After so many years of anticipation, this excellent shooter truly hits the mark
Since it was first announced, Crysis quickly gained popularity and eager anticipation from the industry. The developer Crytek’s first effort since the good, but somewhat flawed Far Cry, was said to be an impressive experience that combined both excellent visuals and fresh, exciting gameplay. Years later, when the game finally hit the PC, it was actually almost everything that fans have hoped for. Without much doubt, Crysis is a stunning achievement, in gameplay, graphical design, and polish. The game sets the bar far ahead of any competition, present or future. It gives all shooters, present and future, PC and console, something to aspire to.
The game begins in 2020, when North Korean forces take control of the fictional Lingshan Islands following a distress call from a group of American researchers, indicating that they discovered something significant. In order to recover the scientists, an elite army group is sent in to find the missing people and save them – if possible, without triggering a war with North Korea. Players take on the role of Nomad, who is part of the squad sent in for the rescue op. However, as soon as the team lands on the island, things go unexpectedly. Team members are killed or go missing, and strange artifacts appear all over the island. In addition, the Korean forces are not too happy to see the rescue team, and stop at nothing to kill you.
Halfway into the story, Nomad discovers that the island contains a huge ancient alien ship, recently awoken by something. This causes the whole island to become overrun with aliens and experience an astronomical climate shift. The story goes on to become quite exciting, if not original, and does a good job of supporting the background for the gameplay. Things end on a cliffhanger, which is too bad, but at least the game is confirmed to be part of a trilogy. The plot in Crysis is well laid out and serviceable, though don’t expect any huge twists or clever situation outcomes.
One of the frustrating miscomprehensions about Crysis is that the gameplay is somehow generic, and the game is little more than a tech demo for the engine. In reality, even if Crysis lacked its amazing visuals, the game would still hold up as one of the best of 2007. The players are equipped with a Nano suit, a futuristic body suit that has a few select functions. There is an energy rating, which allows the suit’s functions to only operate for a short amount of time, before needing recharge. Recharging the suit’s powers merely requires a break from using the suit’s abilities. The abilities of the suit are strength, speed, armor, and cloak. Strength allows the player to become unstoppable in melee combat, jump higher, and reduce recoil from weapons. Speed allows the player to run very quickly and perform other motions with rapid succession. Armor is the basic attribute that protects Nomad for longer periods of time from enemy fire. Lastly, cloak makes Nomad invisible and nearly silent to enemies, allowing for stealth gameplay or even avoiding firefights altogether.
The ability to switch between the suit’s powers at any given time provides some of the most exhilarating and unique gameplay on the market. Open environments ensure that no firefight will play out the same way, combined with the suit’s abilities and excellent enemy AI. Crysis is very much an open world game, allowing the player to go pretty much anywhere they please on the giant island. Though there are some sections that aren’t accessible, invisible walls are never used, instead the environment creates natural barriers. The game is very freeing and serves as the very definition of a sandbox action game. The player can approach any firefight from a myriad of different angles and locations, providing for even further replayability. The world is also very detailed, from the sharks in the ocean to the birds in the sky, to the crabs on the beach and chickens in the shacks. It is a joy to explore and see as much as possible. The game also has a full day/night cycle, though it only advances as the player progresses through the island and its storyline.
Given the environment and the weaponry, the choices for dispatching of bad guys don’t end there. The game also has numerous vehicles ranging from trucks to tanks to motorboats to helicopters. The player is free to enter and drive any of these vehicles, using them as cover, as transportation or as really big dynamite. All of these add to the sandbox feel of the game, providing even more gameplay options. The only complaint here is the VTOL, a fictional hovercraft that the player is forced to use for one level in the game. It operates very poorly, and makes for the most frustrating level in the whole game. That aside, vehicles are indeed an integral part of the experience and can save your life more than once in a firefight against the clever AI.
Much like the rest of Crysis, the AI is very good. For the first half of the game, players will take on the Korean forces which are stationed on the island. At first, they will go about their business, patrolling routes and ensuring their partners are alive. However, should they spot the player, they begin yelling for help and start engaging. Once the firefight is on, the enemies will call to their buddies in the area and begin a manhunt towards your location. Should the player choose to cloak and move, the AI will continue advancing to the place where the enemy was last seen, carefully checking out the surrounding area. Should the player engage guns blazing and take down a few enemies, the rest will regroup and begin calling for reinforcements with signal flares so that their allies in a different part of the island can assist. The AI in the game is probably one of the best human intelligences in any shooter to date, and can provide to be very challenging on greater difficulty settings.
In the second part of the game, however, the action switches to alien combat. Here, there is simply no reasonable way to showcase the AI. The aliens float in the air, and occasionally dodge your bullets and rockets – unlike humans, they do not have means to take cover or otherwise act with intelligence. It fits the aliens to behave in this way, so the programming is not at fault, but it just seems a bit less exciting than fighting the human forces. Nonetheless, all the suit powers still provide for some creative ways to take out the floating baddies.
While the single player campaign is very impressive, the game also includes a multiplayer component. The visuals remain excellent, but for most machines, will have to be turned down so that competitive play can commence without framerate issues. Up to 32 players are supported per match, with two modes of play available on twelve maps. Instant Action is a deathmatch type mode, while Power Struggle splits players into two teams, each trying to destroy the others' headquarters. All of the suit’s abilities are available to players online in the same way as single player. This usually yields abuse of the cloaking and strength powers, but given that everyone has the abilities, it seems fair. With only two game modes and light variance between maps, the multiplayer is unfortunately not a very strong component of the game. While there is definitely fun to be had, the competitive side of things seems to be struggling, and a lack of players means the servers are scarce.
Leaving the obvious for last, it is time to discuss the visuals. Yes, Crysis has the best scenery you will have ever seen, and is likely to remain so for many years to come. Given that the next-generation console cycle has just began, it is unlikely that many other developers will bother to spend so many resources on developing an engine that only a PC could run. From the ocean water to the sand on the beach, from the grass to the tree foliage, from the alien ship to the snow-covered mountains, Crysis is breathtaking. It is true that very, very few machines at the time of release are able to run the game on all settings High and AA enabled, it only leaves players with that much more to strive for. Should a game be criticized for pushing the boundaries beyond the current consumer market? Surely not. The game is also well optimized, so medium and lower settings still look great running on the current generation hardware. It’s an impressive technical achievement, which will prove to be the visual benchmark of choice for years to come. In addition to the visuals, the game’s engine incorporates state of the art physics, setting the stage for very realistic explosions, ragdolls and environment damage.
Not to be outdone though, the sound, musical score and interface are also well polished. The game provides enemies with a full range of character voices in both English and Korean languages. The voice actors for the characters also do an admirable job and add to the atmosphere of the game. The environment often comes alive with the sounds of waterfalls, various animals scurrying about and idle background music. Everything works to complement the visuals and add certain wholeness to the presentation.
It has to be said that Crysis is one of the very few games in history that is able to fully live up to its huge expectations. Yes, it has the most amazing visuals players will experience for a while, and the sound and audio design work well to complete the experience. Users will need some very powerful hardware to max the game, but given that the lower settings still look wonderful, and that the game is meant to push boundaries, there isn’t really a strong criticism to be had. The game’s visuals may be the flagship feature, but the gameplay is only half a step behind. Featuring an open world, the game allows for endless approaches to any fight and situation. Combined with suit powers and smart enemy AI, the replay value is astonishing. The multiplayer completes the package, though it lacks some features to ensure longetivity. As it is, Crysis is one of the best sandbox action games you will ever play, hands down.