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Shiny things are nice things...

…Kinda sucks.

I recently got a new computer (out of fear that the broken fan on my old one was whispering “When I melt I’m going to take all your files and internets with me.”) and the internet soon told me it was apparently good enough to run Crysis. You remember Crysis? 2007? Best looking game ever made? No one played it because it was designed for 2010 PCs? I found out it was available for less than £10 on Amazon. I jumped at this bargain.

Now I can’t help but feel ripped off.

Going in you can’t expect much from the story. Even before release you knew it was a routine mission to rescue scientists from North Koreans and then it all goes wrong and ancient buried ice aliens burst out. And that’s it. Seriously. That’s, like, the entire plot. It doesn’t go into more detail about any of those things, the aliens aren’t given a motive and virtually nothing links together.

Or to put it another way: you play a faceless, helmeted space marine super soldier Special Forces super soldier with a regenerative suit of MJOLNIR armour Nanosuit working with ordinary marines marines fighting the Covenant North Koreans and then the Flood the ancient ice aliens are released and annoy you for the rest of the game. Oh, and big black borders fade over the gameplay with a piece of text telling you the name of the new level. Sound familiar?

From even the interior of the dropships, straight down to the bizarre addition of shoulder pads.

But for such a simplistic and unambitious plot I’m surprised at how much story is forced on you.

The entire game save for a short part of the beginning and end are in first person. But there are lots of cutscenes. It rips away even camera control and just does everything in bordered cutscene mode. It never goes the Half-Life route of giving you control, despite all of them being reasonably controllable situations. This removes the immersion but it does sometimes help them frame scenes. (and I suppose it saves on disc space?)

The main character Nomad can talk. I’m not sure why. He never says anything remotely important and you can count the amount of lines he has with your fingers. Again, they’ve taken a middle ground that has zero positive attributes. They haven’t gone the ‘immersive’ mute first person route a la Half-Life, F.E.A.R., Call of Duty, etc. – a trope I don’t really like anyway. But they also haven’t bothered to give the character y’know…An actual personality. It’s very Halo 3.

Oh, and it obviously ends without an actual conclusion. (think Halo 2, or Gears of War 1, or most other games like this)

Did I mention unskippable cutscenes? Rule number one, people. Two of the five logos on start up are unskippable too, so get used to them when the game crashes.

Another memorable chara-who?

The cast are all cookie cutter clichés and there’s no emotional attachment to anyone. This is despite one character heroically sacrificing himself, albeit moments after you meet him and in a less than badass way. It’s impossible to care and it becomes hard not to laugh when Nomad screams his name and it all starts to feel like a bad JRPG.

Given that you start off in a squad (although few survive the tutorial, natch) there was some potential. Squad mate Psycho (no, seriously, that’s the level we’re at) is colourful, and your leader Prophet has hints of being a respectable character. But the writers never sink their teeth into any kind of attachment to them. Despite being a Special Forces group, it never tries to properly convey Prophet guiding you or protecting you, nor does it ever give a sense of kinship with Psycho. In fact, the game predictably leaves you on your own for 98% of the game. It’s just a shame that they didn’t try and do at least one interesting thing with the story.

There’s also a strange vagueness with the story as well. There was a spinoff game called Crysis Warhead, in which you play the aforementioned Psycho. But that game doesn’t intersect with the storyline of the original Crysis in any of the obvious and clever ways, like the GTAIV trilogy, for example. Again it misses potential.

I get the distinct impression they wanted a spinoff for Prophet, because there’s a lot of left extremely vague and unexplained with him. Maybe it’s being left for Crysis 2.

On that note; the writer of Crysis 2 has been very vocal in criticising Modern Warfare 2 and the Halo series. His criticisms are perfectly fair comments, but it seems ironic that exactly what he said about Halo totally applies to Crysis.

You can expect to see that last screen a lot.

Now onto the gameplay. There are two major vehicle sections, and a lot of trucks. Here’s where the game could’ve done with borrowing something from Halo.

In Halo 3 (a game I don’t care for, by the way), one of the best parts of the game is where you get a tank. Your backup shows up with a tank and soldiers. You roll through and destroy everything in your path as Wash from Firefly sits on the tank and yells about how “TANK BEATS EVERYTHING!”
In Crysis, instead of making you feel like an invincible badass, you go through a field filled with enemy tanks and tons of tiny men with rocket launchers. They will ALL target you specifically and they will all hit you from very, very, very far away. You will die continuously until you realise it’s best to drive the tank as far forward as possible and then leap out and run into the woods and handle the tanks on foot.

Halo 3 has a level where it gives you a flying vehicle, you take part in a massive aerial battle between two forces and it gives you a sense of freedom.
Crysis gives you a penultimate level with one of those VTOLs that handles horribly, moves slowly, barely lets you move vertically so it won’t let you fly over hills, puts tornadoes in your path, has invisible walls, makes you try and fight speedy flying enemies hurling volleys of icicles at you and is just generally an infuriating and linear section.

All the Halo games had driving sections where you could get the nearby marines to hop in and be your gunners, or they could even drive (albeit with bad AI) while you take shotgun or the turret.
In Crysis you can drive. But you will do so on your own. All the time. There’s one section where you’re forced to take the turret. That’s…Not so good.

You might not know about the nansuit functions. Invisibility, super strength, armour, super speed. All can be switched on the fly. Sounds great. This CG intro to Crysis Warhead explains its functions well: (skip to 0:55)

See, what they’re missing there is that in the actual game – after that initial cloak, he’d get a few feet with super speed and then have to lie down in the grass for a few moments to recharge his suit’s energy levels.  Then he could super speed up the hill, switch to strength to do the big jump. Maybe get one super punch in and then have to go find some cover and recharge. And then go and hit the other two guys. Then he wouldn’t be able to jump on the truck. And the armour would have no energy so he’d be shot and killed by those guys. Presuming the truck didn’t just blow up beforehand.

I destroyed this shack with my bare hands. But there's never any reason to do so. It's not like guards stand inside so you could crush them.

Aside from the suit balance issues, the human enemies can track you down all too easily, often seeming psychic. Meanwhile, the enemy vehicles, especially the attack helicopters, are downright omnipotent. Oh, and despite having invisibility and a massive open environment, it defeats the point when every enemy encampment is filled with tons of soldiers. It just throws hundreds of them at you. Which also makes your strength mode rather pointless.

Did you know the M4 assault rifle is effective from over 300 metres? Facts like this make it rather strange that it’s very difficult to hit  people from 18 metres away with both assault rifles in Crysis. While prone. With strength mode to control recoil. The rifle still sways around unrealistically. Maybe Nomad is just incredibly racist and his fear of Koreans causes him to tremble.

It’s not that this makes the game difficult, it just makes the gameplay feel out of your control. It should have been like in the early levels of Metal Gear Solid 4 where you have a myriad of ways to get through any given situation and even more ways of dispatching your foes.

But it’s not. In fact, it’s best to sneak in with your stealth and then just charge in with an assault rifle or shotgun and kill the waves of enemies in their faces Modern Warfare style.

The best parts of the gameplay are early when there’s very few enemies. Meaning you’re better off just playing the demo, and that’s no endorsement for the game.

Riddle me this: Which way is up and which way is down? Where will RETCH BLECH HURRRRGH

Fighting the aliens is just a pain. Not fun. At all. It’s also all you do for the last two fifths of the game.

Oh, and there’s the horribly mapped zero gravity section, which literally gave me a headache. Spinning around and getting vertigo shouldn’t really be paired with a labyrinthine location and bad game design. There’s one massive complex room where you must kill all the enemies to continue – but of course the game does not tell you this.

The graphics are obviously terrific. The tropical environments are ridiculously lush and a lot happens on screen late on in the game. It never uses the wide open environments as well as it could though.

The entire aircraft carrier section shows an indoor attention to detail and the facial animation that was underused. The CryEngine would clearly be great for a lot of different kinds of games.

All the pictures from Crysis are my screenshots, by the way. They look even better in motion, and the screenshots were all jaggedly JPEGged by the screenshot system. The whole thing ran really nicely with High settings. (only one strange and angering problem where halfway through the last level it would constantly crash unless I ran the game in DX9)

On the subject of its presentation, the music is sometimes good, but always forgettable.

The underwater is particularly striking in motion.

Overall, I couldn’t possibly recommend Crysis.

If it was on consoles (I think the only reason it isn’t is because of the amount of buttons – who even used the night vision?) I would expect it to be averaging 7-8/10s on Metacritic and the like.

There’s so much going for it but it’s ruined by bad and uninspired design. The whole thing is a big bag of missed potential. Even if it is a very pretty bag.

(Side note: I’m not covering the multiplayer and there are cheats, tweaks and mods that could probably improve the game a lot for me. But I’m currently judging it in its vanilla state, like I would a console game. Despite the fact I’d probably have hated Max Payne 1 and 2, and Oblivion without mods)

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  1. […] worth noting, I first ran the game in High and it ran terribly. On a computer that can run Crysis and ArmA […]

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