Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Review: Crysis 2 (Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC)

The last thing we need in the gaming world is another First Person Shooter that offers the same bog-standard campaign and cookie-cutter multiplayer features that I’ve grown tired of – these were my first impressions when I saw previews for Crysis 2. Having never owned a gaming PC that was up to par with the times, I know of the first Crysis by reputation only and it is still highly regarded as one of the most innovative and immersive shooters of all time, but my expectations for the sequel on a console were not especially high. This is when I love being proven wrong. The sequel’s attempts to bring the experience into the home console market may result in some changes that jilt fans of the original, but I personally found it to be a challenging and immensely rewarding FPS experience. A proverbial breath of fresh air in a genre that has long since grown stale with repetition, Crysis 2 is perhaps the best game that you’re not playing.
The story of Crysis 2 is loosely connected to the first game but is essentially unique to the sequel. You play the role of Alcatraz, a soldier who has been equipped with the futuristic “Nanosuit” that grants him special abilities in combat. These skills are limited to cloaking and scanning the environment for tactical points and ammo drops early in the game, but your abilities open up later and you are able to upgrade your skills with a form of alien DNA that acts as the games currency. The suit provides you with tactical advantages, so it’s not surprising that the rival army wants the suit and to kill you as well. In tandem with fighting off waves of rival soldiers, you also must contend with an alien invasion that is laying waste to New York in spectacular fashion. Perhaps sensing that a good percentage of gamers will not have played the first Crysis, the sequel alludes to the events of the first game to provide some exposition but it is never overly referential. The barrier to entry for people new to the series is thankfully minimal, so you won’t feel lost or hindered if you are getting this game with no knowledge of the original. In a nutshell, Crysis 2 has a solid but uncomplicated story that is accented by a few unexpected twists later in the game, a few inevitable clich├ęs and some genuinely thrilling firefights that push the story forward.
Visually, Crysis 2 is a gorgeous game and easily one of the best looking shooters ever released on a home console. The environment paints a believable picture of a city ravaged by war and a catastrophic alien invasion, and everything from the textures to the character animation is absolutely stellar. Given that home consoles don’t have the same power under the hood as a good gaming PC, expecting it to be in line with the high PC standards is perhaps a little unrealistic, but Crysis 2 does a respectable job of giving us a visually stunning game and complementing it with great sound effects and an excellent soundtrack that is more memorable than what you would find in other FPS games. The drawback with the limitations of the console hardware is that it is not always able to keep up with the action, so expect some framerate issues and slowdown when the auto-save kicks in and during the more chaotic battles. Having only played this game on a console, I cannot compare how it looks on the PC platform, but I can say that this stands among the best that the genre has to offer.
A refreshing change in Crysis 2 from the current genre standard is the lengthy single player campaign which clocks in at roughly 10 to 12 hours depending on the difficulty chosen, and the hidden collectables and  tactical freedom offered in firefights provides a great deal of replay value. The pacing of the campaign is relentless and it relies less on cinematics and setpiece battles and more on tactical gunplay and progressing through stages to get to your next objective.  Whereas the Call of Duty games guide you down a very linear path, Crysis 2 presents more of an open environment akin to the recent Battlefield games, with the ravaged New York proves to be an excellent battleground. Despite the open environment, don’t think of this in terms of a sandbox game as the story and stages are very linear. However, you are given the freedom to tackle each wave of enemies in any manner you see fit and your Nanosuit is invaluable to scoping out tactical points. In addition to your suit, you have a variety of weapons at your disposal including pistols, assault rifles, and even some cool gadgets that become available later in the game..
The gameplay in Crysis 2 will feel very familiar to anyone weaned on FPS games and most fans of the genre will be able to pick this up without enduring a steep learning curve. The controls are familiar, responsive and have the right amount of sensitivity and weight to them, however you are able to customize certain aspects in the “Options” menu. In playing the game, how your approach a given situation is entirely your choice,  such as employing the “cover and shoot” style of gameplay that is familiar to most FPS fans or being stealthy and using your Nanosuit’s powers to catch your enemies off guard. It’s your choice, but you’ll quickly learn that some approaches work better than others in a given environment, so experiment often and expect some trial and error. One of the downsides of the gameplay is the difficulty being unusually high even at the lower settings. As soon as you are in the presence of gun-toting soldiers, any part of you that is exposed instantly becomes a bullet magnet and your NPC enemies are alarmingly accurate with their shots. That, coupled with their tendency to quickly surround and overwhelm you, leads to plenty of frustration and reloaded checkpoints. The alien enemies are also heavily armored and fast moving, so using your cloaking abilities and the variety of guns at your disposal is essential to survival. No matter what the circumstance, running out into a firefight, guns a-blazing, is never a wise move and you will learn this early in the game. For most gamers, you will have a fifty-fifty split between hiding behind cover and patiently picking off your enemies, and being stealthy and flanking them. This does wear a bit thin after a few hours, but the pacing of the game, some vehicular combat segments and the variety of tactical options at your disposal does help keep monotony at bay.
Given how strong the single player campaign has proven to be, one would expect the multiplayer to deliver in spades and sadly it does not. The multiplayer modes are exactly what you would expect, being derivatives of the standard Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag and King of the Hill, which has you holding down points on the map for as long as you can. The maps are expansive and offer plenty of room for creating chaos with your friends, but it also provides ample opportunity for campers to thrive. The reward system comes in the form of leveling up based on your performance and you are able to unlock genuinely good perks, though the best perks that give you substantial advantage in battle are only made available after an exhaustive number of hours. The Nanosuit from the campaign is also useable here and it can be augmented as your level progresses, providing more incentive for you to keep playing. Like all online multiplayer games, you will deal with the usual annoyances of connection lag, lengthy wait times in the lobbies and obnoxious players who play by their own rules. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of fun to be had here if you can get some friends together, but this is ultimately familiar territory with not enough differences to make it stand out in a meaningful way. Within weeks of release, the online lobbies were sparsely populated and finding a public game with enough players has proven to be a challenge. The release of DLC might improve matters, but I still recommend getting Crysis 2 mainly for the single player experience as the multiplayer is clearly not the focus of the fun.
Having never played the first Crysis and buying this game sight-unseen based on strong reviews, I was unsure of what to expect but I am very happy I made the leap and picked this up. I am a fan of the FPS genre and I often lament about how the genre is steadily going downhill with a plethora of games that all do the same thing, but none of them do it exceptionally well. Crysis 2 breaks the mold by offering an exciting and robust gaming experience that doesn’t feel like it ends as quickly as it starts. Gamers who favor a solid single player experience are well advised to get this game, but those looking for an amazing multiplayer experience might be left wanting. Either way, this is an exceptional game that many people have unfortunately overlooked. With time, hopefully this will be corrected.
Rating: 9 out of 10

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