Ensconced in a suit of modern day armor, Force Recon Marine "Alcatraz" can survive high rise drops, turn invisible and absorb the impact of machine gun fire. But his augmented Nanosuit is most powerful when it stops working.
It's during those moments in Crysis 2 when the player loses control, when the suit reboots and the character is forced to his knees under its weight and crawls through scenes, that gamers are reminded of the frailty of the human body and the power of the foes he faces. This is when the suit is most powerful, not just as a mechanism of play, but of storytelling.
Crysis 2 picks up three years after the events of the original shooter, dropping players into a sometimes misbehaving suit under the control of a marine as desperately confused about his situation as you will sometimes be. What you know, what he knows, is that aliens and an infection are decimating Manhattan and you need to reconnect with a scientist to help save the day, and the city.
Why You Should Care
Crysis released among much fanfare as a game that not only would push the boundaries of what could be delivered by your gaming rig, but also what should be expected of a first-person shooter. Crysis 2 promises to exceed that, bringing not just to PC gamers, but also console gamers, a title that pushes past the jungles of previous Crytek games and does so with more modest hardware requirements by today's standards.
What We Liked
More Refined Nanosuit: Beyond the extravagant graphics and lush environments of the Crysis series, it is the protagonist's Nanosuit that helps to set this game apart from other first-person shooters. This time around the suit has been optimized. It still delivers all of the same over-the-top abilities to your character, but without the need to do so much button pushing. With the Nanosuit 2 you only have to choose between armor and stealth modes. Things like super jumps, power melees and faster running are done automatically. This frees you up to concentrate more on the action and less on the toggling.
Pure Energy: Even though the strength and speed options of the new Nanosuit are essentially automated, doing things like running, jumping and power kicking still suck up energy, as do the stealth and armor modes. And it's that constant monitoring of your energy levels that help to shift the game from pure shooter to something more akin to a strategy title. Now you have to balance whether you want to slowly walk through enemies in stealth mode, or risk running by them, draining energy reserves early and showing up while still in their midst. While energy management is as important as health and ammo in Crysis 2, its designed to not be so distracting that it detracts from gameplay. What you're left with is an experience that feels deeper and requires a bit more thought than a what you might expect from a shooter.
Tactical Options: Crysis 2 is every bit a first-person shooter, which means it's a linear experience that guides players from one scene setter to the next and wraps the entire thing in rolling gun fights. Except when it doesn't. While a bulk of the game is made up of point A to point B travel, the developers did a great job of breaking that up with wide-open battlefields that push gamers to explore their options. Players can activate a Nanosuit visor that scans and identifies not only enemies and weapon caches, but also tactical points, like where you can flank an enemy or great vantage points for sniping. You can ignore all of this, you don't even need to use the visor, but the game's later missions become so difficult that surviving without that momentary pause and tactical reflection become much less likely. Combined with the need for careful energy management, these tactical moments help to distance the game from other shooters.
A Story Apart: Crysis 2 starts and ends seemingly detached from the series. There is a three year gap between the cliffhanger ending of Crysis and the slightly confounding opening of Crysis 2. While some characters return, most notable Nanosuit-wearing Prophet, the game could easily be played apart from the prequel. But that's not a bad thing. The game's flashbacks and driving plot that involves an alien invasion of Manhattan provide a compelling reason to play the game. Powerful use of the malfunctioning suit and how it anchors you to a spot during pivotal moments, highlight the intensity of the game and its story.
Dichotomous Environments: Crytek made a name for themselves by creating gorgeous games set in lush jungle environments. This time around they wanted to prove that they can do more than jungle backdrops. Their take on a Manhattan in ruin is ample proof of that success. The towering city is depicted as canyons of glass and steel, pockmarked cityscape and, yes, lush parks. This blending of war-torn urbanism with corrupted park environments creates a wonderful visual dichotomy rarely seen in modern day shooters.
Plentiful Customization: The game gives players tons of ways to customize their experience, from upgrades to the suit to the list of tweaks and upgrades you can perform on weapons. All told there are 22 weapons and 11 attachments which can be mix and matched in both single player and multiplayer modes.
Massive Multiplayer: Crytek wasn't content to push the elements of their 7-hour-or-so campaign, they also crafted a deep, engaging multiplayer experience that feels different enough from the current slate of online shooters to be worthy of ample time investment. And you're going to need it because Crysis 2 gives you very little to start with in the online modes. Everything from new suit abilities to weapons to modes have to be unlocked through plentiful online play. Once unlocked, the game delivers a sort of shooter experience that has a different sense of tactics, speed and play than what I've grown used to over the past few years.
What We Didn't Like
Strange Enemy Behavior: Enemy artificial intelligence can be the lifeblood of a single-player first-person shooter. Unfortunately it has some issues in Crysis 2. While there were times when I was impressed with how cleverly the bad guys, be they CELL soldiers or aliens, reacted to my presence, there were also times when their nonsensical response was moment-killing. For every dozen or so encounters that had soldiers flanking me, returning fire from cover and shooting off flares for help, there was one soldier running into a wall until I walked up behind him and killed him. It's not so prevalent that it kills the experience, but it does dampen some of the fun at times.
Console Textures: The Xbox 360 version of the game seemed to struggle at times with the game's many and detailed textures. Entire buildings would pop into view at times, the sidewalk in front of me would go from detailed to looking like a blurry facsimile and occasional character's faces looks like something created with charcoal not computer graphics. (Ed's Note: We received the 360 version prior to the game's launch. We got the PC and PS3 version today. Stay tuned for our comparison of all three.)
The Bottom Line
Among a wealth of high-quality, modern-day first-person shooters, Crysis 2 still manages to stand out. It is a game that marries tactical with action, urban landscape with garden paradise, a wonderful campaign with an eminently replayable online experience. From this mix emerges a game that delivers just as many memorable experiences offline as it does on.
Crysis 2 was developed by Crytek and published by Electronic Arts for the PC, PS3 and Xbox 360, released on March 20. Retails for $59.99. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played through the game's single player on Xbox 360 and multiple rounds of multiplayer on the console. Played through several missions on PC.