Hype can be insidious. It can dominate our preconceptions and significantly impact our excitement level. Heading into the release of Crysis 2 , the arguments, controversy, and reservations had inundated every last active game community; a less-than-impressive PlayStation 3 demo combined with Crytek’s boasting created even more discussion. Factor in the history of multiplatform performance this generation, and you’ve got a minefield, where one treads lightly and not without a sense of foreboding. Say the wrong thing, and one constituency will react with grim vigor. But when we start playing, preconceptions change to impressions and impressions ultimately give way to judgment. And that’s what we’re here to deliver- judgment. And by the way, it’s a darn good thing I moved passed the “impression” phase…
Much has been made of the graphics, but I’ll try to make it simple: Crysis 2 is arguably the most accomplished multiplatform title to date. The environments are large and wonderfully designed, the enemy design and general animations are stellar, and the atmosphere is second-to-none. Special effects are crisp and act as fantastic highlights to most any vicious encounter, and you just have to love the robust colors and design structure. However, that being said, it is not devoid of glitches. There’s a fair amount of pop-in, things do appear blurry at times (especially in the PS3 version), and the frame rate can drop a little. In this way, it falls short of being the best of the elite in the graphics category, but that doesn’t devalue Crytek’s achievement. Take time to appreciate the little things, too, like the sweet water effects and shadows.
A top-notch soundtrack cements the sound category, and the game also boasts plenty of quality voiceover work and distinct, in-your-face effects. The balance isn’t bad, either; many shooters have an issue blending heavy effects, music and voices, but despite a few stumbles, the sound balance here is quite solid. Also, I always expect to wince at some of the opposition’s cries, as they’re often contrived, cheesy, and repetitive. But in Crysis 2 , I always thought it was very cool to hear, “he’s uncloaked!” when I snap out into the open, or something that accurately reflects a change in the battlefield. I still wish I could’ve heard more of the music during the more intense portions of the game, and not all the characters are expertly voiced, but those are minor complaints. All in all, this game is a feast for any surround sound system.
These days, shooters absolutely must find a way to differentiate themselves. Amazing graphics and tight, responsive control aren’t enough to vault a title into a critic’s good graces; the competition is simply too stiff. In order to stand out from the crowd, Crytek uses a variety of gameplay elements that successfully present Crysis 2 as something special; something that doesn’t feel exactly like a Call of Duty or a Battlefield . In this case, there’s the RPG-like addition of the Nanosuit, which is both essential and upgradeable: it’s the suit that makes your character a borderline superhero, as it allows you to blend into the environment, take extra damage without succumbing, and exercise acrobatic maneuvers no human could manage. Translation- this feature is the determining factor.
It allows the gameplay to expand beyond the boundaries of a standard shooter. Holding X executes an extra-high power jump, you can grab ledges and clamber up, and there are four suit categories that feature useful upgrades. At any time, you can toggle the cloak, which allows you to become almost entirely invisible, and you also have the option of enabling stronger armor. You can have both suit skills enabled at the same time, but that drains heavily on the suit, and you can’t remain an invisible super-soldier forever. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg; there’s plenty more, but you have to earn the right to unlock the suit’s full potential. That requires the slaying of aliens that can end your quest in the blink of an eye, because they love to rush you. They’re not very bright, though, so cloaking and sidestepping is usually enough to secure a kill and some valuable nano energy. And speaking of not-so-bright enemies…
If you’ve read other reviews, you’ve probably noticed a common complaint, and that relates to the opposition’s AI. I’m not as down on the AI as others, primarily because foes at least present some semblance of a battle-hardened brain. They will move to better positions, fire blindly when in cover, search about when a threat is detected, etc. Of course, they also have the magical ability to hit you with every fired shot when out in the open, but that’s common. At least some dude won’t kill you with a shotgun from three football fields away (‘cough’ Black Ops ‘cough’). The biggest issue happens when up close and personal- enemies will often not acknowledge your presence and instead head for a programmed cover spot; I can’t count how many rounds I’ve unloaded into fleeing backs. It’s a big flaw, unfortunately.
While we’re on the negative side of things, I should also mention the storyline. On the one hand, I can be optimistic (and perhaps realistic) and just say it’s great for a shooter. On the other hand, I thought we were promised a plot with a bit more progression and character development. Half the time, we’re in the dark concerning the overarching storyline and I only started to get interested at about the 5-hour mark. This leads me to my last complaint, regarding the fact that the first few hours of the game really chafed. It was one massive firefight after another, with dozens upon dozens of faceless foes with magical aim, and the same type of environment. I only had one or two suit options open and due to the size and scope of those battles, dying at the end requires that you do the whole thing over again. It was driving me nuts .
For those first hours, I wasn’t impressed with much of anything besides the technical elements. I was picturing an 8.0 in my head and nothing higher. But suddenly, just about everything got a lot better: the story finally seemed to have a purpose, the atmosphere and style changed a bit (I stayed cloaked for a loooong time in one sequence), and I started upgrading that awesome suit. Plus – and best of all – the encounters began to amp up big time; there’s one memorable battle after another, although the AI still has the same quirks. I still say the checkpoints are a tad too far apart but I may be spoiled, and I admit the inherent challenge of this game is higher than that of other shooters. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, per se. Yeah, there are a few glitches you might encounter, but they’re more comical than tragic; i.e., no freezing or crashing.
The multiplayer benefits from the same features that make the campaign shine, but ironically enough, it also suffers from the same problem- it doesn’t get great until you’ve played for a few hours. That’s when the coolest modes are unlocked, like Assault and Extraction. Personally, I’m more a fan of Crash Site, just ‘cuz it reminds me a whole lot of those happy-go-lucky King of the Hill playground sessions. The aforementioned suit abilities alone make the multiplayer aspect of Crysis 2 very different in comparison to other FPSs. For instance, because I tend to favor stealth if I have the chance, I can use a sneaky, backstabbing approach in both the single-player and multiplayer scenarios. Factor in the various maps that present players with all sorts of tactical opportunities, and you’ve got a robust online experience that serves to add plenty of longevity. But hey, don’t forget that the campaign alone might take upwards of 12 hours. How awesome is that ?
Crysis 2 is a no-brainer for any FPS fan and might even appeal to those who desire a twist to the tried-and-true shooter format. The Nanosuit is a definite game-changer; from the visor that offers tactical advice to the minor platforming features to the many upgrades, it give the player awesome control. In some ways, I was actually reminded of Deus Ex when playing this sequel; the sci-fi franchise is indeed part-RPG and has a different structure, but there are elements of Crysis 2 that don’t revolve around reflexes and finger dexterity. The campaign is long and involved, the intensity, emotion and immersiveness continues to get better and better as time goes on, the technical achievement cannot be overstated, and the multiplayer is a rewarding bonus. The AI trips and stumbles, the glitches are there, and I got really bored during the first few hours, but the end result is a compelling, involving adventure. Give it a try.
The Good: Great graphics. Music and sound effects are top-notch. Expansive environmental design is a plus. Control is fantastic. Nanosuit is a captivating, distinguishing feature. Campaign is long and gets better with time. Multiplayer feels refreshing.
The Bad: Pop-in and gameplay glitches can be irritating. AI is inconsistent. Takes too long for the campaign to impress. Checkpoints may be too far apart.
The Ugly: “…getting tired of shooting people in the back.”