Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Video Game Review | Crysis 2, dev. Crytek

Four years ago, Crysis changed the face of gaming.

Which it to say, it tried to. And in some respects, I suppose the boffins behind Crytek succeeded: for a precious moment in time - perhaps the last such one - they energised a once-ubiquitous playerbase which had seemed dormant a dreadfully long time. They gave lapsed PC gamers who hadn't updated their rigs in years a reason to get back on the bus. For my part, I tried to join in on the fun, I truly did: I upgraded my graphics card from a mid-range last-gen chipset to a mid-range current-gen chipset, as per my limited budget. Sadly, my machine still couldn't handle Crysis.

In early 2009, I built a new machine, and one of the first things I did was give Crysis a second chance. This time it ran, which was nice, but that was about all it did; on moderate graphics settings it rarely saw the upper end of 20 frames per second. I couldn't bear it, so for a second time, I put poor Crysis away. I expect when next I upgrade my computer, Crysis the first will play just fine. The third time's the charm, after all, and perhaps middle of the road tech from 2012 will at last match up against the bleeding edge of 2007. One can only hope.

Because CrysisI gather, was quite the game. A solid shooter with a few innovative twists on the usual run and gun action thanks to the powersuit players were outfitted with, which allowed for stealth, super-strength, and the ability to leap buildings in a single bound, among other things. The massive open world of Lingshang Island was beautifully composed and incredibly rendered, and allowed for playstyles of all shapes and sizes; whether you wanted to sneak your way through or go guns blazing, Crysis went out of its way to enable.

Again, I should reiterate: all this knowledge comes second-hand, since I never played it - not properly. Nor, I imagine, will the majority of those who think to pick up Crysis 2 for PS3 or Xbox 360. And you know what? I wouldn't worry about it. The continuing narrative, such as it is, is at best a gloss of certain familiar sci-fi tropes, and at its worst, quite incomprehensible whether you're up to speed on the original Crysis or not. This I know because I spent a good long while catching up with the Wiki before sitting down to play through Crysis 2. Neither a very enlightening pursuit, nor a necessary one, as it transpires.

That the story of this shiny new sequel proved such a nonsense came as something of a surprise to me. Because the talent is certainly there. Crysis 2 is written by Richard Morgan, of Altered Carbon fame, in consultation with another noted genre author, Hugo Award-winner Peter Watts, yet the narrative boils down to nothing much: aliens attack, decimating New York City block by broken block, and it's down to one man in an experimental nanotech-enhanced supersuit to save Central Park and thus the world. Beyond a bit of genrefied gibberish there's really not much more to it than that. The pace reaches fever pitch a few missions in and rarely relents thereafter; characterisation, meanwhile, is practically non-existent. I mean, as video game stories go, Crysis 2's is fine, and perfectly functional. It sets the scene for the incredible apocalyptic spectacles to come, and gives you as good a reason as any to shoot some baddies in the neck or the head. But coming from such esteemed imaginations, it's difficult not to be disappointed in the undercooked narrative of this otherwise thoroughly thought-out sequel.

So don't come for the story. Come for the game wrapped all around the mediocre cutscenes, like slimy squid-alien innards. But do come, for Crysis 2 is truly a superb shooter: relatively long by today's standards, and thrilling throughout; so perfectly balanced as to strike a happy medium between challenge and frustration; and open to such individual playstyles as to accommodate most any gamer's ideal of the experience at hand. If you want to play it like Call of Duty, you can, and Crysis 2 can stand the comparison. If you'd rather crawl around in the shadows, stealth stabbing in close quarters rather than headshotting your way to victory, well, by all means. That was how I went about beating off the evil invading aliens who mean to level America's most singular city: via a certain upgrade path and close attention to the contextual sit-reps my HUD alerted me to each time I entered a new area. Though I had my fair share of Rambo moments too, I'll admit - Solid Snake would wipe the floor with me on stealth terms.

And of course, Crysis 2 is so beautiful as to oftentimes evoke wonder and awe at the whistle-stop tour of devastating spectacles the single-player campaign showcases. Perhaps that's no great surprise, with this sequel coming from the makers of a four year-old game I still can't play, but that they've pulled it off, and with such stunning aplomb, on console hardware even older than the original Crysis is... astonishing. The multiplayer's pretty interesting too - if inherently less attractive. I haven't spent as long as I'd like to have done with it, and in all likelihood I won't, what with the slate of games ahead, but I've ranked up enough, I think, to be able to deem it a very worthy diversion between rounds of Team Slayer and Call of Duty zombies. Trouble is, I don't know that many folks are looking for such diversions; the last time I booted this baby's online up its servers were already depopulating. A lamentable fate for such a strong multiplayer offering, however predictable.

But do not judge Crysis 2 on its strict best before date of a multiplayer, or on the basis of its decidedly mediocre story, nor even as it relates to its impossible predecessor. On the strength of its thrilling single-player alone, Crysis 2 is a very worthy way to waste a long weekend.

Oh, and did I mention: giant squid mechs from outer space?

Well, I have done now. So muster up for the good of mankind, folks. Go forth, and shoot them in their evil alien faces! I don't imagine you'll regret it.


  1. Thanks for that Niall. That is a tad disappointing re the storyline, but then, whose main motivation for playing video games is the story anyway? Cheers

  2. You're very welcome. :)

    In fairness, my own personal hall of fame of video games - so say Bioshock, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Mass Effect, Red Dead Redemption, and perhaps Halo: Reach - are among my favourites precisely because they've handled narrative well, so it's quite the disappointment that Crysis 2 couldn't rise to the occasion, particularly considering the talent apparently involved.

    But agreed otherwise: games are one of a very, very few entertainment media which can kick ass even in absentia of a decent story.

  3. I'm playing through Crysis 2 now (very slowly). The last time we upgraded our PC was to play Crysis 1, and my wife twisted my arm (I swear I heard it crack) until I got an Alienware PC to play Crysis 2 on. It's _very_ pretty. Haven't got far enough in to have much to say about the story but I'm happy with what I'm seeing so far. It does feel like an upgraded Crysis 1 though - the first game had lots of novel aspects - so far this looks like the same game done better.