Crysis 2 reminded me of the Seinfeld episode, “The Cafe” (#307), where a restaurant opens across the street from Jerry’s apartment that serves chinese, mexican, and italian cuisine. Jerry first remarked that the restaurant is all over the map and that is why no one is going in. He lamented that the restaurant needed focus to succeed. Throughout the episode Jerry convinces the owner to change the cuisine of the restaurant to Pakistani and it quickly went out of business. At the end of the episode Jerry, Elaine, and George were discussing what they would like to eat, one wanted mexican, the other chinese, and the last italian. In classic Seinfeld tradition, the epiphany of the genius of the original restaurant’s purpose was discovered. My time and impressions of Crysis 2 follow much of this same story arc.
I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t impressed with Crysis 2 at first. In fact, the only reason I picked it up was because of the rave reviews, a lengthy campaign, and player comments that explicitly said, “the full game was much better than the demo.” I am a big fan of the original computer crushing Crysis, and I was upset that the demo let me down. But, I purchased Crysis 2 despite my misgivings and I am glad I did.
The first couple hours of the game are not that impressive. You slowly attain control over the various nano suit powers while attacking generic soldier types with generic guns. It was all pretty meh to say the least. I went to bed the first night feeling ambivalent towards the game, it didn’t necessarily disappoint, but I wasn’t excited either. The next day I continued to battle generic soldiers with generic guns until weapon mods started showing up. I quickly remembered how much I loved the on-the-fly approach to weapon modification. It is awesome to be able to quickly change your scope in the middle of a battle to better suit your needs. It creates a very fluid experience that eliminates the “damn, I wish I wouldn’t have traded that gun with high-powered sights for the one with a red-dot” issues that crop up with other shooters.
With the weapon modifications came a drastic change in tactics. It was now more feasible to utilize stealth as a primary means of approach as the silencer gives you the ability to take down enemies quietly from a distance, but I could still remove it on the fly should I need some more stopping power. I start to appreciate the gameplay of Crysis 2 a bit more now that it isn’t kill generic soldier with generic gun, now it is kill generic soldier the way I want. The game really starts to heat up when you first encounter the Ceph (short for cephalopods, the physical form of the aliens). These aliens are twitchy bastards that jump around like an ADHD 8 year old who just ate a bowl of sugar. To make matters worse, they are encased in armor which means you have to shoot their armor off to reach the fleshy kill zone. Each Ceph you kill will have a cloud of magical pixie dust hovering around them. This pixie dust, aka nano catalyst, is a form of currency that you can use to upgrade your nano suit’s abilities. Examples of an upgrade is the ability to reduce the power drain while cloaked, see cloaked enemies easier, and reduce power drain while in armor mode. Just like with weapon mods, you can adjust ability mods on the fly to suit whatever situation you happen to find yourself in. The nano suit mods drastically change the way the game plays and makes Crysis 2 a truly exciting game to play that bests some of the reigning champions at their own game.
Crysis 2 resembles three games in its play through. The first is the run-and-gun tactics of Halo and Call of Duty. While the shooting mechanics and environment feel like that of CoD, the enemies and battles are all Halo. Crysis 2 manages to blend both styles very well, creating a bridge between the CoD and Halo realms. Is it better than CoD or Halo? Maybe, but it is safe to say that Crysis 2 manages to go toe-to-toe with the big boys without breaking a sweat. But a third game enters the fold as a curious source of inspiration, Splinter Cell. Crysis 2 does stealth so well, that it is easily better than the past few Splinter Cell games. While stealth is limited in the early stages of the game due to rapid power drain while in stealth mode, an upgrade that slows the drain makes you a ghost for long stretches of time. The ability to creep close to your enemies and silently take them out is a thing of beauty, and I was honestly surprised at how well it worked. The true testament to how well stealth was incorporated into the game came during the final section of the last level. To avoid spoilers I will use generic terms. There are three “things” that need to be shut down. Each “thing” has roughly three guards, except for the center “thing” which has around 10 enemies. I managed to shut down all three “things” without firing a single shot, walking slowly, and picking proper spots to recharge my power. Was it faster than killing everything and then completing the objective? Maybe, maybe not. Was it more challenging? Depends on the person and their style. What drove me to pursue the stealth route? I wanted to see if it could be done. I even got all the way to the final door without alerting any enemies or firing a single shot. Unfortunately, killing the last group of enemies is mandatory to open the door needed to progress. I think I may try and work through the entire last level using stealth just to see if it can be done.
You have heard a lot about stealth, but what about the other modes of the suit? The suit has four modes that draw power from it, armor, cloak, strength, and nano vision.
Armor mode is pretty self explanatory, it is a mode that virtually eliminates any reduction in health. That means if you are near death and pop on armor mode it is as good as being behind cover, but every hit the suit takes will drain significant power in addition to the the power drain just for having armor mode on. An early modification you can buy will significantly reduce power drain with armor mode, making you a much, much tougher target to kill. You can literally soak up bullet damage while in armor mode.
Cloak was described heavily above, but it makes you practically invisible. One word of caution though, if you get too close to enemies they will sense your presence and shoot in your direction. It is very inventive of Crytek to allow the guards to experience the phenomenon of the feeling that someone is watching them.
Strength is not an on and off mode in Crysis 2. In the first you were able to turn the mode on and have the ability to punch extremely hard, run fast, and jump high. These are all options still available in Crysis 2, but they are modifiers of the regular melee, run, and jump actions. While this is an understandable change due to the button constraints on console controllers, they do feel kind of inadequate and not that useful. For instance, I rarely super punched anyone because it required to click and hold the right thumb stick for a significant amount of time making it awkward to use. Jumping was fine as was the running ability, although, the running speed while utilizing the suit’s power was significantly slower in Crysis 2 than the original.
Nano vision allows you to see in the dark as well as see heat signatures, basically a pair of night vision + heat vision goggles.
I found that the power modes are not as balanced in Crysis 2 as they were in the original. In the original you could switch discreetly from each power mode to another. That means you can be in armor, or stealth, or strength mode, but not more than one at the same time. This time around, you can be cloaked or armored and still hit hard, jump high, and run fast. This gives you a certain advantage in Crysis 2 because you can jump high while remaining cloaked, something you couldn’t do in the original. But, since there wasn’t a discreet mode for strength, it didn’t feel very useful. I remembered running around in the original with the strength mode enabled, punching enemies so they would fly 40 feet away. It was fun, and a very effortless activity. This time it felt more like the super run/hit/jump abilities were things that the suits allowed you to do rather than being part of a specific suit power.
Throughout the 10ish hour campaign (according to the game clock, so probably 7 to 8 hours if I didn’t die) you will be in a variety of environments. In one level you will be infiltrating a building through a parking garage, then find yourself moving through the city streets onto a collapsing freeway (a visually stunning set piece too), and later on you will be on an island working your way through the brush. You get to experience a variety of environments, all of which play a little differently and all look amazing. Yes, amazing. Visually, Crysis 2 is a very, very pretty game. From the destructive cut scenes, to the gun models, to enemies, it is all visually stunning. It is early in the year but Crysis is easily one of the best looking console games to date and probably the best looking game we will see all year.
Amid all the praise and gushing over Crysis 2 there are a few issues I had with the game. The first is the lack of variety in the CELL (human) enemies. The aliens have their normal easy to kill grunts, but they also have lieutenants that require more firepower, heavy gunner types that are a bit of a challenge to kill, a spider mech, and some cloaked baddies. All you get with CELL are humans, humans in a humvee, humans in an APC, and humans in a helicopter. The APC and Helicopters are a bit more difficult and require rocket launchers, but you only come under attack a couple times by each one. The CELL in a humvee is easy to dispatch with a simple headshot to the gunner (because apparently there is no driver) and they are no longer a threat. It would have been nice to see some variation in the human enemies as they are the main force you encounter for half of the game.
Another disappointment is the lack of alien weaponry. There are plenty of human weapons available that are both traditional and non-traditional (e.g. K-Volt, a rifle that shoots electrically charged rounds). But, not once does the player get to use alien technology. This was especially disappointing since we used an alien rifle in the original.
Lastly, we come to the story, if you can really call it that. It begins with Alcatraz (the protagonist) in a submarine. You are attacked by the Ceph and must escape. After you are severely wounded the nano suit sporting Prophet (from the first Crysis) drags you to safety and graciously gives you his power suit. Thus begins your journey with very little context. There are a few issues alone with the story that really affect the bottom line for me. The first is that your character, named Alcatraz has a single line throughout the entire game, and it comes at the last ten seconds. It just doesn’t fit well considering that people are somewhat having a conversation with Alcatraz. I have seen other games use limited voice work with the main character before and it has worked, a great example of this is the character from Saints Row. I wondered when he was going to talk in the cutscenes, but it didn’t really bother me because the character was being talked at, not with, so no response from my character was really needed. But, when he did speak, it was hilarious, I laughed my ass off. Unfortunately, Crysis 2 punctuates the extended silence with a very clichéd line.
Aside from the lack of Alcatraz’s exposition, the story wasn’t very coherent. At one point, it was crucial that Alcatraz infiltrated a building to retrieve some biosamples. In order to do this, the building needed to be entered and the security protocols overridden so the stairs and elevators were accessible. When you arrive in the lobby to override the security measures you see that half the building is underwater. As luck would have it the glass cracks and floods the building before you can retrieve the samples. Rather than go an alternate route, it is as if the guy that gave you the task in the first place didn’t really care. Hell, it was barely acknowledged that the building was flooded at all. When you come to, instead of trying to retrieve the samples another way you are told to go help marines. It was such a jarring change of events that had no transition I walked away wondering what the hell just happened.
When I began my journey with Crysis 2 I felt as though it was all over the place, trying to appeal to crowds from different games. I longed for cohesiveness and a singular gameplay style. But as I progressed, the game grew on me. The different approaches to a situation gave me a choice, allowing me to experience the combat from different scenarios and change my tactics based on my mood at the time. I came to realize how Crysis 2 bridges the gap not only between the worlds of Halo and Call of Duty, but includes a rewarding stealth experience that rivals that of Splinter Cell. Amid the antiquated lack of exposition from Alcatraz and the lackluster story is a visually beautiful and engaging game that is not a bastardized love child of Halo and Call of Duty, but an excellent shooter that holds its own with genre heavy weights while expertly employing a stealth aspect that neither Call of Duty nor Halo has with widespread elegance.