An interesting thing about Crysis 2 is that I began my adventure believing that it was not much more than a tech demo—after all, one of the game’s strongest elements is its CryEngine 3, the most beautiful game engine since…well, CryEngine 2, mainly.
Though it certainly shows off constantly, Crysis 2 is overall a strong player in a genre filled with monotonous military shooters.
Note—the multiplayer service (provided by the late GameSpy) was shut down May 31st, 2014, so this review focuses only on the single player. I wish I’d tried it, but oh, well.
Our narrative begins in a ship where our silent protagonist watches over his Marine buddies as they carry on. Suddenly the ship is attacked, and, in an escape scene highly reminiscent of the original Modern Warfare’s first mission (“Jump for it!”), we must run through the wreckage and, upon surfacing in the harbor of a desecrated New York City, are attacked by a strafe of some advanced-tech flying thing. Our protagonist passes out and is awoken in the upper levels of a small warehouse, wearing the infamous Nanosuit depicted on the cover of every Crysis game. A short video reveals that the previous owner, lying dead nearby, was dying and gave us the suit to heal us, saying that “you’re all I can do now” and a few more lines with the tl;dr of: “You’re our last hope.” Pretty typical stuff of a modern FPS, but that is really where the formula sputters and gives way to an amazingly intense game that discourages playing your own way.
Most bits of combat are, initially, confrontations with the military contractor hired by the US to fight off the aliens. Using one of the three branches of the Nanosuit’s powers—Power, Stealth, and Armor—you must choose how to procede. Power grants you things like Power Kick, which sends very heavy objects flying, and an extra high jump. Stealth cloaks you in near-invisibility. Armor thickens your suit to provide an extra health boost. All abilities require some level of suit energy, which recharges quickly when not in use. Stealth, for example, drains quickly unless you’re crouched, and the energy drains instantly if you’re actively cloaked when you shoot a gun. Sometimes, the game requires that you kill everyone to continue to the next area, but sometimes you are allowed to sneak around, if you can. This is one of my favorite parts of the game: the ability to choose. You can customize your weapon on the fly—add a silencer, swap scopes—to suit different tactical methods which can be viewed using the HUD, which tags various tactical options for these encounters.
Normally, I’d say that a game based on running from point A to Point B, taking out the bad guys, running to Point C, taking out the baddies there, etc., would be boring but CryTek is clever. Though the maps themselves are linear, as are the distances between confrontations, each area sprawls nicely. There are typically a few routes to choose between, somewhere to set up a sniper rifle, or you could run from cover to cover in an all out war. I attempted the run ‘n’ gun method, but quickly adopted the stealthy sniping method. I’d prop myself up next to a car with the stealth mode engaged, quickly disengage stealth, pop a headshot, then re-engage stealth. Snipe, reload, repeat. This method probably would be boring if it weren’t for the random patrol guys who would stand behind me when I disabled my cloak. And Veteran difficulty is quite unforgiving. The only good way to describe this system of choices and trickery is “badass.” There’s just no way to play and not constantly feel like a total badass.
There are a few problems with this setup. For one, the AI can be stupid on occasions. Sometimes, characters walk against walls endlessly. Other times, after being non-fatally shot, they may just stand there without reacting except for an aesthetic stagger upon the bullet’s impact. But when the AI is behaving correctly, they can be vicious—they will invade you on two fronts, trap you in corners, smell you and walk towards you even when you’re cloaked—and if they’re close enough, they’ll see right through the cloak. Add on Veteran difficulty, and you simply cannot survive a swarm of agro’d aliens. Or even simple combinations, where there are a few grunts out to get you while you attempt to take down the giant, tank-like alien, can be challening. (To give you an idea of the difficulty of this, each tank creature yields a reward 30 times the value of the standard grunt).
The other notable problem in Crysis 2 is how the player is babied. Once you’re finished with an area, you are spoon-fed the singular exit route, given a bit of the narrative, and pushed to the next zone. In between the encounters, there’s almost no thinking for yourself; you follow the blue polygon until the end of the game. Even during the confrontations you are babied; ammo crates and spare weapons are in extreme excess, and a whole kind of difficulty is lost; there is no point in conserving ammunition because there is simply no need—do not be fooled by the meager amount of ammo you’re allowed to carry on your person (you can keep your gun loaded, a round in the chamber, and, typically, two full magazines’ worth). I simply wish some of the spoon-feeding would be dropped to make every element of Crysis 2 a challenging one—I want to think; not all of the challenge should be from the shooting. Players should be rewarded for their ingenuity, and I wish Crysis 2 offered chances for demonstration outside of the gunfights.
One of Crysis 2’s strongest features: its killer engine (heh, puns). It’s beautiful. There’s just no other way to put it. Every visual element is gorgeous, textures are crisp and shine, fire looks real, aliens are scary, etc. It’s also mostly a nimble engine, able to make the most out of your hardware. My GTX770 is taken to the limit to maintain 75 FPS (I’ve “overclocked” my 60Hz monitor to 75Hz), but every frame is more beautiful than any other game I’ve ever played, and all the game seems to want is GPU; unlike some games (cough, Red Orchestra 2, cough), only the GPU is really taxed; my CPU stays chilly and in low use. Notably, however, I experienced some extreme frame drops in tunnels and in some transition areas. And not just 75fps to 40fps, but 75fps to 15fps. It was odd, and I don’t know if this is an issue exclusive to my rig.
CryTek deserves some credit for its audio, too. The engine makes it sound very realistic: speech from other rooms in buildings is dulled and muffled, but not in an artificial manner. Voice-overs are generally good, and all of the sound effects sound clear and specialized, not your typical stock-esque media. The soundtrack is also pretty great. All together, the soundscape can be downright terrifying, such as a mission near the end where, in the dark, you must fight off a tank and innumerable minions in a gritty downpour. You feel outnumbered and hopeless. It’s amazing.
I’ve been saving this bit for last: there’s a bug in the game, a big bug, one near the end of the campaign that crashes the program every time. I have tried troubleshooting, I’ve done compatibility mode, and restarting, and driver downgrades, etc. I cannot keep the game from crashing after the loading-screen cutscene, so I will never know how the game ends. Players be warned: you may not be able to finish.
Overall, Crysis 2 is a tight FPS with unforgiving gunplay and requires you to play your own way. If you can get pass some of the odd bugs and babying (and system requirements) and have a bit of luck, then you can pick it up here on Steam.