In 2007, developers Crytek released a game that genuinely pushed the current technology to its limits; a PC title that many gamers simply couldn’t run on their systems. Absolutely beautiful to look at and spectacular to play, 'Crysis' was set on the Lingshan Islands where a group of American scientists were taken prisoner by the North Korean military. A special-ops squad known as Raptor Team were despatched to find and rescue the hostages – but this was no ordinary fire team: outfitted with high-tech Nanosuits, Raptor Team were stronger, faster and more durable than your standard grunt. The player took control of Nomad, a voiceless, faceless super-soldier battling Koreans and aliens in a lush tropical paradise. Four years later, Crytek are bringing the Nanosuit back, relocating to the urban jungle of a semi-destroyed New York City and streamlining the suit’s powers to create a more accessible, more console-friendly FPS.
The game opens with a squad of marines getting blown into tiny bits in New York’s harbour. The only survivor, codenamed Alcatraz, is rescued by Prophet – Nomad’s team leader from the previous game. NYC’s gone all to Hell, overrun by a deadly virus, and peace is being kept by the Cell – albeit that “City 17”-style peace-keeping that basically involves shooting people and building roadblocks whilst looking menacing in breathing masks. Prophet’s become infected and, while Alcatraz sleeps off a napalm-headache, he passes the mantle on to the rescued marine. Guiding the newly-Nanosuited Alcatraz through a war-torn New York City is exhilarating and, with everything rendered with such phenomenal detail, often breathtaking. It’s just a shame it takes so long to really get into its stride.
The opening is somewhat slow, feeling almost restrictive in that you have this incredibly advanced piece of weaponry (just watch the cutscene that shows what Prophet could do with it), but you can’t unlock its full potential for several hours. When you can, the suit itself really is the star of the show. The Armour and Stealth abilities return from Crysis, although slightly revamped, whereas the running, jumping and punching tricks have been streamlined into the Power ability. Tapping LB at any time will throw up a defensive shield for an extra layer of protection in tough spots, whilst RB will activate stealth-mode, rendering Alcatraz effectively invisible until he fires a weapon – or until the energy gauge runs dry, which, if it happens at the wrong moment, is a bitch.
Armour, stealth, sprinting, jumping or power-kicking enemies and objects will drain the energy bar pretty quickly, whilst lesser abilities like the infra-red Nanovision will do less damage but will still deplete the reserve. Balancing the suit’s various powers and using them to your advantage against the Cell – and, later, a super-fast, super-strong alien menace – is vital. Clicking UP on the D-pad will activate the Nanosuit’s tactical visor, allowing you to tag enemies, ammo drops, vehicles and assorted tactical options like vantage points, shortcuts, climbable ledges and explodey barrels. Sitting back for a few minutes prior to navigating a heavily fortified roadblock in order to plan a tactical assault is strangely satisfying and incredibly empowering.
Of course, the biggest problem is that with careful use of the stealth-mode and available cover, you could just choose to circumvent around eighty-percent of the firefights. Neither punished nor discouraged, this option can make the game very short and very unfulfilling – especially as the combat is so meaty and gratifying. Getting in amongst a group of enemies, performing an instant kill here, a silenced headshot there, before disappearing to recharge and then re-engaging as the enemy mills around blindly panic-firing is, at times, sublime. Erratic enemy AI can sometimes come close to ruining things, though. One enemy might look right through you from ten feet away when another will apparently spot you through a perfectly inconspicuous bush from a hundred yards and open fire. A quick dive for cover and tap of RB will give you the upper hand again, of course, but it’s still mildly infuriating at times when you’ve meticulously planned an assault only to have it go wrong due to psychic baddies.
The weapons are diverse enough to make for varying styles between players, as opposed to some games which fall foul of the “find shotgun, find rocket launcher, proceed” pitfall. Being able to switch attachments on the move is also a nice touch, allowing you to fix a silencer to your weapon for those quiet, reflective moments and go loud with a laser sight when you want to let your hair down. Likewise, the Nanosuit’s powers are customisable thanks to “Nano Catalysts” that can be found on dead aliens. These pick-ups allow you to upgrade the suit’s four main areas, Tactical, Armour, Stealth and Power, giving you benefits and buffs to keep you vital through the tougher fights.
Vehicle sections are probably the weakest element of the game. Driving a tactical assault vehicle through an urban battlescape has been done hundreds of times before, and you sometimes get the feeling that Alcatraz should be stealthing up to enemy machines and tearing their turrets off rather than playing chicken with oncoming APCs in a vehicle that’s barely more resilient than his Nanosuit’s armour mode.
Although the graphics have been hyped and hyped again by Crytek’s PR folk, they’re so… sumptuous, that they deserve a mention. Really showing what the 360 and PS3 are capable of the way Criterion’s ‘Black’ showed what the original Xbox could do back at the tail-end of the last generation, Crysis 2 is one of the most detailed and beautiful games on today's consoles. Viewed in HD, it knocks spots off pretty much everything else.
The multiplayer, while perfectly functional, suffers from something of an identity crisis. Kind of “Call of Duty Lite”, it initially offers a lot in the fifty player levels and six game modes. But on closer inspection these modes are revealed to be cleverly-named versions of the bog-standard “classic” multiplayer game types we’ve seen countless times. Crashsite is essentially King of the Hill, Capture the Relay is, well, I don’t really need to change the noun in that, do I? You get the point. As for the level increase, they only introduce minor perks and upgrades for your weapons and suit that don’t really do a great deal to change the game or the way you play. That said, a dozen players running around equipped with the armour, stealth and power abilities of the Nanosuit makes for some insanely frantic and tense firefights.
If broken down into its component parts, Crysis 2 might be found wanting. The fun-for-five-minutes multiplayer is a blast to begin with but becomes stale fairly quickly; the enemy AI and occasional walk-in-the-park difficulty can threaten to unbalance the solo campaign; and the vehicle sections are uninspired and annoyingly compulsory. Viewed as a whole, however, Crytek have produced a solid sci-fi shooter with some genuinely brilliant ideas.
Despite all of this, though, the glue that holds the entire experience together is the Nanosuit. Almost a character in itself (and quite a gruff, bossy one, too), the suit elevates a good game into the hazy outer-reaches of excellence. Perhaps not the groundbreaking world-beater a lot of us were expecting, Crysis 2 is nevertheless a worthwhile experience with enough collectibles, unlockables, multiplayer modes and gameplay paths to keep you entertained for a few weeks at least. If nothing else, you’d have to buy a PC and pick up the original to see another game as beautiful as this any time soon. Definitely recommended.