The original Crysis on the PC was notorious for being a graphical benchmark title. Essentially, the power of your PC was determined by how well it could run the title, if at all. While a few gamers struggled to run the game at playable levels, those who did found the experience to be a thrill ride that had moments of freedom wrapped by a lackluster story. It was also something PC die-hards could lord over their console brethren, since there was no chance that a console port would be made for the console systems. Times have changed, though, and the sequel to one of the more graphically impressive PC games from the last few years has not only returned to the PC but also to the home consoles. There's no doubt that Crysis 2 looks great, but does its gameplay match its stunning looks?
The year is 2023 and the events of the first game, which took place three years earlier, have made their mark on New York City. Panic is widespread through the streets as a biological outbreak has decimated the population and quarantined Manhattan. As a soldier named Alcatraz, you and your team of marines are assigned to extract a nanobiologist named Dr. Nathan Gould, who could help stave off the outbreak. Unfortunately, just as your team arrives at the insertion point, a paramilitary force decimates your sub — and your team. While you're almost left for dead, Prophet, the hero from the first game, saves you and passes the suit to you since his own infected body is set to expire at any moment. With the newfound powers granted to you by the suit, your goal is to stop the outbreak from spreading and defeat the paramilitary and alien forces in the city.
Like the first game, the plot is neither amazing nor terrible, and while the game tries to capture a Half-Life vibe by have the protagonist be silent throughout the story, it doesn't help that everything else doesn't match up. The supporting characters, both ally and villain, aren't compelling to listen to. Their characteristics make them feel like one-note entities that we've seen in similar games over and over again. The story is basic, and the twists become somewhat predictable. Most of the time, the pacing of the story is handled well, but there are a few times when the piece builds up to something that could be magnificent — only to be pulled away moments later as you're thrust into an on-foot mission instead of the expected big action sequence. That could've made the game longer and feel more worthwhile.
As fans of the first game have come to expect, the gameplay is more important than the plot. Over a short amount of time, you're given three powers for your suit, all of which can be upgraded when more nanotechnology is found. Armor doubles your resilience to firepower, as you can take on anything from regular machine gun fire to tank turrets without losing any health in the process. Stealth makes you invisible to others with a full cloaking mechanism, and Speed helps you run faster than expected. While you have to activate those powers at certain times, other abilities are automatic, such as Strength, which gives you the ability to do ground pounds and kick cars around. Using any of these abilities eats up energy, but since that meter refills quickly, it gives you plenty of time to play around with your abilities.
It's a good thing that you can use your abilities without much consequence since you're given plenty of opportunities to use them. Compared to its predecessor, the game feels more focused in terms of how certain situations run, but there are still plenty of areas in the game where you can determine your approach. Some players may want to simply power through every firefight they can, only stopping to recharge their energy meters, while others may use a combination of speed and stealth to clear the area before moving on. This type of freedom is missing in most modern shooters, and it's nice to see the game give that back to the player in the most balanced way.
The suit is the major crux of the game, but that doesn't mean that standard gunplay takes a backseat. Every weapon has a different feel to it, with different damage rates and rates of fire. Your suit gives you exact stats for each gun via a metered system, so you never have to question whether one gun is more powerful than another. You can also modify any weapon you find with different scopes, silencers and other attachments, tempting you into holding on to a specific weapon just a little longer instead of dumping it for another gun with ammo. Flimsy items like wooden walls become destructible, so it isn't ideal to hide out in one spot. There are still instances of the enemy AI being dim, but the enemy AI can pull off some brilliant maneuvers, so don't expect to live long in a firefight if you don't stay on your toes.
With all of that going for Crysis 2 from a gameplay perspective, it feels like interactivity with the rest of the world was neglected. You get the ability to interact with most elements by picking them up and throwing them, which few games attempt to do. While this is nice, nothing else reacts to your actions, and that halts your sense of immersion. Hitting glass works, but hitting dead bodies, the living infected, vending machines or other objects is met with no reaction. Even dead bodies, which serve as a source of sick enjoyment in some games because of their rag-doll physics, aren't affected when hit by bullets or melee attacks. It's a flaw that may not stand out too much in other games, but it's a shame to see it excluded in a title that does so many things right.
The multiplayer is mostly excellent and surprising since this is one of the few EA-published games in the last few years that doesn't hide its online play behind a $10 access code. The game features six different gameplay modes, five of which are team-based. Instant Action mode is your standard Deathmatch, where it's you versus 15 other people. Team Instant Action, as one could figure out, is another moniker for Team Deathmatch, and Capture the Relay is simply another form of the much-loved Capture the Flag. As pedestrian as these modes sound, the presence of the nanosuits gives them some new life. Everyone has a suit, so all of the ground pounding, stealth kills, slide shots, and resistance to torrents of bullets are present in multiplayer for some interesting kill opportunities. The ability to plug someone with a few well-placed shots is still there, but it feels like you can hold your own even if you don't have the fastest reflexes.
Like all modern multiplayer shooters, Crysis 2 features a general leveling system where experience points are gained through assists, kills, objective completion and wins. It's a good system, but what makes it stand out is the ability to gain experience for playing the game in specific ways. Use more of your super armor, for example, and you begin to level up that trait of the suit. The same goes for the other abilities, such as speed and stealth, and while those abilities lose less power when you use them, it is also reflected in your online dog tag, which becomes a way for others to learn about your tendencies in every match type. Having said all of that, the game's leveling system locks out a few things. New players should expect to be restricted to the Instant Action game mode and its team variant until they reach the appropriate level. The ability to play as other classes is slowly unlocked as you level up, and that's something few players expect. Unless you love playing as the Assault class and plan on maximizing that role to the full extent, expect to grind away until you unlock the class you want.
The other three modes present some interesting gameplay options once unlocked. Extraction should be familiar to Battlefield enthusiasts, as teams switch places between rounds; one team tries to grab as many bio-ticks as possible while the other team tries to stop them. Assault varies on this mode by only giving one team nanosuits while the others are standard black ops soldiers. It seems a bit unfair, and that feeling is only amplified when you discover that everyone is limited to one life. Finally, there's Crash Site, which has players scrambling all over the map to extract as much alien DNA as possible in areas randomly scattered through the map. All of them make for some great team-based gameplay sessions, and like the other modes, the excitement is only amplified when nanosuit powers are thrown into the mix.
As expected, Crysis 2 one of the more beautiful games to grace a home console. Particle effects like explosions, fire and water streams are gorgeous, and while they aren't quite photorealistic, they are impressive when compared to similar games on the market. Environments have a great amount of detail, and not many shooters pay attention to the little things, like leaves blowing in the wind and newspapers blowing by torn-up streets. The use of color for a destroyed city is refreshing, as is the use of light and shadow. You'll still see a fair amount of familiar rubble and browns, but you'll also marvel at how good things look when skyscrapers tower over you or when you fight under the cover of trees in a park as rays of sunlight poke through the canopy of leaves. With a solid frame rate and good character models, it's still a shame that the game has a few issues in this department. There were a few instances where enemy guns clipped through walls, for example, and some texture pop-in is seen in areas with lots of geometry in place. Even though most of the character models looked great, some of the cut scenes looked amiss, similar to the effect seen on some of the heroes in Killzone 3. Flaws notwithstanding, the graphics should not be missed.
Complementing the graphics is an excellent use of sound in the game. The effects come in sharp and thunderous for both gunfire and explosions. The sound of shattering glass is also delivered nicely, as is the high pitch of your ringing ears when a nearby blast detonates. The use of surround sound comes in at full effect here, especially since your nanosuit's voice comes in through the rear speakers instead of the front, creating more of an immersing experience. The voice work is good, and the dialogue and delivery are consistent with the characters' traits. Nothing stands out as bad, but the nanobiologist you rescue seems to have a mix of Stan Lee and hippie going on. The music, though, is the most striking thing about the game, audio-wise. From acclaimed composer Hans Zimmer, the score comes with the usual Hollywood-style music that's full of bravado to accompany the action, but there is also more somber fare that complements the quiet moments and plot discovery. It's a balanced soundtrack that appeals to movie buffs who love listening to movie scores.
Crysis 2 feels like a much more refined version of the first game. The plot isn't amazing, but it's much better than the first game, and the pacing is well done. It excels on a technical level and provides just the right campaign length at a time when shorter games seem to be the norm. More importantly, the gameplay is rock solid, and the multiplayer provides just enough variety to keep it from feeling like a clone of other popular online shooters. It still has a few issues to contend with, but as a whole, it is a standout shooter in a year that seems poised to be filled with them once again. Crysis 2 is certainly a title that is worth playing and worth owning.
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