Saturday, 1 February 2014

A city in Crysis

Oh look – I’ve got a blog. Seems I managed to forget that for most of last year. New Year’s resolution: write more. Let’s see how that turns out.


Back in the old days this was a blog about video games. I played through and wrote about Crysis and Crysis: Warhead and made certain criticisms of the design decisions. In my post about Crysis I praised the game but said the narrative was a bit wonky, lurching from shooting Koreans to shooting aliens and in the process utterly changing the way the game played – and not for the better. They fixed that in Crysis: Warhead. I also said that the nanosuit, while being interesting was overly complicated and that they’d be better off losing some of the power modes and having them always-on.

Which brings us nicely to Crysis 2.

Suit me up

We’re back in the nanosuit – now apparently only being worn by one person in the entire gameworld – but with some of the power modes removed and those functions always-on. Sounds familiar. The new interface is far slicker than the old one which makes the gameplay faster and more fluid. The missing modes (Speed and Strength) are still around, but accessed via context-sensitive prompts (Strength) and just running quickly (Speed) which makes a lot more sense, even if you’re sometimes killed by enemies because being shot has drained your energy leaving you unable to run away properly. Still – it’s your fault. Plan properly next time.

Me suit up 

But you can’t just remove the useless element from an interface - you have to add new and exciting buttons to push to justify the “2”ness of the experience. So we have nightvision, which I don’t remember in the original games and not really worth the bother now. It is only of any use in one (very brief) section where the lights fail and a couple of occasions when the playing area is randomly filled with smoke. It just feels tacked on, which is a shame.

Then there is TacVisorThing. I struggle with TacVisorThing. I like game worlds and generally I feel it helps immersion to build logical gadgets then incorporate them into the gameplay rather than adding something cool and hoping the setting can swallow it. In the gameworld, the TacVisor makes sense. Basically, you bring down the “spotter” sights and the nanosuit analyses the battlefield and overlays tactical options to help you out. Generally they are quite obvious (marking high ground as suitable for "sniping" or the bit at the side suitable for "flanking") but it can point out weapon and ammo caches which would otherwise be easily missed. The problem is that all this really does is put a series of button presses between you and continuing the action when you enter one of the more open areas. It’s just busywork and I can’t help feeling that an automatic overlay would have been a nicer solution (prediction for Crysis 3! Which has been out for nearly a year!).

Oh, and there is an upgrade system too. More on that later.

Up me suit

So, we’re suited up. Time to get going. The gameplay drops Crysis’s vaguely open world for a series of corridors spilling out into arenas. It keeps things focused, but does lose any real sense of planning. You’re going in at A and coming out at B. All you can really decide is how to progress between those points. Oh – you’ve chosen stealth. Well, that means you can just walk from A to B and ignore the guys hanging around waiting to kill you.


Yes, the Stealth option basically lets you bypass most of the enemies and without ever engaging them. And there really isn’t much encouraging you to fight – sure the human opposition are portrayed as a bunch of thuggish tools, but you’ve got places to be and pretty soon they are all busy being eaten by aliens anyway. The aliens on the other hand are big walking robot things with tentacles coming out of their heads (gone are the flying squid-things from the first game) who … you can also walk straight past. Sigh.

Actually, this feels like a step backwards from Crysis 1 where the enemies would hunt you down once you’d shown yourself. Now re-cloaking utterly confuses them. They don’t try shooting where you might be, or throw things to make you appear. You can just scurry off and murder anew from a new angle. The AI in general seems universally dense – they follow very obvious paths and just don’t seem to react to what you’re doing beyond “turn and shoot” instincts.

In an effort to stop you bypassing all the enemies in stealth mode there is an upgrade system which is powered from the corpses of the alien troops. There is some pseudo-science explaining this, but suffice to say that it means you’ll 1. spend a lot of time running like an idiot through the middle of firefights because you don’t want to lose the XP, rather ruining game flow (why can’t the pick-ups drift to you?) and 2. become next to invulnerable horribly quickly. Pro tip when upgrading – get level 1 of all 4 sections, then save for level 3 stealth and armour in that order. Everything else is largely worthless.

There are also token collectables which do little other than say YOU’RE PLAYING A COMPUTER GAME (why am I picking up tourist models of famous buildings, exactly?). It’s important to not forget those.

Tell me a tale

The plot? Yeah, there's one of those too.

Come on

Eugh. Well, there is some evil-PMC nonsense, an alien invasion, a sinister businessman pulling the strings behind the scenes and some of the noblest marines you’ll ever meet. The characters are largely uninteresting and to a man unlikable and most of the time you’re glad you’re on your own. The marines do provide a particularly hilarious sequence though – you’re told that the normal humans basically have no chance against the aliens and you need to escort them back to base. However, these normal humans turn out to be invulnerable (presumably to stop the escort quest making you hate all of humanity which is what normally happens – definitely a good decision) which means you can cheerfully use them as shields or just cower in a corner while they PUNCH THE ALIEN MECHA-SUITS TO DEATH. Do NOT mess with the US Marine Corps.

You’re still typing

That’s about it. It all functions, but it feels rather uninspired. It’s as if Crytek have built a great engine, hired the best artists on the planet (even seven years on it looks amazing, but then you already knew that), thought about the nanosuit and basically free-styled the actual game part. Not to say that it isn’t fun – I had an enjoyable 10 or so hours blasting through it, aside from a horrible end of game fight against cloaked aliens who had to die to unlock a door for … reasons – but it feels like a missed opportunity. There was the potential to do an open-world game in a semi-ruined cityscape here which changed as the war evolved. Who knows – maybe some of your actions could have helped that evolution along different paths. In that world the nanosuit could have come into its own, allowing you to customise the game to your preferred play-style via your use of powers and upgrades. Instead, we have a corridor shooter with some knobs on. A good corridor shooter, with some very pretty knobs but still – corridors and knobs.