Crysis – Final Review

Crysis as title is amazingly open, that openness bolstered by excellent if repetitive world design. An admirable largeness of maps is present, which does distinguish the title from others in the genre, highly linear. The environments here are not exactly sandboxes, but their nature does facilitate a great degree of experimentation. But despite their sprawling size and an overall stellar graphical presentation, these environments swift grow repetitive, linked thematically – to a fault, as great, refreshing diversity is totally lacking. Crisp lighting and impressive foliage modeling cannot detract from what is otherwise an unimaginative jungle-like landscape, which serves as sole milieu for the entire narrative. Draw distances are long, the graphics striking, but the principal gameplay merely involves navigating from point A to point B, and here the largeness of the world betrays the game’s strengths – a rapid sprint speed is present, but the distances travelled are excessively long, inevitably forcing vehicle navigation, the manning of trucks and tanks which are clunky and unintuitive to pilot. Towards the ending of the game, for the briefest of moments, there are inklings of diversity, the mossy trees and voracious overgrowth displaced by snow and ice, blistery winds blowing flakes in the air. It is refreshing, this stark break, then the commonplace is reembraced – that same boring foliage consumes all. The game culminates atop a sprawling air-craft carrier of sorts, and admittedly the surrounding water effects are impressive and atmospheric, characterized by deep darkness and shining moonlight; but even this change of scenery cannot undue the monotony of many maps explored.

The nature of the narrative – the reasons for deploying on this island – are rather uninspired, with reconnaissance and extraction as ultimate objectives. An air of mystery is established from the first – the antagonistic Koreans are engaged in suspicious behavior on this wild, untamed landmass, and efforts at deciphering their machinations become a secondary objective. The opening is cinematic and refined, seeing the principle characters, adorned in invaluable, high-tech nano-suits, leaping from a plane at considerable altitude, one partner departing on the instant, crashing violently in the landing, his body immolated by the squad leader, Prophet, as a way of concealing American scientific strengths. This character’s death, occurring so early in the campaign, before any camaraderie has been developed, is totally unimpactful: there is death, but no reason to care for that death. Hostilities abound from the first, and the majority of the campaign is perpetual conflict, only punctuated by occasional lulls when travelling from environment to environment, or watching cutscenes which are well done technically, with excellent voice acting, though lacking in intrigue or originality. There are further deaths, and believed deaths, but narratively I was never invested, even as the gravity of the situation escalates exponentially, a secondary antagonist emerging – an ancient alien race dwelling just below the surface of the island, the Cephs. Locked there for millennia, they are of a greater, more powerful sort, hungry for resurrection. A narrative shift emerges – the relatively realistic is departed from, replaced by the totally fantastical genre of science-fiction; subtly present from the first, this tone now overtakes all – it is jarring. The ending hours of the game – as these foes are almost exclusively fought – are disastrous, everything which made the game satisfying discarded.     

In addition to the refined level design, that sense of satisfaction largely stems from the nano-suit the protagonist, Nomad, wears. Regarding the former strength, there is the mentioned largeness, though understandably some invisible walls are frustratingly present. Still, they are accessible and joyous to explore, given the freedoms afforded the player by nature of the nano-suit. A more fundamental power is tied to an accelerated jump height, which assists in exploration and also serves a tactical purpose; keeping to the high ground is essential in all combat engagements. When further considering the game design, many encounters occur at considerable ranges. Nomad is outfitted with a pair of binoculars, which can mark enemies on a useful but intrusive mini-map, partially destroying immersion. In the early stages of the game, long range scopes are absent, which initially forces a more aggressive approach, though once a stronger scope is acquired, the game opens up considerably, while the booming nature of the sniper rifle results in an abundance of satisfaction – the audio design is excellent. A two-weapon limit exists, and for the most part I had this treasured sniper rifle for the majority of the campaign, occupying always one of the crucial, painfully limited slots. The arsenal, though, is small, many weapons conventional in design and in function; there is nothing novel here, save for the Gauss rifle, an upgrade of the already power sniper rifle, obtainable later in the campaign. These weapons, meanwhile, can be modified in real-time; holding one button on the controller pulls up an intuitive alteration menu, where scopes can be altered, suppressors or flashlights mounted or dismounted. While unrealistic, this mechanic is very compelling and satisfying, and the weapon limit is thusly not as restraining as expected.  

The nano-suit is seemingly essential to success, though often it shows itself as being underutilized; still, it remains empowering. Beyond increasing sprint speed and elevating jump height, two other primary modes are present, activatable at any moment, though running off of an energy meter, to restrict overreliance on these powers. The first such ability results in the creation of a synthetic shield, greatly increasing Nomad’s damage threshold before succumbing to the resilient Korean antagonists, or the cheap, heavily-damaging Cephs. Managing the meter and its cooldowns creates a tactical consideration, and thrilling moments result when hunkered down into cover, waiting for the shields to become redeployable, so that the offensive can be retaken. The shield allows a fair portion of damage to be absorbed, but the game overall was challenging, though oftentimes for cheaper reasons – being detected by one enemy alerts all others in the vicinity; a stealthy retreat here becomes an impossibility, the enemies exaggeratingly perceptive. Deadly accurate, these encounters can be highly frustrating, and the stealth systems in the game are laughable at best, even when considering the suit’s secondary function, a cloaking device of sorts, which seemingly conceals Nomad from detection, though these systems can be inconsistent. Cloaked in this manner, additional time for strategic considerations is present, but given the rapid depletion of the suit’s energies while moving, this ability does not facilitate a more aggressive approach. Many weapons can be outfitted with suppressors; useful in theory, in function they are lacking in value. Potential exists within these systems, though overall that potential is squandered.   

Even if the AI is cheap, there are some genuinely thrilling combat engagements. Environments are destructible to a basic degree, which only serves to heighten tension; a structure which offers cover to permit health and energy regeneration crumbles at the slightest gunfire. Similarly, many objects in the environment can be interacted with, objects wielded, to be hurled violently at nearby enemies, a novelty more than anything practically useful, nothing to regularly rely upon. An unexpected design choice is present, that regarding ammunition. Sporadically throughout the campaign, it is in short supply, only furthering tactical considerations and management of resources – every bullet counts. Playing on the Hard difficulty, I noticed in a loading screen that the capacity for carriable ammunition is also decreased accordingly, an interesting decision mostly unseen in the genre, ammunition typically existing in abundance. Here, Crysis evokes systems present within survival-horror titles. Still clinging to certain genre tropes, though, a plethora of secondary objectives are available, though the rewards for completing them are often paltry; still, they offer a brief reprieve from the more intense moments of the narrative proper; they serve to vaguely develop the world, so a slight narrative reward is inherently present within this side content.  

The majority of the missions, as has been said, see traversal from location to location, shooting the same repetitive enemy designs, spruced up only in the late game by the alien Cephs, or opponents wearing the same armor worn by Nomad and his compatriots. The game rarely deviates from this core structure. No nano-suit upgrades, or anything of the like are present in the game, the ending just as the beginning; a progression system is lacking, though I appreciate this more streamlined approach, as it keeps the narrative moving at a brisk, calculated pace. With the introduction of the Cephs late in the game, though, everything falls apart. Nomad, in one instance, is warped away to an exotic environment, where gravity is lacking, seeing the pointless floundering abound in a creative yet busy world design, harassed by those same enemies, who employ hit and run tactics, and who are unfun and unwise to fight, given their heightened powers and hostility. As an environment and sequence, it stretches on for far too long, and I was overjoyed when departing from the structure, even more happy when I found the mentioned ice and frost awaiting my exit. Accompanying me also in the ultimate departure was the squad leader, Prophet, presumed dead. Any excitement, though, is quickly dampened, difficulty artificially raised by the extension of these foes’ health bars, able to endure an unfair, exaggerated amount of gunfire. Their movement patterns are erratic too, flying to and fro overhead, perpetually pestering Nomad, dealing damage before fast retreating away; they are nuisances, nuisances who still pose a considerable threat. Shortly after their introduction, I developed ambivalence and disdain; variance in opposition could have preserved gameplay freshness, seeing the vacillation between Korean grunts and the alien Cephs. In actuality, the Cephs overtake all, pointing to a missed opportunity.   

Having escaped the island, Nomad and company relocate to a massive ship idling in the distant oceans, the island barely discernible through the dark, rainy skies. Serving primarily as an exposition dump, another failing shows itself – the narrative should be dispersed gradually throughout the game, while in these closing sections everything is thrust upon the player, in an almost overwhelming fashion, with an abundance of cutscenes, the introduction of a weapon capable of destroying these hostile Cephs, gradually growing in power on the island; their history and the nature of their construction are discussed, as are their weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Eventually, a nuclear weapon is dropped on the landmass, only agitating and strengthening the enemy. From here, combat again commences, and the game falls apart. Rather than the openness which lends the game its special quality, here engagements are highly linear. Clashing with previous design, ammo is in abundance, while the mentioned massiveness of enemy health worsens the encounter. Matters culminate in a forced boss battle. Admittedly impressive in design, it is like a war of attrition, filled with frequent deaths, gradual progress being made with every failing, though some tactical considerations are present, with a strong emphasis on suit and energy management. The towering threat ultimately defeated, Nomad and a female companion and researcher depart the ship by helicopter, the game ending on a massive cliffhanger, with no real satisfying resolution. 

Crysis was certainly impressive at release, a technical marvel which remains graphically compelling, even as environmental diversity is lacking. With the largeness of these maps, experimentation is encouraged, strategic considerations often a necessity, particularly in the late game. Employing and manipulating the suit and its energies can be exhilarating, that same suit marking the game’s sole instance of memorability, many of the game’s other facets being generic and uninspired science fiction. Certain mechanics of this suit, though, are wildly inconsistent, specifically the cloaking systems, made increasingly unviable in many engagements, with abnormally perceptive enemies. The nature of the gunplay, though, absolutely rectifies this flaw, with excellently modeled guns with punchy, impactful sound effects, all of which can be modified on the spot, imparting further tactical complexity; shooting, when it eventually starts, is universally impressive. But as the maps are large in size, there are periodic lulls of combat, replaced by basic locomotion, whether by foot or by vehicle. These protracted calmer moments escalate the tension when combat does again break out, a relative vacillation between the loud and the quiet, contributing to a remarkable pacing, avoiding compromise by eschewing elements of modern game design, devoid of any progression systems, being instead tight and focused. The narrative, though, is winding, never creating player engagement. The first 75 or so percent of the title is comparatively unique and inventive. The remainder of the narrative is abysmal, with small, claustrophobic environments and cheap enemies. Their emergence is shocking and sudden, disrupting the more grounded aspects of the narrative, which offered greater intrigue, even underdeveloped as they are. The cliffhanger conclusion is far from compelling, hinting at the narrative and gameplay systems which will surely characterize the future titles; the Cephs have emerged and grown in power, and will likely serve as primary antagonists henceforth, a far from exciting statement. Exciting, though, is the direction they will take the suit abilities, already abounding in potentials for greatness. It is these future gameplay advancements which mark the greatest draw for Crysis 2; I expect no narrative masterpiece, but given the sheer enjoyment factor elicited by this title, a great deal of interest for the sequel persists within me.  

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