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6.28.2011

Crysis 2 Review

After three months, Crytek has finally upgraded Crysis 2 to proper DirectX11 standards on the PC. Now, as promised, my review...

Escape from New York, anyone?

The original Crysis was one of many memorable games to come out in the fateful year of 2007 which some call the best year in gaming ever. Remember what came out that year? Bioshock, The Orange Box (Portal, Team Fortress 2, Half-Life 2: Episode 2), Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Super Mario Galaxy and Mass Effect. Those were all great or at least very good games, but the game I had the most fun with was Crysis.

Crysis is distinguished among these for its video-card-crushing graphics from the future. Only recently has it been supplanted as the high-end PC benchmarking standard (that's impressive). Amazing graphics are only half of the story, however. The other half is the Nanosuit.

On-the-fly weapons modding makes a welcome return. More shooters should have this.

In Crysis you weren't just told you were a super-soldier: you felt like you were a super-soldier. Your character's high-tech Nanosuit came with a variety of abilities such as extra armor, temporary invisibility, super-strength, and super-speed. Whether you want to play like Rambo with guns blazing or be a sneaky ninja, Crysis let you do that very effectively. And you got to do it all with the game's gorgeous visuals. The Nanosuit gameplay combined with lovely scenery and destructible environments made it much more than an average shooter. I'll never forget the first time I tossed a grenade in a building and it blew apart dynamically. That was a gleeful moment: like playing with fireworks, only safer.

My personal expectations were very, very high for Crysis 2. I insist that my high expectations are not what ruined this game for me. Crysis 2 makes a lot of missteps, none of them fatal, but all contribute to making this just an average game instead of the amazing game it might have been.

To me, Crysis 2 is a tragedy. But it's more the pathetic kind of sad. Basically, Crysis 2 neglects the strengths of the previous game while utterly failing to improve upon the weaknesses despite trying very hard.

It's okay to blow up New York in again as long as you don't touch the Freedom Tower.

First, a word about the graphics. Many in the PC gaming community (of which I am a member) asserted that Crysis 2's graphics were hampered by the fact that the game had to run on consoles as well as PCs this time around. While it's certainly true that a PC-exclusive might have looked better, my personal opinion is that the sequel outdoes the original in graphical prowess... barely.

They're just different, I think. Decide for yourself. (Click for full size)

I'd let this point go if had it not been for Crytek CEO Cevat Yerli shooting his mouth off about the graphics being wildly better than the original game's. Wrong. At best, even with the DirectX11 upgrade (by the way, all of the pictures I'm showing you are with that upgrade and the high-res texture pack on the game's highest setting) the game looks a little better than the original. It's difficult to tell, of course, because Long Island is a far different setting than the fictional pacific Lingshan Islands so a one-to-one comparison is impossible. The graphics are certainly different. There seem to be a lot more post-processing effects in 2 which I personally could do without. They just make things generally blurrier. I appreciate some post-processing, but it's way overboard here. Also, even with high-res texture pack, there are still plenty of noticeable low-res textures. The character models look better. The animation seems improved.

Characters look really good in this game. Too bad none of them are likable.

Obviously, I'm being nitpicky. The point is, this is a sequel to a game known for its amazing graphics. The developer played on that in their marketing for this game and promised to blow away the original. I was underwhelmed, but that's mainly due to hype. It's a fine looking game and will challenge your PC or console's hardware.

More significantly, the Nanosuit gameplay has changed, mostly for the worst. On the bright side, the controls have been streamlined, the suit powers have been streamlined, and the experience of actually playing feels a bit tighter. Unfortunately the suit also feels a lot weaker than the first game. This is supposed to be Nanosuit 2! Even though you face tougher enemies, it should give comparable performance or at least offer some new features, right? Eh, there are a few new abilities. None of them excite or help to restore that lost feeling of being in control of the battlefield which the weakened Nanosuit causes.

Speaking of the battlefield, Crysis featured rather large, open levels. Even though the objectives were quite linear in actuality, the openness lent an air of freedom to the game that is sorely lacking in the sequel. For obvious reasons, the game can't let you loose in the whole of New York city. Your computer would explode. It would have taken Crytek like 15 years to model all that - we're talking Duke Nukem Forever development time here (without all that screwing around doing nothing.) I thought, however, a good compromise would have been to make levels encompassing several city blocks and allow the player to go anywhere inside that perimeter - that means into all the buildings too. But no. The levels make a half-hearted attempt at sprawling and rarely let you inside any buildings other than mission-specific ones. Fail.

I'm not sure how much of the game is spent trying to figure out where enemies are behind all the post-processing effects, but it's a lot.

Possibly worse: gone is most of the destructible scenery. Everything but the small-to-medium sized props are glued in place with only small amounts of cosmetic damage possible. Destructible scenery was one of my favourite features in the original. It added a lot of enjoyment and helped make the Nanosuit feel powerful.

The original game was weak on story and character development. It a fairly generic alien plot with nearly all military characters, most of them jerks. The two most likable people get banished to somewhere else for most of the game. In the standalone expansion Crysis Warhead, Crytek vastly improved the story and gave us an interesting, likable protagonist with real, genuine character development. I was stunned.

It is obvious Crytek was really trying to boost the story in this game. They made a big to-do about hiring British sci-fi author Richard Morgan to write for them. Never heard of him. Either his talents were wasted or he doesn't have much because the story in Crysis 2 is a convoluted mess. Worst of all I didn't even care. This time around there are no likable characters. Everyone is military, corporate, or conspiracy nut. Blah. For some reason your character, Alcatraz, is silent protagonist even though Nomad from the first game wasn't and Pyscho from Warhead definitely didn't keep his mouth shut. Most of the story is told not shown. And as far as a sci-fi story goes, there are two, maybe three interesting concepts. I'll spare you: one of them is the idea that your character is almost dead except for the suit which has grown into the damaged parts of his body. But the suit is one of the main problems in the story. It's basically a magic plot device for the writers to do with anything they like.

Prophet's in the game for about 2.5 seconds. And that's about how long I cared about the story.

The best part of the story is Prophet's (one of the likable characters from the first game) very brief appearance. And guess what? He kills himself not five minutes into the game! Thanks guys. Glad you decided to kill off one of your two good characters and not mention the other one for the whole bloody game.

So what does the game do right?

Uh, well...

It's a solid shooter, but not spectacular in any way. Toward the end it really gets going with some giant fights and finally you begin to feel like war machine you are meant to be. There are a few good battles with alien walkers known as "Pingers" which are by far the most fun enemy in the game. A few of the scripted sequences work well (although most of them are annoying or only serve to remind you how powerless you are) and provide some cool moments.

Honestly, it's not a bad game. It's just an okay game.

As a member of the PC gamer master race, I naturally blame the blandness on the game coming to consoles. Crytek made sacrifices to fit within console hardware budgets which limited the graphics, destructible environments, and size of the levels. The company focused heavily on developing a Modern Warfare-style multiplayer as well. The lame story has nothing to do with consoles whatsoever. That's squarely Crytek's fault.

Having failed to tell me a good story or even give me something fun to play with, Crytek's going to have to double-down and make Crysis 3 really compelling before I'm sold on the final chapter in this apparent trilogy.

And that was my most anticipated game of the year. Boy, did I bet on the wrong horse. Bring me Skyrim!

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