I came across an enemy who was continually walking or running into a solid object. I also came across a few enemies who literally died right in front of me before I even had the chance to kill them. They just keeled over as if they suffered a heart attack. It’s not uncommon for your melee attack to send an enemy clipping into a solid surface (which makes it difficult, if not impossible to pick up their weapon and/or Nano Catalyst). The AI, in general, is very erratic. Sometimes an enemy will spot you a mile away and start shooting you through the most minute of cracks, while other times you could be standing right next to an enemy, uncloaked, and they can’t be bothered to do much about it.
Multiplayer in Crysis 2 plays a lot like Call of Duty and a little like Halo, but once again it’s the Nanosuit that allows the experience to stand on its own. The Nanosuit works a little differently in multiplayer than single player. Besides the fact there is no Visor Mode, the suit’s energy drains noticeably faster when cloaked and slower when sprinting; at least initially. There are 6 game modes to play (the usual assortment of deathmatch, capture the flag and objective-based variants) across 12 maps. A ranks system allows players to level up and unlock new modules specific to the suit’s three states: Stealth, Armor and Power. As you level up your Armor state, for instance, and complete challenges unique to the current Armor module, you’ll unlock new Armor bonuses and options. The same goes for Stealth and Power, and there are considerably more suit modules in multiplayer than in single player.
Killstreaks are present, granting players and teams support bonuses such as “Maximum Nanosuit” (unlimited suit energy for a period of time), but in Crysis 2 it’s not enough just to kill an enemy, in addition you have to run over to the dead body and retrieve their dog tag (players earn and choose from over 250 dog tags to represent themselves). In other words, snipers can’t just pick off enemies one-by-one and then call in a “Ceph Airstrike” or activate a “Nanosuit Jammer,” they actually have to come out of hiding to earn the bonus. For those on the losing end, Fatality bonuses are also available. It takes a little longer to rank up in Crysis 2 than it does most shooters, and some of the unlocks are bizarrely positioned (you can’t play ranked matches in certain game modes until you reach a higher level, nor can you play without Nanosuits until much, much later), but overall multiplayer is fun and rewarding enough to keep a spot in your regular rotation for months to come.
Crysis 2 is more than just a pretty face. The single player campaign is well paced and at a running time of 9-10 hours is nearly twice as long as your typical shooter. Multiplayer draws heavy inspiration from the likes of Call of Duty and Halo (mostly the former) but still manages to hold its own thanks in large part to the Nanosuit. Crysis 2 isn’t a flawless experience by any means – the plot is weak, the AI is erratic and there are a handful of technical issues – but getting back to the initial question: Should you invest in yet another sci-fi first-person shooter? Absolutely. Suit up and I’ll see you in New York City.