Preview by Edwin Evans-Thirlwell
I thought I'd fall in love with Crysis 2 at first sight. As it turned out, it was more a case of love at first sound. The new shooter packs serious graphical punch, developer Crytek's intricate, intertwining lighting systems and rich textures little hurt by the move to console hardware. However, when I went hands-on with a PS3 build in homely Guildford, England one chilly January morning, the thing that really got to me was a voice.
Not the voice of a certain General Hargreaves, your radio handler on this particular bullet-flecked tour of ruined, alien-riddled New York. Hargreaves has his merits, but he feels like he's on loan from another, cheesier production, all Hollywood hard-man bristle. A game as technologically sharp as Crysis 2 deserves a better class of intonation, something more in keeping with the steely, near-future aesthetic. The powered Nanosuit that garbs player character “Alcatraz” is happy to provide.
“Tactical options available,” it whispers as I take in my dusty surroundings at the outset of the new, underground Hive level, a mechanical purr originating somewhere around the mid-part of my spinal cord. Hoarse yet smooth, emotionless yet pregnant with menace, the Nanosuit doesn't so much sound like death warmed up as death deep-frozen, cooled to optimum operating temperature.
In the teeth of that voice, I'm immediately convinced that I'm the deadliest creature to ever walk the earth, pure, razor-edge destruction on legs. My avatar's fingers shift on the grip of my tactical rifle and I grin horribly, glazing over a bit. I have “options.” Tactical ones. Somebody's about to get creamed. It's going to be bad.
Mechanised suits are nothing new, of course. The Crysis version tops off a catalogue of robotic attire that runs from the towering rigs of Armoured Core through Halo 3's gaudily pigmented all-in-one to the absurd, jet-powered hyperactivity of Vanquish. It shines out over all that's gone before, though — just about — and intriguingly, it does this as much through its limitations as its strengths.
The Nanosuit can make you undetectable, bending light round the player like cling-film. It can make you nigh-invulnerable, blue hexagons congealing over the lower third of the view, bouncing back projectiles. The flex of its knee servos is enough to punt an SUV into a foxhole, or catapult Alcatraz across a chasm the width of a city bus. But it needs energy to do all this, and if you push it too hard you'll scrape the bottom of your reserves in seconds.
The tank refills just as quickly, though, and you can reroute power on the fly simply by squeezing a trigger or clicking a stick. This results in a tremendously involving, gratifying second-to-second tactical balancing act, as you shape and reshape the Nanosuit's capabilities to fit the situation, switching roles faster than your foes can think — a walking fortress one instant, a gliding wraith the next.
Though a far cry (badumtish) from the open-endedness of past Crytek projects, the Hive level accommodates this breadth, its blasted subway carriages and maintenance stairways feeding out into uneven, rubble-strewn craters stacked with vantage points and loose cover. Emerging from a tunnel, I'm ambushed by a chap with a mouthful of tentacles. “Armor,” the suit growls as I dig in, shrugging off damage and driving the attacker back with shots to the chest, then “stealth,” as I slip behind a charred auto and engage the cloak in one movement. The hapless alien keeps his weapon trained on the far side of the car, and is taken completely by surprise when I step in from the right and squeeze a mailed fist shut around his throat.
It's hard to pick out an expression in the mass of writhing appendages, but the creature's terror is a given. This guy just got lifted right off the deck by something he can't even see. Assuming his physiology bares comparison with ours, he must be crapping himself. I allow him to ponder his plight for a second, then crack his neck and toss him aside. I have bigger fish to fry.
And those fish won't go down quite so readily. Like the Nanosuit, Crysis 2's bad guys are multi-layered, adaptable threats. Their armour is more than a match for small arms fire, and shears away only reluctantly under heavy assault. Some are built for close-quarters combat, bowling Alcatraz over with vicious, Wolverine-esque claw swipes. More than anything, though, it's their mobility which makes them fearsome. We're a long, long way from Call of Duty's Pop-up book goons, people. No refuge is safe as you hop, skip and jump over broken tarmac, chased by screen-blurring rockets and shards of purple light.
The game's firearms incline towards the realistic. Besides the tactical rifle with its manual and burst-fire modes, there's a shotgun, light machine gun, submachine gun and default pistol, each presumably modifiable along the same lines as the original. Weapon sound effects are precise and plausible, from the guttural thud of the shotgun to the whining staccato of the rifle. Towards the showier end of the spectrum, there are laser-guided missiles and an energy cannon, which makes short work of the “tanks” that ring my objectives.
Speaking of objectives, it's here that Crysis 2 looks least appealing. The Hive mission has me seeking out and corrupting huge, segmented alien nodules, interfacing with them up close - or in other words: go here, press this. The preliminary firefights are enjoyable, but the best first-person shooters are those that treat polished combat mechanics as a means to an end, reaching beyond to broader-based, more spectacular gameplay conceits, and on this front I'm still waiting to be convinced.
That aside, there's little to dislike thus far if you're in any way minded to pop a cap in an extra-terrestrial's ass — or if your idea of “sexy talk” is a metallic digital drone. The PlayStation 3 is hardly wanting for quality shooters right now, but Crysis 2 soon finds its way under the skin.