Friday, 8 August 2008

Facing the Invasion

After a weekend of playing, plus a couple of hours in an evening, I have completed the PC-eating Crysis and, for once, it was pretty good fun. The game kicks off with your Delta-Force type being dropped off on a Korean island to rescue some US hostages from the evil clutches of the invading KPA and you rock around in a futuristic nanosuit mowing down Koreans with a variety of weapons. Delta Force Command helpfully declines to send you a decent supply of ammunition so you spend most of the game using the Korean's own toys, which in practice means you want to pinch an assault rifle and you're set.

Your nanosuit gives you the ability to modify your personal skills, boosting strength, shields, speed or cloaking you. This is demonstrated in the exciting introduction as your character leaps over a leap whilst blasting away with his assault rifle then punches an enemy through a wall. Sadly in game life isn't quite as exciting - I found myself switching between Cloak and Shields for the first part of the game and just stuck with Shields for the second part. Aside from some set pieces where you HAVE to use Strength to jump or avoiding boredom trudging across the landscape (and hence kicking in Speed) I barely used the other modes and I can't help wondering if they would have been better served leaving those modes enabled at all times and giving you the choice between stealth and shields for your distributable energy.

Crysis is very much a game of two halves. For the first half you are sneaking round an island crawling with the KPA, using stealth to creep around the edge of bases, sniping enemies unsportingly, then racing across open areas, leaping walls and hosing the remaining defenders. All the while they are hunting you in packs, closing in with their superior numbers (excitingly there are moments when there are FAR too many badguys and your best option is to employ all your stealth abilities to escape rather than attempting to take them all on). It is all tremendously exciting, if not quite as "open" as you might hope - you can rarely tackle objectives in an order other than the one presented to you for example. This does not deminish quite how thrilling it all is though, as you pop up from a bush and scan the land ahead with your binoculars before popping off badguys from half a mile away with single shots of your silenced rifle. Sadly you only pick up a telescopic sight much later on, which is a shame because they add a whole extra level of tactical planning.

Towards the end of the KPA section some cracks start to show as you start to face enemies seemingly encased in steel who take forever to kill which knocks stealth out of the window somewhat as you pop up, snipe a person, then switch to full auto and empty a clip into his face before he finally does the honorable thing and dies. Fortunately it is about this point the aliens put in an appearance and you forget all about stealth. So, cue entrance to the alien ship, a frustrating zero-G section where it is unbelievably easy to get turned around (saved by the beauty of the environment you are in and your character saying "this looks familiar" if you start going back the way you came) and finding a use for the shotgun. If you are blessed with quick reactions, switch it to narrow-burst mode and blast the alien squid-things at point blank range with it as they swim towards you. Very satisfying, and I did find myself shouting a variety of lines from Duke Nukem whilst blowing away the enemies.

Unfortunately this section sees the end of multiple entry point bases and any need for stealth and the game reverts to being a standard FPS. It holds up reasonably well at this, but personally I found far less satisfaction picking up a gun with unlimited ammo and using it to hose jumping aliens than I did in the previous commando-stealth sections. Then there is the end sequence on an aircraft carrier which gives you the most disappointing gun ever - a tactical nuclear grenade launcher which sounds phenomenal until you realise you can't use it on anything other than the mothership. Not, for example, the flying alien planes, or the huge walking thing that takes ages to blast out of existance with conventional rockets. The game reasons this by refusing to lock on to these targets and the gun doesn't fire without a lock - but this isn't really explained so if you're like me you'll die several times trying to work out why your new gun of coolness doesn't appear to work.

So is Crysis any good? Well, yes. I had a great time playing through it, even if I wouldn't rush to do so again (the vehicle sections induce keyboard-destroying frustration and some of them you cannot avoid - I'm a commando, why do I have to fly a damn plane?) and the best bit about replaying is that all the really good stuff happens in the first half so you can just forget about the aliens once you've seen the plot through once. Maybe recommending throwing away half of the game is a sad statement, but I think the first half stands up to the rest of the world of FPSs much better than the second and you'll have far more fun in it. So yes, I'd recommend Crysis although cautiously - and do remember to check the specs on the back of the box (as I was told four times in the shop) as it does require one hell of a PC to run well.

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