Crysis 3 First Look Preview -- It's an Urban Jungle Out ThereBy Jake Gaskill - Posted Apr 24, 2012
The Crysis series has, so far, been somewhat of a confusing/mixed bag. Crysis, Crysis Warhead, and last year's Crysis 2 were certainly easy on the eyes (assuming your PC was up for the challenge posed by the first two), but despite the visuals and the sandbox, Nanosuit-based gameplay, the series has yet to really find its voice in the ever-populated FPS genre, even with all the technical wizadry on display thanks to Crytek's proprietary CryEngine.
With Crysis 3, the “pinnacle of the Crysis franchise” due out early next year, Crytek is looking to hit its stride, as the game is being developed equally across Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC using the same modified version of the CryEngine 3 the team developed for Crysis 2. Since the developers don't have to worry about building the engine alongside the game, they can focus the majority of their attention on bringing their vision and story to life rather than trying to do so while also figuring out the ones and zeroes needed to pull it off.
"We have a lot of franchise legacy now working on the third installment of the game," explained Crytek director of creative development Rasmus Hojengaard. "We have a really passionate, really driven team who wants to do the best game in the franchise so far. And we have a stable and reliable technology platform, which is really important in order to polish the game to the level we want. And obviously since we're not developing the console version of the engine, which was the case with Crysis 2, it leaves us in a completely different situation."
After seeing the game in action during EA's debut event this week, it's obvious that the
developers are taking full advantage of the added freedom that has come from being able to hone their focus. I guess what i'm saying is sweet Prophet's ghost does the game look sharp, even in its current 14-month stage. But before we get into all that, a little backstory.
Crysis 3 takes place 20 years after the events of Crysis 2, aka 2047. The world, and in the player's case Prophet, who makes his return just in time to finish his trilogy story arc, is still battling the alien invaders known as the Ceph. The evil Cell corporation is still...well, evil and more hellbent than ever to harness Ceph's alien technology to further their goals of world domination.
As a way to hide their ultimately shady goals, Cell has developed structures known as Nanodomes. These massive structures have been placed over various cities around the world to contain the Ceph outbreaks inside them, but there are obviously much shadier angles at play. Crysis 3 is set inside the Liberty Dome, the structure put in place over New York City, the setting of the previous game.
In addition to quarantining the Ceph, the domes have caused exponential environmental growth to occur inside the cities. The thought being that the accelerated development would be able to purge the pollution and Ceph threat once and for all. As a result, though, these domed metropolises have become "urban rainforests," brimming with animal life and encompassing a wide variety of environmental themes.
These themes, aka the "Seven Wonders of the Urban Rainforest" as Crytek refers to them, include areas ranging from dark, claustrophobic swamplands, to canyon areas, to sprawling grasslands. Each area is being designed to not only look unique, but to have distinct moods and tones as well. As has become a Crysis staple, it's all about variety, and for Crysis 3, the settings will play an even more important role in terms of supporting the series’ distinct brand of free-form combat.
“This whole setting of the urban rainforest is the perfect platform for this type of gameplay,” said Hojengaard. “And also we’ve been able to push the perception of what is a rainforest and push the perception of what is an urban setting because we have the whole sci-fi layer of the nanodome added on top of this, which means we can go above and beyond what you would normally experience in reality. So we have the foundation for the ultimate sandbox shooter, basically.”
Our gameplay demo (played on a PC build) took place in a swampland area that used to be Chinatown, and occurs around a third of the way into the campaign during a mission called "Hell is Right Around the Corner." When the game fades up, we're in a lower level of a building overgrown with vegetation. Water pours in from the ceiling and walls and rushes down the two escalators leading upstairs up ahead.
At this point, we're introduced to the game's signature weapon, the bow. This brutal and efficient killing tool isn't just a kick ass piece of equipment. It also embodies and supplements the overall theme of the game: Prophet going from hunted to hunter.
As John Rambo will tell you, the bow is obviously the ideal weapon for someone looking for a quiet and efficient way to kill as many unsuspecting foes as possible. Prophet’s allows him to do just this, thanks in large part to his nanosuit’s cloaking ability. To encourage players to think strategically, Prophet can fire a standard bolt while cloaked, a first for the series. If you fire explosive or stun bolts, you’ll decloak, just like with standard weapons.
The introduction and improvement of more “hunter-ish” skills—like how marking enemies now includes a more detailed description of the type of enemy and the weapon they’re carrying or the new ability to remotely hack turrets and electronics—all feeds into Crysis 3’s primary gameplay philosophy of “Assess, Adapt, and Attack,” or “AAA.” You locate your targets, you set up your strategy based on your particular surroundings and weapons of choice, and then you strike and hope the end result is you standing on a pile of arrow-ridden Ceph corpses.
Hojengaard went on to explain that Prophet’s transformation from hunted to hunter goes beyond simple mechanics. Prophet is also on the hunt to find out more about his dark and sordid past, and, most likely, the “good explanation to why he’s back” after having tried to kill himself in the previous installment. It’s a multi-layered affair, and again goes to show how the team has been able to channel their creative energies into the game’s narrative and gameplay rather than having to give equal if not more time to the tech driving it (To be fair, there are plenty of significant graphical improvements in the works as well, including the “insane lens flair system” that is sure to make J.J. Abrams weep with envy).
We got a great taste of the game’s new lighting effects once Prophet reached the top of the escalator and made his way through a thoroughly destroyed ball room with appropriately dilapidated chandeliers dangling tenuously from the ceiling. After disposing of a lone Ceph grunt, we reached a bombed out corner of the building just as a ship tore through the sky, shaking the walls and windows apart as it passed. In the distance, a massive red tower, which stands atop an underground prison where series vet Psycho awaits rescue, stretched to the sky, and the floodlights atop it drenched the vegetation-rife streets with artificial light, casting hard shadows across every inch of the dense, lush setting.
Prophet used his cloak and bow to take out a handful of Ceph soldiers in the area, one of which was on a building a few hundred yards away. As he fired the bolt, the camera moved in close behind it as it sailed through the air and struck the enemy in the chest. A silent takedown involving a knife to the face here, an explosive arrow striking several explosive barrels to create a brilliant explosion that tossed water, debris, and enemies into the sky there, and we were off to the action races.
At one point, two Scorchers, a new enemy, appeared in all their lizard-inspired, quadrupedal glory. These fire-spewing mechs are even more impressive than they sound as they are the first four-legged creations Crytek has built. According to Hojengaard, it was no small feat to pull it off either, and the team is especially proud of how it turned out. As they should be, because these dudes don’t mess around, and they are terrifying in action.
This fight also gave us the chance to see a number of other new weapons in action as well. The Typhoon is a nasty, Cell-designed prototype that can fire 500 rounds per second. It sounds like a turret when fired and delivers a powerful punch. Crysis 3 also introduces alien weaponry for the first time. One of the more devastating Ceph weapons at your disposal is the heavy mortar, which can fire either plasma grenades or missiles, both of which are capable of causing massive amounts of damage to anyone and anything in the area.
During the demo, there were tons of great little details that showcased how much attention Crytek has paid to bringing the world of Crysis 3 to life. From the frogs seen hopping around in the water as you wade through the swamp to the way Prophet’s HUD freaks out when he picks up alien weapons because his suit, while allowing him to use the alien tech, still isn’t quite sure what to make of the foreign firepower (yes, sort of like District 9), it’s supremely apparent that everything in the game world is there to serve the narrative and vice versa.
“So if you combine all these things--the setting, the new abilities of the suit, the weapons, everything--," Hojengaard summarized, "you have the ultimate hunter in the urban rainforest setting, and that was one of our high level goals when we set out to do this game 14 months ago.”
If this is what the game looks like a little over a year into development, with another year to go, I can only imagine what the final product will achieve, technically as well as from a design perspective. We’ll be seeing quite a bit more of the game over the coming months, so there’s plenty of time for the visual honeymoon to wear off, but for now, color me thoroughly excited to see what awaits Prophet on his final mission.