Developer: Crytek Frankfurt || Publisher: Electronic Arts
Director: Cevat Yerli || Platform: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
First-Person Shooter, Engaged!
Within just a couple hours of playing Crysis, Crytek’s now famed and much affectionately joked about FPS, the word “engaged,” spoken in its powerful, mechanized tone, will become ingrained in your head while you wake and replay in your dreams when you sleep. And for good reason. Crysis is an all-around great shooter that keeps you engaged in its meticulously detailed sandbox-environment and the myriad of ways you can approach its objectives. It’s graphical achievements alone have carved out a notable niche for the project in gaming history as one of the most visually advanced games of its generation. If you were in the market for a PC five years ago and wanted to know whether a model had muscle or not, a question frequently posed was, “Can it play Crysis?‘” or, “Can it play Crysis well?” Nobody ever seemed to be able to play Crysis on the highest settings (called the uber-ominous “Very High” term), at least not to my knowledge. The machines that were able to launch the game on the highest graphical settings without slowing the framerate to a crawl always seemed exist somewhere on the netherworld of people’s imaginations, possible deep down in the experimental underground labs of Crytek’s secret German facilities, where they first engineered the technical behemoth that was Crysis. Anyway you look back on that time period in PC gaming history, whether with nostalgia or frustration (Why won’t it play?!), you have to admit that Crysis was an important game and, at least for its first half, a truly exceptional one.
Aside from its impeccable visuals, the vast majority of Crysis‘ fame stems from the sandbox gameplay elements of its first act. After the halfway mark, the game’s campaign takes a turn into the truly weird and abandons most its unique guerrilla-style warfare for more straightforward sci-fi, extraterrestrial shootouts, and the opportunities to further show off the game’s engine power through exhibitions of the interior of an alien spacecraft and a plethora of ‘War of the Worlds’-type concept art. Up until that point, though, things are all golden, anD Crysis gets just about everything right. Most of the shooting magic comes from the expert combination of a high tech sci-fi, very Predator-like super-suit that the player uses, and the game’s sandbox jungle environment.
While not a true open-world experience, Crysis lets you loose in a series of wide open, expansive outdoor levels in which you hardly ever feel caged in or limited. The amazing graphics and painstaking detail of every environmental structure are breathtaking. Destructible enemy encampments and vegetation, interwoven with glorious particular effects, make each level feel incredibly immersive and suck you into the tropical setting completely. The fact that you can point your gun and shoot at literally any palm tree or bush and it will crumble and splinter to the ground is straightforward, yet at the same time, so mind-boggling. Enemies will tumble downhill, ruffling and disturbing vegetation along the way, and grenades will erupt in a spectacular display of earthy debris and falling leaves. Bullets ripple across the surface of streams and ocean waves, winds blow palm trees against the gorgeous sunny backdrop, and even crabs and frogs scurry across the jungle floor. Everything, from the physics to the outdoor graphics, is a sight to behold, and it all goes a long way toward building a truly immersive experience.
The Predator-inspired super-suit is the other key part of the gameplay that draws you into the combat simulation. Utilized best in the game’s opening act, the suit allows the player to customize their outdoor FPS experience and constantly mix things up. Gamers can choose between the four suit options of maximum strength, speed, armor, or camouflage to guide their play style. Unlike in, say, Skyrim (2011), where most players have a combat style that is uniquely their own, different levels and different situations in Crysis will call for different approaches in combat. Some scenarios hint at a guns-blazing approach, while many others will encourage stealthier and more creative options that give each shootout/assassination a twist. It’s endless fun to play with the suit’s abilities, and like the game’s sandbox arenas, lends a lot of replayability to the game as a whole.
Sadly, the big downside with Crysis is that its campaign is a tale of two halves, with the first part being superior to its rather traditional, cliched second act. Many of the sandbox elements of the first half are lost in the mostly linear composition of most of the game’s later levels. Although the scale of some of the extraterrestrial/sci-fi battles is impressive, none of the Hollywood blockbuster moments come anywhere close to matching the thrill of silently stalking North Korean soldiers or sniping human combatants from afar in a cerebral jungle environment. The suit’s abilities remain in play in the second half of the campaign, but they feel much less fully realized and fun to use when fighting the levitating alien baddies. Much of Crysis later gameplay devolves into generic FPS running and gunning, and nearly all of the early level’s versatility is lost. Don’t get me wrong — the game’s tight shooting controls and expert graphics hold up just fine, but I can’t help but feeling that a lot of the campaign’s design shifted to show off more of the engine’s graphical muscle by focusing so much on the alien presence of the campaign’s latter half. In other words, the emphasis moved from using visuals to enhance gameplay to center almost exclusively on eye candy. What makes this case such a disappointment is that the shallow focus on blockbuster moments accounts for roughly half of Crysis length.
Still, it’s hard to knock the game too hard when the opening levels pack such a visceral wallop, and when the game looks this good. All things considered, the sins of the game’s later portions can be forgiven if you can appreciate just how good its first act is. The early levels of Crysis are some of the best FPS moments I’ve ever played, and the level of replayability they posses is considerable as well. Most of the game’s fame has centered on its graphical prowess, but I would argue that the campaign shines the most when the visuals are fluidly complementing the shooting, rather than taking center stage. It’s a package that is at its worst a mixed bag, but the best of Crysis moments will leave you floored from the sheer plethora of combat options available to you. The sandbox the game provides for you is a truly one-of-a-kind suite of combat customization. Your decision is in which type of fun you will engage, and you will greatly enjoy making that decision over and over again.
Standout Features: Brilliant combat customization in the campaign’s opening act; cutting-edge graphics, physics, and lighting; intelligent enemy A.I.
Noticeable Weaknesses: Disappointingly cliched second half
? The sheer number of differences between this game and its sequels is staggering.