Crysis 2 Review

By Miguel Concepcion - Posted Mar 22, 2011

Crysis 2 is a veritable wake up call to all those FPS developers and consumers who have gotten too comfortable with hallway-shaped shooters. It's not a game changer by any means, but it does show that the genre as a whole has the latitude to aspire to higher standards.

The Pros
  • Robust single player mode
  • Adaptive combat situations make each playthrough unique
  • Open level design is refreshing
The Cons
  • Very minor production bugs
  • Uninspiring story
  • Vehicle sections are too short
  • Many will miss out on the spectacular 3D

Crysis 2 Review:

First-person shooter fans must feel pretty darn lucky lately. In a six-month span that started with Medal of Honor, there have been no fewer than six high caliber releases. Somehow, EA managed to lay claim to three of those games (as a publisher). Yet what is more impressive is how two of those titles, Bulletstorm and Crysis 2, make reasonable attempts to defy gameplay conceits to the point that it works to the gamers' benefit to forget everything they know about first-person shooters.
 




Familiarity Isn't Always A Good Thing
 
Second installments of planned trilogies in all forms of entertainment often carry the burden of trying to stand out while being more than just a bridge to the concluding chapter. One way Crysis 2 carves its own identity is by relocating the trilogy to New York City. As the survivor of a failed beach landing against invading aliens, protagonist Alcatraz is rescued by Prophet, the squad leader from the previous game. For reasons that would spoil the plot, Prophet passes on his Nanosuit to Alcatraz in order to complete a rescue mission. You would be right to assume that Crysis 2's narrative goes well beyond this initial assignment.

This story is also where Crysis 2 falls short. Much of the supporting cast comes off sounding cliché, a result of Crytek wanting to present familiar characterizations for the player. I found myself rolling my eyes when the parodical outcast scientist vented about the obligatory "fools at the Pentagon". There are the expected fragile alliances, unsurprising one-dimensional personalities and the amped Marines who yell "Hoo-rah!" and the classic hit "That's what I'm talking about!"  The manner by which you join different cast members throughout your journey, and the near-future setting, has strains of a Half-Life 2 influence and more gamers would get that positive vibe had it not been for Crysis 2's chapter breaks. In its defense, it would have been a challenge to make the progression seamless in a setting as large as New York City.
 
One lost opportunity that Crysis 2 could have played up was the human element involving the non-military survivors in NYC. We all saw it at the end of the Grand Central E3 demo, where residents were desperately trying to join up with the outbound vehicles. Instead, much of the plot development is between Alcatraz and the nagging voice inside his suit, which by the way you cannot turn off since it plays an integral part in the story.

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Bourne Again

Once you figure out how Crysis 2's universe operates, don't be surprised to feel like a special agent in the Jason Bourne vein. You'll get into the habit of appraising a given area of its alternate routes, cover spots, and all the opportunities to gain the upper hand in a firefight. At one point I was in a rooftop shootout against what felt like a half-dozen entrenched enemy operatives as well as a dozen more incoming support troops. Eventually I blew up the one explosive red barrel on the roof, but I was out of grenades and my cover options were literally deteriorating. So I did what any super soldier would do in that situation: I just leapt off the building (but not before I activated my armor boost to cushion my landing).
 
And there is a sense of liberation when confronting a traditional FPS obstacle like an 18-wheeler and knowing that you can simply slide under it or power jump over it in Crysis 2. Of course this isn't anything new if you consider the super-powered protagonists in third-person adventure games like inFamous and Crackdown. You're powered, but not overpowered in this game. Those who are used to certain FPS gameplay conventions will be pleasantly surprised by how gratifying it is to take advantage of one's environment in ways that are seldom done in other shooters.
 
There's the Nanosuit itself, which has been purposefully labeled as ver. 2.0. Arguably its greatest asset is the brief cool down period, which helps maintain the game's fast pace. The user interface when activating the suit’s enhancements is more streamlined compared to the first Crysis, not to mention the ability to customize the Nanosuit based on your play preferences. You can be well-rounded with your power-ups or you can try and survive with limited resources as you save up for one high-level mod like the air stomp.
 




While the suit succeeds in providing the player an otherworldly sense of science fiction, the familiar weapon selection complements the suit by giving the player a grounded sense in reality. Though fictional, these firearms are mostly FPS staples from assault rifles to shotguns to snipers. 22 in all, the only non-standard weapon is the MIKE, a mircowave-based gun that boils unfortunate targets. The C4 explosive is actually the showcase weapon of the bunch. Those still basking in the afterglow of Bulletstorm will enjoy attaching C4 onto enemies; when you consider that Alcatraz has the ability to also throw enemies, you can imagine the joyous mayhem that ensues when you combine both actions.
 
Crytek also deserves recognition for the designs of the weapon and suit customization interfaces. By avoiding the traditional multi-page pause menu UI that most FPS games use, these one-button-accessible customization screens actually feel like part of the Nanosuit itself. It is all the more immersive since the action continues in the background when you're accessing these screens.
 
Giving the player this much freedom and flexibility also addresses one of the trickier aspects of FPS story modes: replayability. While other shooters bring the player back to the story with achievements, perks and an experience system that carries over to the multiplayer, Crysis 2 goes a more traditional route by trusting the inherent merits of the gameplay. Moreover, the game is designed to appeal to both players who want to kill every enemy in the game and players who want to be as stealthy as possible. The cloaking feature of the Nanosuit is effective enough that you could go through the majority of the game without being spotted, although there's an added sense of gratification for passing areas undetected without cloaking.
 



Artificial Behavior Provides The Challenge
 
The Nanosuit is an effective stealth mechanism, but beware that as you adjust to a situation, so do your enemies.  Anyone who has followed Crytek since 2004's Far Cry know the studio delivers games with impressive enemy AI, the kind that makes you wonder why this isn't a standard feature in most shooters. Enemies in Crysis 2 act with a convincing sense of unpredictability without feeling random. They rarely stick to one area for cover long and many will proactively come after you. The more extra-terrestrial opponents are especially impressive in this close-quarters environment, throwing you off occasionally by flanking you, or worse, maneuvering directly behind you.  At its most sublime, Crysis 2's combat results in a heated dance of improvisation on both ends and a sense perpetual of one-upmanship. At its minimal worst, one full playthrough will present two or three enemies with pathing issues, some of whom are running into walls thereby making them easy kills. On the topic of very minor bugs, it is puzzling that when cloaked, your shadow still appears, not that the enemy AI notices.

It should also be noted that the scant vehicle sections in Crysis 2 are well designed and deliver on some of the game's many cinematic moments. It's just a shame that these sections are too short especially in a game as long as this.

That said, when it comes to spoiled consumers who complain that 8-hour story modes are too short, Crysis 2 makes for one extensive value-laden campaign. It especially benefits the run-and-gun player, who can spend up to an hour in a number of the game's 19 chapters (20 if you count the non-playable epilogue).
 
A Worn Down Apple
 
The immense fun one can have in using the environment to outsmart one or a dozen enemies makes Crysis 2 feel like a playground rather than a sandbox. And it seems fitting that after all these years, Crytek has left the comfort of the island jungles and set Crysis 2 in the largest urban playground of them all. You will see many familiar Manhattan locales, but don't expect a greatest hits tour of all the city's landmarks, let alone a visit to The Village. As a metropolis, you get a solid balance of rooftop settings, grassy park shootouts and street-level combat.
 
There has never been a more fleshed out depiction of Manhattan in a videogame. Granted it is an extremely torn up version of the Big Apple, but all the destruction is detailed and convincing. While it has as many reused "trashy" art assets of broken beams, piles of concrete and garbage bags that you would find in most adventure games today, Crytek's art department does a much better job than most developers in making this kind of visual recycling unnoticeable. It's worth being distracted by one's surroundings if only to admire and consider the plausibility of this world.

It is also a fragile environment, one where buildings crumble and bridges collapse within your proximity. A couple surrounding events instantaneously change the landscape of an area, sometimes through the terrain, other times through visibility. If it's not an endless cloud of dust that affects your vision, the unexpected power failures and the ensuing darkness will keep you on your toes.
 
This attention to detail extends well beyond the environments. Little things like the feeling of heft when lifting oneself up a ledge and the audible weight in one's footsteps when armor is activated goes a long way in conveying a sense of polish.
 



A Nanosuit Free-For-All
 
Crysis 2 is also a rarity among contemporary first-person shooters because the production of the single player mode did not feel like it came at the expense of the multiplayer quality, nor vice versa. Of the 12 maps, a few are exclusive to multiplayer and many of those that were taken from the story underwent lighting changes to correlate with different times of day.  This is also the section where the Nanosuit gets to expand its repertoire of modules from the campaign's 12 to 21. MP-exclusive modules include the ability to take suit energy from a downed foe, use radar jamming, and capitalize on the often-lethal faster firing rate.
 
Among the familiar modes, Deathmatch has been renamed Instant Action, Conquest is now Crash Site, and Capture The Relay replaces Capture The Flag. Extraction is a one-sided Capture The Flag where the multiple "flags" are robotic insects that have to be captured and delivered to a helicopter.
 
I'm personally drawn to asymmetrical game modes mostly due to their unusual design and my curiosity with how each developer pulls it off. In Crysis 2 that mode is called Assault, an addictive set-up pitting soldiers with tons of artillery against Nanosuits who are stuck with pistols. It's a blast to be on either side and it's especially tense because it’s the only mandatory mode in Crysis 2 where you have just one life.
 
You actually can add this "single life" setting to the other modes as one of the modifiers. Other modifiers include: Beginner's Playground which limits the game to Rank 10 or lower; Pro disables support bonuses, limits health, and the HUD; and Standard is the default setting. There's also Classic which takes out the Nanosuit altogether, Fast Rounds for shorter intermissions, and Solo for non-squad gameplay. 
 
I found that the greatest multiplayer challenge was in stealth kills, a move that only the best and most dedicated player will pull off with regularity. The majority of gamers will try it, as accomplishing it will earn you one of the 200 tiered Assessments, Crysis 2's version of Challenges.
 



The often-perceived luxury of 3D compatibility is actually one of Crysis 2's best selling points. Whereas other 3D-enabled videogames have had to sacrifice some visual quality due to the double-rendering needed to pull off the 3D effect, Crytek Engine 3 manages to create a 3D image without any noticeable difference in the 2D version. Perhaps it helps that they went the Nintendo 3DS route by making the depth effect recessed as opposed to having foreground visuals pop out of the screen; and like the 3DS, the degree of depth can be adjusted. At one point I found myself playing with every available scope in my arsenal because the level of depth in staring through those barrels is so darn convincing. It's the first 3D game I've experienced where it felt like an enhancement as opposed to a novel alternate viewing mode. So by default, Crysis 2 is the best 3D console game to date.

PC diehards who harbor concerns that their version might suffer in quality like many console-to-PC ports should have no reason to worry. It performs just as well as the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions and high-end PCs will actually show a slight visual improvement by comparison. I could tell the sunlight was more focused; it achieved the desired effect without being excessive unlike some scenes in the Xbox 360 version. This was also probably why the contrast lighting was also slightly better on PC, lending to darker shadows. I was also able to pick up some minute improvements in detailed areas laden with tiles and trash, the kind of details you would only notice if you had a console version to refer to immediately.
 
Shortcomings aside, Crysis 2 presents an extensive laundry list of accomplishments that is worthy of the attention of any fan of first-person shooters. While the narrative and supporting cast take little to no chances at originality, one can hope that this is, like many Part IIs before it, acting as a fitting setup to a climactic conclusion to the trilogy.
 



In a genre that has become complacent with tunnel-style levels, experiencing the openness of Crysis 2 feels all the more refreshing. Of course you do have specific destinations to reach in each chapter, but how you get there and how many enemies you kill is up to you. While it does not feature the labyrinthine layouts of Wolfenstein and Doom, I can't think of a better shooter out there that captures the exploratory appeal of those games, paying homage to a time when the genre was in its infancy.