Review: Crysis Console

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When the game Crysis came out for PC in 2007, it was touted as the next big technological step in graphics and world immersion.  At the time, people were going around saying crazy things about how there probably wasn’t a system available capable of running the game at maximum settings.  Trailers came out showing a game set in a lush Vietnamy jungle full of dudes to shoot, all of which looked very, very pretty with complicated environmental physics all over the place. 

At a certain point in my life, I would have taken this game as a challenge.  Like so many others way into PC gaming, I would have dropped tons of cash on the latest hardware and built a bleeding-edge machine that would have done its damnedest to render everything the software product, purposefully misspelled “Crysis”, was capable of generating.  In addition to all the time spent making the computer itself, I would have probably also spent at least another five to ten hours getting the game to run with the highest number of frames per second while still having every setting put all the way up.  Firmware would have been updated, hard drives might even have been formatted to make it so that there was but one option for Windows and its user: Crysis

But I’m not that guy anymore, and I wasn’t in 2007.  Maybe it was the mortgage. Maybe it was the fact that Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion looked really nice on the 360. Or it could have been the realization that by 2007 there were more first-person shooters than I could actually play. But no matter the reason, I didn’t go in for that malarkey.  Basically, the pre-release materials for Crytek’s system destroyer told me, “Look, I know you like shootin’ games, but this one isn’t for you.”  That used to be a personal challenge.  Nowadays, they don’t want me in their private club, OK.  There’s a dozen bars on this street open to all.  I think a lot of people felt that way and didn’t play this game when it first came out for the PC. 

Now, in 2011, four years after the original release, Crysis has been “remastered” on Crysis 2‘s CryEngine 3 tech and for twenty dollars can be experienced on the 360 and PS3 via digital download.  Those who have stopped upgrading their personal computers every six months, and those who never even went down that expensive and treacherous path, now have a chance to play Crysis without dropping thousands of dollars on a computer.  For good or ill, this means that, this middle-America beauty queen of yesteryear is moving to Los Angles and has to be judged more on her personality and acting ability than her looks.  In other words, there are a lot of pretty first-person shooters on both the home consoles with dual-analog sticks, and this is just another one.  The gameplay would have to be pretty great to make it worth anyone’s time and money. 

Let’s get this out of the way before anything else: the game has no multiplayer.  A virtual picture of Andrew Jackson gets you the Campaign mode only.  Which, on the one hand, means that you don’t have to learn a bunch of new maps.  But on the other hand, there are no new maps to shoot other players in.  I don’t know if you’re the kind of person that never touches multiplayer, or if you’ve played Halo: Reach for two hundred hours and never started the single player campaign.  What I do know is that if multiplayer gameplay is a factor in your gaming consumer choices, this game doesn’t have it.  Also, if size is a concern for you, this is a big game at about four gigabytes to download.

Set in the near future, anyone wanting to jump into this single player experience will assume the role of a man codenamed Nomad, a member of an elite group of special forces soldiers sent into North Korea on a rescue mission.  Which sort of dates the game, because when they were developing it in the early to mid 2000s, everyone thought of North Korea as some of “the bad guys”.  But if you want a plausible jungle place to get your covert ops on, you could pick worse places than North Korea.  The jungles look nice.  Plants move all over the place and can be destroyed with gunfire.  The large trees, in particular, almost look real when viewed from ground as the sunlight pours through the leaves.  Crysis looks nice, but it is not as jaw-dropping as it was when the second President Bush was in office.  The graphics are not reason enough to buy and fire up this game.

It’s not just training that makes Nomad’s force special, his entire nickname-ified squad is equipped with state of the art nanotechnology suits that grant the user super powers for short periods of time.  (It also makes this reviewer think of Frozone in The Incredibles asking his wife, “WHERE is my supah suit?” every time they talk about the suits.)  The [super] suit grants the user the ability to do things like take more damage, run fast, jump high, and turn invisible.  Every time one of these powers is activated, the suit tells you about it.  Luckily, there is an option to turn this voice off.

The suit is the main thing that sets the combat apart from every other modern military shooter.  There are the usual suspects of frag grenades, shotguns and assault rifles with iron sights to look down for pinpoint shooting.  Several of the weapons have various attachments and different ammo types to use, but I didn’t feel a need to switch back and forth between them — I just choose the highest powered scope and stuck with that one.  One quirk is the sniper rifle.  The sound it makes is far, far louder than any other gun or explosion in the game.  Sure, large caliber sniper rifles should be loud, the contained explosion’s sound echoing off the hillsides.  But here it is really too loud and disproportionate to the other sounds in the game’s mix.  So loud that it made me avoid using them or hit the Mute button when sniping guards.  Noise aside, the guns are nothing special; it’s really all about the suit.

The most basic power is armor, which can effectively double Nomad’s health until bullets chew up the suit’s energy meter and blood is drawn.  Activating the speed power turns the game into ‘The Evil Dead’ as our hero sprints around a forest at twenty miles an hour in short bursts.  Heavy barrels can be thrown far, which is fun, but not useful as bullets get to enemies much faster.  The most interesting power is the cloak.  Using this ability renders Nomad invisible and starts to drain his energy.  Actually attacking an enemy while cloaked will deplete all energy and make Nomad visible, and similarly, being shot while in cloak mode will turn the power off and destroy the remainder of the meter.  It is great fun to be in a firefight, see that an enemy is dedicated to staying behind a box for cover, stealth around behind him while he fires at the last place he saw you, and then pull the trigger on him.  Also, it can be useful to hide while health recharges.  These powers mix things up, but it is a shame that the armor power is not automatic.  When being shot, it’s usually a good idea to activate the armor, but since it’s all manual, you might forget and die.  And you can die real easily.

The problem with the combat is that the rank and file enemies are too powerful, even on the normal difficulty setting.  Nomad is supposed to be a super elite agent with a fantastical suit that transforms him into a super soldier.  But he can be taken out by one enemy that gets the drop on him.  It is not in keeping with the universe to tell the player he is super human, yet can be killed just as easily as a regular person.  Each dude trying to shoot Nomad takes as many bullets as it takes to kill Nomad.  On hard it feels like more, and on the highest setting they are demigods that are the direct decedents from the mighty Zeus.  When the main character is a super hero, he should not live in fear of amook, he should only fear the occasional nano-suited enemies that pop up while wading through dozens of lesser foes.  Here, everything is a legitimate threat and you’ll spend more time diving for cover while the suit restores your health than you will actually fighting.

A man on the radio will at times indicate that you can be stealthy to avoid patrols, but the men in front of you with rifles seem to be able to see through the soft cover of the jungle plants and spot the one guy in the weird spandex from really far way.  Enemies only appear on the minimap when they are alerted to Nomad’s position, so with all the plants, it’s hard to do any real sneaking or avoid people that cannot be seen.  About the best one can hope for is to get the drop on a couple of saps and then dive for cover or go invisible and hope that wild gunfire doesn’t hit you, leaving you energyless and exposed.  Stealth is not a legitimate option, particularly as if any patrol is not eliminated on the road, they may hear Nomad’s fight with the men in a nearby gas station and come running.

With super powers at his fingertips, Nomad will be tasked with essentially going to a green or yellow dot on his minimap.  There are various story reasons for why Nomad needs to get to a particular location, but at it its barest level it’s always get to that point and: A) kill everyone, B) push the ‘Action’ button on something, or C) just get there and look to the next waypoint.  Crytek seems to really believe the idea that it is not the destination that is important, it’s the journey.  In most situations, the green dot is either a village or a base of some sort with tons of guys crawling all over it.  It is a foregone conclusion that they’re all going to die at Nomad’s hands, but you can determine how he’s going to do that. 

Virtually any given part of the game takes place in one huge, multi-acre area with enemy patrols, vehicles, and buildings placed within it.  So it is possible to circle around a town and attack from the rear where hopefully not as many guards will stream at you because most of them are running from the front.  It’s also possible to commandeer a pickup truck, drive into the center of town, hop out and start lobbing ‘nades and lighting the opposing force up with shotgun shells.  An equally valid path might be to pick everyone on the base off from a quarter mile away with a sniper rifle before waltzing into town.  This kind of freedom of approach is in line with previous Crytek games and unlike most first-person shooters which are often more corridor crawls than anything else.  While there is freedom, this also means that there are not as many cinematic moments as are in a typical Call of Duty or Halo game, as the developer cannot be certain how the player will be approaching an area.  It’s a trade off and if you have never played this kind of sandbox shooter, this design alone might be worth the price of admission.

The game does have a fair share of bugs for a product that is billed as a technical masterpiece.  These problems usually arise in the form of clipping errors that ruin whatever sense of open-area immersion there may have been.  One really weird clipping example was when I tried to pick up a file folder, and it fell through the table it was sitting on.  Crouched down, I tried to pick it up off the floor and it fell through the trailer the table was in.  I went outside, crawled under the trailer, found out that in this game, crouching men cannot look all the way down to pick things up at their feet, and then had to shoot what was apparently the world’s first diamond coated, indestructible paper folder until it was out in the open and I could stand up to pick it up.  More often the bugs will swarm whenever the many set pieces and rickety buildings floating around are destroyed.  The actual destruction part looks good.  The aftermath is usually not so pretty.  Occasionally enemy corpses caught in the ruins will appear to flicker in and out of reality and some parts of rubble will go through others.  It can also take things a while to come to a rest.  In a real world explosion, the exploded bits might roll a bit, but usually come to a stop very soon after the ka-BOOM.  Here, the bits seem to hover away from one another and vibrate before coming to a stop.  This type of thing does not always happen, but it will happen often enough that you will notice it.  This is a real shame because the explosions themselves look super nice.

While the game is old enough for its parents to pay for it to go to a nice preschool, I do feel there is a requirement that I not spoil the whole game.  But I will say this: the last part of the game is wildly different than the rest of the jungle-based, Rambo, one man army experience.  One particular late section is amazing looking.  It, more than the jungle setting with Hollywood-worthy, plumed explosions, struck me with the power of CryEngine 3.  I don’t really think I should say more than that.  Perhaps other than to say that the game takes such an impressive left turn when you think it’s all over, that if you decide to drop a twenty on this and are not really loving the power-using combat, put it on the lowest difficulty and power through to see the last leg of the game.  I really just wish the rest of the game was like it.  There should be a “skip past the legions of commies and tanks to get to the good part” button on the main menu.

Even with a good back-end, Crysis is more of a historical reference at this point in time.  It may seem bizarre having the first game launch on consoles after its sequel, but this is certainly a game worth playing if you want to see everything that there is in the Crysis-verse.  In terms of value, it does cost a third of a regular retail, boxed title.  When stacked up against similarly priced downloadable titles, this game looks fantastic, like you’re getting a full retail game for a third of the price (minus the multiplayer).  Which can happen when a game is old, like this one is.  However, the core shooting gameplay doesn’t feel right because of the stronger than one would expect opposition.  At twenty bucks, it’s an affordable venture to see if you like it, and the end is certainly worth it.  But if you’re stretched for time or money and already have a favorite shooter, don’t feel bad if you decide to give this one a pass.

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Pros:
+ Very strong finish
+ Visually impressive, especially for a downloadable game
+ No frame rate issues
+ Speedy load times

Cons:
– Riddled with bugs
– Combat can get tedious
– Not as striking as it was several years ago

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS3 via PSN; also available for Xbox 360 via XBLA
Publisher: EA
Developer: Crytek
Release Date: 10/4/2011
Genre: FPS
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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About the Author

Steve has been playing video games since the start of the 1980s. While the first video game system he played was his father's, an Atari 2600, he soon began saving allowances and working for extra money every summer to afford the latest in interactive entertainment. He is keenly aware of how much it stinks to spend good money on a bad game. It does things to a man. It makes stink way too much time into games like Karnov to justify the purchase.