US: 19 Feb 2013
Crysis impressed everyone with its lush jungle environment. Crysis 2 was less impressive simply by virtue of being set in a city. A crumbling concrete jungle is never as colorful as a real jungle. Crysis 3 goes for the best of both worlds and succeeds. It’s set in a dystopian New York City overgrown with vegetation, like a post-post-apocalyptic world in which mankind no longer exists and nature has decided to move on.
Crysis 3 uses the ruins of New York to funnel you along a specific path, but the extra set dressing of foliage and flora effectively hides this linearity. Instead of being blocked by a concrete wall, you’re usually blocked by overgrowth. The result is the same, but it looks like I could run through that overgrowth if I really had to, thus conjuring a successful illusion of space. The world feels much bigger than it really is, which means Crysis 3 hits on a nice middle ground between its two predecessors. It has the structure of Crysis 2 (narrow corridors lead you to wide open arenas for combat) and it also has the pleasant jungle visuals of Crysis.
Those pleasant visuals apply to the humans as well. In one early scene, a character leans in close and looks you in the eyes. The details on his face are amazing, and when he backs away to start talking to others, you realize that every character is modeled in the same ultra-detailed fashion—so are the enemies, so is the environment. It’s an impressive technical achievement that takes you aback.
But it’s an impressive technical achievement in service to nothing. The face isn’t particularly emotive, the dialogue that comes out of the mouth is just boilerplate shooter exposition, the character himself barely has a role in the story, and that story is so rushed and half-formed that it feels like the characters are just making it up as they go along. Whereas Crysis 2 had a confusing story with a fascinating subtext, Crysis 3 has a confusing story with no subtext.
The game feels oddly short. The actual campaign length falls in line with most modern shooters (it took me nine hours according to the in-game clock), but it feels half that. There’s no proper first act to the story. It opens with you being freed from some container, then immediately recruited into a ragtag freedom fighter group rebelling against CELL, an evil energy corporation. I’m okay with dropping players into the action right away, but there’s not even a proper second act to the story. The ragtag group frees you on their way to destroy CELL’s power source, which will cripple the company. You start Crysis 3 at the beginning of the third act, so the whole game is just an extended climax to someone else’s story. There are twists and spectacle, but I don’t care about any of it. Whenever someone opens their mouth, I immediately want to skip the yakking and get back to the shooting.
The general gameplay remains almost unchanged from Crysis 2. Combat arenas are big, but you can use the tactical visor to highlight anything that might be worth noting (enemies, explosives, ammo crates, objectives, etc). This makes it easy to plan an attack. Your suit has two special modes, Armor and Stealth, which are pretty self-explanatory. The game doesn’t encourage you to approach combat in any specific way, it’s all up to you. Turn on Stealth and silently kill everyone or turn on Stealth and sneak past everyone. Turn on Armor and run into the fray or turn on Armor as a safety precaution while you snipe from afar. The freedom is exciting, and in theory (and in previous games), it turns every fight into a test of smarts as well as a test of skills. However, Crysis 3 is neither a test of smarts nor a test of skills thanks to a game-breaking new weapon that makes even the hardest difficulty a cakewalk: the Predator Bow.
Normally, shooting while in Stealth drains your suit energy, which means no more Stealth. This forces you to balance offense with defense since you can’t be an invisible killing machine, but this limitation doesn’t apply to the Predator Bow. You can shoot the bow while in Stealth, and it’s almost always a one-hit kill. You can also retrieve the arrows after you shoot them, which essentially gives you unlimited ammo. There’s no need for tactics, no need to balance offense and defense, no need to ever even touch a gun save for the final boss. Just shoot the arrow, retrieve the arrow, and win the game.
Crysis 3 still controls well. The general act of movement still feels good, which makes multiplayer a welcome addition. You get all the fun of combat and controls with no game-breaking features. The Predator Bow still exists in multiplayer, but it’s nowhere near as effective since other players tend to run and jump and know how to spot a cloaked figure, unlike the enemy AI. The bow is essentially a bolt-action sniper rifle: a one-hit kill weapon with a long reload time.
The suit powers are still the standout feature of Crysis multiplayer, especially Stealth. It seems like everyone has Stealth active at all times. It’s common to catch people off guard and be caught off guard yourself, which instills in you a healthy paranoia. The multiplayer demands your full attention and then rewards you for giving in. It’s so very satisfying to kill someone that’s camouflaged before they kill you. Sneaky bastards.
Crysis 3 is mostly more of the same from Crysis 2, but everything that has changed has changed for the worse. Sure, the bow is so powerful that I beat the game on the hardest difficulty in two short afternoons, but there’s still a silver lining here. At least, the bow breaks combat in a way that is empowering rather than frustrating. I’d rather play a well-balanced shooter, but I’d also rather play a shooter that’s too easy than one that’s too hard.