The original Crysis was a graphical benchmark to which all other games were compared—no PC was truly hardcore unless it could run Crysis. Well, now the Xbox 360 and PS3 can run Crysis 2, so what does that say about the visuals for this heavily hyped sequel? Truthfully, the game looks fantastic, but those high fidelity visuals are also the source of some frustration and confusion.
Crysis 2 presents a realistic looking New York City, but realistic doesn’t mean pleasant. You’ll fight through sewers, across skyscrapers, and several blocks of city streets, past busted cars and piles of rubble, but sadly no matter how realistic a building looks, it can never be as breathtaking as the lush jungles of the original game—though the climax in Central Park comes close.
Beyond the inherent unattractiveness of the realistically rendered world, Crytek seems a bit too eager to show off the visuals. Since everything in the world looks so sharp, it can be hard to see the human enemies until they start shooting with their white uniforms blending in with the white/grey concrete of the city. Most UI elements, like the mini map or objective markers, are more transparent than solid, making them hard to see as well. But these annoyances can be ignored thanks to your visor.
Pressing up on the D-pad activates your visor, which automatically holsters your gun but displays all nearby enemies, objectives, and tactical suggestions. You can mark anything that you deem important, and the marker remains active after you turn the visor off. The holstering action prevents you from relying on this view in the heat of battle, but the ability to mark things helps you plan an attack with full awareness of your surroundings, even when hiding behind rubble.
And you’ll need to be aware. The game avoids linear corridors wherever it can, instead putting you in large open arenas. You can go in guns blazing or take a quiet approach. Both options are encouraged by your character’s nanosuit, which can switch between an armor mode and a stealth mode. Both drain the suit’s energy, so you have to act fast once they’re activated, but the suit also recharges fast, allowing you to jump between modes in the middle of a fight. In fact, you’ll probably switch nanosuit modes more often than you reload. This is a good thing; your suit gets you thinking tactically. Going stealth allows for easy flanking, and using armor when hurt gives your health time to recharge, letting you spend more time in open battle rather than behind cover. The game strikes a nice balance between making you feel powerful and making you struggle with limited energy.
Make no mistake, Crysis 2 will be a long struggle. In this age of five hour campaigns, Crysis 2 is a true epic, easily lasting at least 10 hours. The story that’s told over those 10 hours has some interesting ideas, but it’s told in such a confusing manner that those ideas are easily lost. You start the game fighting against humans, then you start fighting aliens, then you team up with other humans against the aliens. There are a lot of characters and faction politicking at play here—throw in some betrayals and double-crosses and it gets even more confusing. By the end, after the dust has settled on all the twists, things become clearer, but it takes a long time getting there.
On the plus side, the story takes a kind of cynical joy in bashing you around, putting you in the middle of one disaster after another that only a super soldier could live through. In doing so, the game presents an intriguing idea that even a super soldier can’t fight a war alone. You’re still just one man. As if to reinforce this idea, your squad mates can be very helpful at certain points. For example, it was them, not me, who took out an alien gunship; I was scrounging for more rocket ammo when they landed the final blow with normal guns. It’s a nice contrast to your usually useless teammates in other shooters.
The multiplayer is typical for this kind of shooter, but Crysis 2 adds its own twist to some standard features. Unlike the campaign, multiplayer is all about running and gunning, but the ability to activate your armor and stealth adds a layer of strategy missing from Call of Duty. You have custom loadouts, you level up, but in a nice twist, your suit modes (armor, stealth, and power) level up separately, adding an element of class-based leveling to the game even though there are no classes. With each new level, whether it’s for a suit mode or your multiplayer character in general, you get an unlock point to spend on a variety of upgrades. This allows you to upgrade your character according to your playstyle, so that every unlockable is something that you will actually use.
As for game types, there’s your typical deathmatch, team deathmatch, and capture point games, as well as several others that are locked until you reach a certain level that I haven’t been able to play. There’s also a New Recruits game type that’s just team deathmatch for people level 1-10. Crysis 2 isn’t the first game to offer a “beginner’s mode” like this, but it’s always good to see a game ease in new players rather than throw them in with the veterans from the get-go.
Crysis 2 is a great mix of the new and familiar. It’s similar enough to other games to attract fans of military shooters but different enough to stand on its own merits apart from its peers. It may not be the graphical showcase that the first game was, but it’s surely just as fun and that’s really what matters most.