In this console generation’s twilight months, it’s easy to associate brand fatigue with the most sterling examples: annualized franchises that change very little in their thirst for early-November retail domination. To suggest that one might simply tire of a triple-A series whose main releases, by contrast, were staged four and two years apart seems silly–there must be something else at work.
Well, there is. Like a bottle of soda left open for days, Crysis has run its course. In fact, a better analogy might be that of a tarnished apple rapidly rotting on your kitchen counter after the first bite. What began as a wildly ambitious foray into open-world, super-powered shooting with 2007’s Crysis has devolved rather rapidly into thrills for thrills’ sake–a bombastic light show with little in the way of substance and a serious case of Michael Bay Syndrome. The shooting is serviceable, the environments are pretty, and the illusion of choice is compelling at first scent, but the core of this once-great apple reeks of hollow storytelling and lack of care.
Editor’s note: The saga of Crysis 3 here at PSU is one of turmoil. We received a retail copy of Crysis 3 from EA for review alongside other press outlets, but my playthrough of the game was plagued by a serious technical issue that prevented me from finishing the single-player campaign. The issue in question has not been resolved as of this writing, but after more than a month of waiting for Crytek to respond with a patch, I opted to use a workaround to finish the game and move ahead with scoring. Look for details below, and read up on this problem–which affected my score–here.
Maybe Crysis 3 is a victim of its time: games are redefining what the medium can achieve as a narrative art form almost monthly. In its defense, the journey starts off promising, and Crytek does an admirable job tying together loose plot threads from previous games into a coherent package that makes a certain kind of wacky sci-fi sense. The narrative anchors of Crysis are the Nanosuit, the elite soldiers who don them, and the alien Ceph who threaten our world. By the events of Crysis 3, the only hero left wearing a Nanosuit is Prophet, a persistent figurehead in prior installments who makes his first playable appearance here. 24 years post-Crysis 2, New York City is encased in a massive dome that the malevolent CELL Corporation uses to protect assets that could ultimately enslave the world. Meanwhile, the threat of another Ceph invasion lingers.
Thankfully, Prophet has the tools to handle it. All of the Nanosuit’s familiar functions return in Crysis 3, from invisibility to amplified armor and a healthy dose of speed in a pinch. The Nanosuit, as always, elevates Crysis on a gameplay pedestal that’s marginally compelling at worst and downright fun at best. Sliding under beams and behind cover links movement in a smooth manner and sneaking behind enemy lines while cloaked remains tense–for a couple hours. Crysis 3’s super-powered first-person shooting commits no cardinal sin in the game’s stunningly short five-hour runtime. Its biggest folly is not innovating upon itself, and that makes all the difference in the world.
Failure to change would be less egregious if the rest of the industry hadn’t already beaten Crytek at its own game. But where Far Cry 3, Borderlands, Fallout, and others continue to plumb the depths of open-world gameplay and what’s possible in the genre, Crysis has wheeled back from its trendsetting origins to something disappointingly familiar. Scripted sequences and space marine machismo do not make a great story, and "sandboxes" littered with glaringly obvious pathways do little to inspire exploration or creative solutions. If you see a vent or access tunnel, chances are you’ll bypass an entire area of enemies by moving through it. Ammo crates often rest behind wide pieces of cover; what better place to hunker down for a fight? If neither pacifism nor Hulk Hoganism suits you, activate the Nanosuit’s way-too-lengthy invisibility and walk through the area, putting a few arrows into alien backs for good measure.
The verticality of Crytek’s gorgeous environments, and the novelty of wielding such a powerful bow, ensures these illusory spaces are at least engaging to tread through. Crysis 3 may not be the breathtaking visual powerhouse on PS3 that it is on PC, but it nevertheless stands proudly as one of the system’s best-looking games. This graphical beauty comes less through technical polish (indeed, a few textures are downright ugly) and more through astonishing scope that makes excellent use of vertical space and environmental hubris to really sell the idea of scrounging through an immense city long-lost to Mother Nature. Prophet’s Predator Bow thematically fits the urban jungle setting. You can alter string weight to increase bow strength while sacrificing draw speed, and even swap out arrow types for explosive results. And, unlike every other weapon, the bow can be fired without breaking invisibility. If your profile’s Service Record doesn’t read, "Favorite weapon: Predator Bow" and "Favorite suit mode: Stealth" by game’s end, you’re doing it wrong.
Whether you’re able to reach the game’s end is another matter entirely. A commendably stable frame rate and relatively few environmental glitches left me confident in Crysis 3 on a technical level, but my confidence was broken–time and time again–by persistent hard freezes that prevented me from completing the final boss fight. The game’s most climactic moment is utterly broken in practice, and–six weeks sans a patch–my only means of finishing Crysis 3 was to manually reload the final chapter entirely. This should be your first course of action if the issue strikes you, but its mere existence merits asking: is the journey even worth it?
I’m compelled to say no. I had more single-player fun replaying the original Crysis when it released on PSN for $15. There is far more to be had in Crysis 3’s multiplayer, which apes the class-based loadouts, perks, and progression system of mainstream shooters with a Nanosuit twist and unique game modes. The most notable of these is Hunter mode, in which a team of CELL operatives defends itself against a pair of Nanosuit soldiers armed with one-hit-kill compound bows. Every CELL player that falls becomes another Nanosuit soldier, until the odds are stacked against one or two CELL operatives who must survive for the remaining time. It’s a neat idea, and one that makes for intense feelings of helplessness and predation, but remember: the Nanosuit offers timed invisibility, and firing your one-hit-kill bow doesn’t break the cloak. It’s as hopelessly one-sided as it sounds, ultimately yielding the most points and XP to whomever maximizes their time as a Nanosuit soldier.
You’ve seen most of the other multiplayer rules before, but a heaping dose of match customization options are appreciated. These hearken back to a time when matchmaking didn’t exist, when Team Deathmatch was hopelessly boring, and when custom game types were the lay of the land. Everything from Nanosuit powers to Ceph weapon availability can be tweaked, removed, or made permanent for some truly interesting variations that will have friends screaming foul but leaving with the best of memories. And really, that’s how Crysis 3’s multiplayer is best experienced. Say "No, thanks" to the XP grind and faceless, uncommunicative rabble that are "cool" and "hip" but oh-so-lacking in personality. Buy some beer, grab some snacks, and hop online with buddies for a profanity-laced night of private matches that embrace the stupid fun of the Nanosuit.
You won’t find the same lasting fun in Crysis 3’s single-player campaign, but the visual spectacle and Crytek’s eye for cinematic flair at least makes for somewhat-interesting eye candy. And I wouldn’t dare to say that Crysis 3 isn’t fun in its own right; a remarkable variety of weapons, tight mechanics, and Nanosuit powers stave off monotony. But sameness fumigates this latest (and last) outing like a plague. Crysis has fallen hard into linearity and scripted spectacle, but has neither the gameplay ambition nor storytelling prowess to give meaning to either. Open-world shooters have, since 2007, evolved considerably into landmark games of a generation. Crysis 3 is a devolution, a disappointment, and a far cry from what made the series so special to begin with.