PS3 Review: CRYSIS 2 - Visually Stunning, Flawed, But Often Brilliant

Let's begin by getting the obvious stuff out the way first; Crysis 2 is a visually stunning video game, perhaps even the best-looking one to date, gingerly nudging the recent Killzone 3 from its pedestal. Nevertheless, anxious fans of the first game - released exclusively for the PC - are no doubt concerned that the sequel, available for a wider market on both the PS3 and Xbox 360, may end up compromised in order to meet the lesser technical requirements of consoles. On the basis of the PS3 version of Crysis 2, not only has the game pushed Sony's console near enough to its limit, but short of the most avid PC gamers (who are doubtless waiting for the DirectX 11 update yet to be released), there seems to be little technical difference between the three versions. However you play this game, it is without question an incredible spectacle, though a somewhat flawed one. Crysis 2 begins in 2023, three years following the first game, as New York City is besieged by an alien invasion. In the middle of the mess is Alcatraz, a soldier who gains possession of an upgraded version of the Nanosuit from the first game. In this stead, he becomes a valuable weapon for the Army, who use him to help quell the alien onslaught, while others wish to recover the suit for their own means. Essentially a game of two-halves, Crysis 2 begins as a lone-soldier, Metal Gear Solid-type yarn, as you're able to either go Rambo on the various fleets of enemies you'll encounter, or utilise the Nanosuit's stealth capabilities to slip by unnoticed. Half-way, however, it becomes a less intense though more satisfying and fun team-based shooter, as you become a mythic figure of sorts and lead various squads of Marines to victory against the Ceph. Much like the first Crysis, players must employ strategy to prevail; the Nanosuit has an energy bar which depletes depending on how much stress you place on it. For instance, running through a populated armament while equipping Armour will drain you to zero in mere seconds, whereas a slow, stealthy stroll past enemies will allow it to last longer. This unique form of strategy - streamlined and simplified from the more fiddly manner employed by the first game - requires players to use their noodle while not being overly taxing or alienating more casual players. As ammo is generally plentiful and Alcatraz can take a generous amount of punishment, this is essentially the crux of the player's micromanagement; everything else is fairly simple. Crysis 2 certainly plays as a slicker, more confident product than its predecessor, most certainly a result of its proclivity to appeal to a wider market of console gamers. Destruction is elevated to an almost fetishistic degree here, as gorgeous, intricate set-pieces detail the obliteration of New York with a disarming level of realism, such that it may even evoke discomfort in players in the wake of 9/11. While the addition of several on-rails shooter sections and a few moments of vehicular warfare may feel slightly shoehorned-in to fans of the first game, they break up the point-and-shoot combat nicely, and help cool you down after each grandiose set-piece. The game is, for its many flaws, extremely well-paced and offers enough variety that you won't be bored through a campaign that can take anywhere from 7-10 hours depending on your method. Flaws, however, should not be overlooked simply because the game looks fantastic. The plot is a particular weakness, failing to involve the heart and mind as much as the game presses the right visceral buttons. An early mission involves travelling to an apartment complex to turn off a character's laptop, because he left it on and it might contain confidential information. Though it of course leads to a firefight, it's a stupefyingly weak way to set anything up. Similarly gameplay rarely seems narrative-driven, and instead reams through familiar set-piece archetypes, such as locating various technological trinkets, defending locations and sabotaging giant monolith-like constructs with a somewhat banal efficiency. The final boss - if you can even call it that - is particularly disappointing, lacking the sense of awesome finality that the brilliantly-depicted devastation prior would suggest; rather, it brakes to an overly abrupt halt. The gameplay, while refined enough as a shooter, lacks the expansive promise that its wide urban locale would suggest; far too many doors cannot be opened despite the fact that your character is a hulking sub-human mammoth, able to kick doors open when the story requires it. Similarly, the bounds of the maps are poorly disguised, and you'll essentially just run into an invisible wall which will bring the grandeur of those wonderful graphics crashing back to their basic, restricted reality. Furthermore, the game seems to suffer a similar flaw of linearity that Metal Gear Solid 3 did especially; the choice of stealth vs. action means that you can essentially run through a populated area and simply survive by reaching the checkpoint in time, which will often trigger a cut-scene, after which your health is refilled and enemies are nowhere to be seen. Glitches are also surprisingly abundant for a game so well-crafted in most other technical aspects; enemies often become stuck in walls, even fall through them occasionally and may fail to engage you in combat when they should. Particularly disturbing was that I encountered two of these three issues in the very final fight of the game, which drained the urgency and tension from proceedings somewhat. While the game runs extremely well on the PS3 for the most part, some of the limitations are more noticeable than they should be, particularly the stutter between checkpoints, and some obscenely long loading times, lasting up to about a minute between chapters, and sometimes even longer when initiating multiplayer. Speaking of the multiplayer, while it is by now a requisite for any multi-platform FPS trying to be taken seriously, Crytek have found a way to remain current and unique in an increasingly competitive online market, dominated almost perennially by the Call of Duty games. While Crysis 2's online offering is unlikely to legitimately challenge CoD's mantle, it is original enough in its own right to keep players returning for more. While there is the high level of customisation you'd come to expect from any game with an online component these days, Crysis 2 is different because while you have an overall rank to level up, there are also some ancillary attributes to level, chiefly the armour, stealth and power tactics you'll have employed in the single player game. Generally the multiplayer seems solid and refined; the Nanosuit presents an interesting trade-off to players, and though there should be more maps - no doubt more are coming in DLC - the chaos is controlled incredibly well, with the frame rate rarely dropping much despite the huge demands this must place on the PS3. Some balance issues have reared their heads already, chiefly that there is no way to counter the cloaking - as for some reason the Nanosuit's "Nanovision" does not detect the heat signature of a cloak - though, of course, you can just fight fire with fire in that regard. The Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch modes are liable to be the most popular simply because they're available right out of the box, while the various other modes - warring over crash sites, capturing relays and objective-based assault missions - require surprisingly high rank clearance to compete in. All of these advanced alternatives are fine, though each has been executed better elsewhere. The bread and butter of the online experience - simple Deathmatches - is what will keep people interested, I imagine. As detailed above, Crysis 2 is very far from perfect, but then it only follows that a game so visually exuberant should be meticulously taken to task in all other areas; we are harsh because we expect a lot from Crytek. While this is a surprisingly buggy title, and the plot needs a lot of work, it reaches an aesthetic benchmark that will likely remain unsurpassed for some time, and the online experience is surprisingly comprehensive. Look past its foibles and what you have is a slick, highly entertaining package that is no generation-defining title, but it is highly memorable, and mostly for the right reasons. This review is based off of a full play-through of the single player mode on Soldier difficulty (clear time: 8 hours, 20 minutes) and an extensive test of the online component. A copy of the game was provided for review by Electronic Arts. The game was released last Friday for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.
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Frequently sleep-deprived film addict and video game obsessive who spends more time than is healthy in darkened London screening rooms. Follow his twitter on @ShaunMunroFilm or e-mail him at shaneo632 [at] gmail.com.