Sunday, March 27, 2011

REVIEW - Crysis 2.

Crysis was always more about the tech that drove it than the game itself. I'm sure I heard something about it being an open-world shooter which gave the player a great deal of choice in how they approach situations - but 99% of the conversations and articles regarding the game focused on how its main purpose seemed to be kicking your gaming PC in the nuts, over and over, and how staggeringly attractive it was. I suppose this is what developer Crytek gets for naming its games after itself - Crysis, FarCry - there's a cynicism at work among the gamer consciousness that these titles are little more than tech demos to sell the developer's engine for licensing purposes.

Indeed, the original Crysis is still a gorgeous game - and anticipation was high for Crytek's console debut (FarCry 2 doesn't count, that was Ubisoft Montreal) - to the point that, prior to its release, many publications were hailing it as the best-looking console game ever.

They were, for the record, wrong. Crysis 2 on PS3 isn't a bad-looking game by any stretch of the imagination, but it falls short of the standard set by Sony's first-party studios. God of War III, Killzone 2 and Uncharted 2 can rest easy - the lapping tide of Crytek's ability strikes well below their high-water mark.

Fortunately, that's not all there is to say about Crysis 2. It's not merely a good-looking-but-not-exceptionally-so game - it's a good game. The story is largely useless, with mediocre voice work, amateurish writing and disappointing animation, but the game itself is rather refreshing, in terms of design.

They say the clothes make the man, and in this case it's all about the suit. The nanosuit - far more important than the man within it - has a growling, predatory voice of its own (unlike the player character). It's the reasonable explanation of the classic first-person shooter experience - one man manages to be the singular hero, against ridiculous odds. The suit is your minimap, your best friend, the legitimization of the requisite HUD and your most powerful weapon - the weapon of choice.

With its seething observation of "tactical options available," it prompts you to press up on the D-pad to reveal a more detailed heads-up display. Markers dotted about the level indicate weapon cashes, opportunities to flank your enemies, gain higher ground, explore, or point out a .50 cal turret begging for use.

It's also just pretty damn cool, and well-implemented. I love the way the suit talks, I love how it seems more invested in your survival than you are, I love all the little suit powers that are so perfectly easy to call upon - you're never fighting with the game to do what you want.

It's a pleasurable title to play. It's slick.

At first, it seems strange that you tap the select button to bring up your suit's customization menu, but hold it down to customize your weapon - but in practice, it works perfectly because customizing your gun never takes longer than four seconds.

Hold select, tap triangle to cycle your muzzle attachments, tap X to cycle your sight attachment, tap square to cycle your underbarrel - release select. It entirely removes the standard waiting time of menus - pick up a pistol off a dead soldier and in no time flat you've got Your pistol, made to order.

This streamlined ease-of-use extends to every mechanic the suit offers - nothing is ever more than a single or double button-tap away - and it allows you to instantly adapt to the changing conditions of a firefight, and confidently negotiate the battlefield.

It makes you feel, in a word, badass.

It's also more open than we're used to, in terms of how you achieve your goal. Crysis 2 is a linear series of open(ish) levels, but a great deal of attention is placed on vertical space. Climbing or spelunking always nets you an alternate rout, a powerful weapon, a great vantage point to snipe from.

While all these lovely powers and their strategic application are satisfying and often thrilling, they also allow a great deal of game-breaking potential. After pumping a few thousand nano-catalyst (obtained from defeated alien invaders) into my stealth abilities, I was able to essentially walk past every enemy in the game's final chapter.

At the same time, I don't really want to complain about it. The game's narrative may be a yawner, but the player's story is peppered with user-generated moments of pure awesome.

Tearing a heavy machine gun from its base, walking up to a hulking, armored alien Heavy, hearing The Suit growl "maximum armor" and pelting the beast with .50 caliber rounds while I soak up its fury - awesome. Sneaking up behind a soldier to put a knife to his throat in stealth mode, whipping around, firing up heat vision and sniping an enemy through the fog - awesome.

There are... a lot of these moments in Crysis 2, made all the more satisfying because you know you could have handled these situations in dozens of other ways.

It feels like a vital spark is missing, though. The game doesn't feel creative, inspired or very inspiring - beyond what fun the player can choose to have with the offered mechanics.

I find I can't help but compare Crysis 2 to Killzone 3, and despite its suite of sweet features and slick implementation, Crysis's firefights just end up feeling less intense, less interesting than Killzone's. Bullets don't feel as important, for some reason - though I love the way they rip through concrete pillars and walls - and even the mightiest of enemies are far less dangerous or intimidating.

Still, the nanosuit is absolutely badass, and gives you a real feeling of strength, choice and power. The gameplay is tight, the interface is slick, the graphics are well above-par and it's got a great soundtrack. There's little to complain about (beyond the story) in Crysis 2, but neither is it a title that feels very necessary - though this is not a condemnation.

It's a capable shooter - eager to please - and a respectable purchase.

-it's rather good-looking
-slick interface
-ultra-streamlined use of your suit
-makes the player feel really powerful
-open(ish) levels encourage various strategies
-the suit is very, very cool, and generally well-balanced
-every now and then you'll orchestrate a moment that feels wicked-cool
-when you go stealth mode there's an electronic purring, just like in Predator. Awesome!
-good pacing


-boring story
-mediocre script and voice work
-...which makes the game feel pretty pointless sometimes
-doesn't feel as intense as some other shooters
-enemy AI can be pretty stupid, sometimes
-eventually you can power up your suit to the point where you can just walk through the game and never worry about anything except forced combat
-it's got this auto-pop-around-cover mechanic that's pretty picky about which cover it'll let you pop from

Very good.

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