Narratively, Crysis 2 is abounding in potential, though that potential is compromised by an excess of narrative ambition. Rather than embracing precision and conveying one focused, succinct narrative the game overreaches in attempting to tell a multitude of stories, touching on the hostile alien Cephs, developing also a debilitating sickness, the Spore, also elaborating upon the trademark nano-suit, its manifold capabilities, bestowing super-human strength and agility, and thus made highly desirable. With these three key pillars – and other, smaller narrative diversions – the game shows itself as being unfocused, which has the secondary result of destroying resonance. The slightest cut, an embracing of the succinct, would have polished the narrative into something greater, remarkable. The greatest potential is connected to the human struggle, which is ignored, displaced by generic science fiction; rather than focusing on the intimate, here is the impersonal. Fostering empathy for these ailing figures would only increase player engagement. Sparsely throughout the campaign, these suffering citizens are displayed, seen sitting down, curled up, shaking violently, mountains of blood and viscera on all sides – it is tragic, this human component, and is thus far more compelling than a cliched struggle with an exotic alien threat, no matter the extent of intrigue attached to that collective entity, background shrouded in mystery. But the narrative is further let down by a lack of any endearing characters, most of the cast being dry and unlikable, though an overall gritty tone arises in consequence, bolstered by occasionally dark environmental design. Similarly, the briefings before every mission show a stylized, three-dimensional map of New York City, with narration characterized by excellent voice acting. Narratively, then, the title is generic and basic, totally unfocused – the potential to elicit some greater emotional response is on offer here, but it is repeatedly pushed to the background.
The reasons for exploring the world are indeed immense – the preservation of that dense, wondrous metropolis is increasingly threatened by the encroaching Cephs, who have long wreaked havoc in the city when the player character Alcatraz, still weak and vulnerable, departs for the city aboard a submarine, accompanied by a squadron of fellow marines, almost all of whom perish as the sub violently takes on water – Alcatraz seems sole survivor, and is promptly fashioned into the nano-suit, for preservation. It is an intense opening, highly cinematic. Seeing the city for the first time, though, is a marvel – devastated by the alien threat, peopled with a dying, withering population, naturally it is a bleak location. Buildings are partially bombed out, their skeletal frameworks showing through in especially impacted areas, while thick, impossibly black smoke realistically fills the air, produced by technically impressive fire effects. This would all point to a certain darkness and desolation, though the beauty of some architecture is preserved, untouched; impressive lighting and shadows make the environments crisp and vibrant.
The sense of scale here is similarly impressive. A long draw-distance exists, while many buildings are explored at considerable height from the ground, this elevation resulting in an almost dizzying effect, streets and abandoned cars far below looking like tiny, insignificant ants. The game excels in these external environments, though interior environments are also explored, a battle in Grand Central Station transpiring. Collectively, these environments are enjoyable to explore, some especially remarkable. Roosevelt Island, for instance, is visited towards the ending of the campaign. Given its centrality, towering skyscrapers are present on all sides, flanking the island. Occurring at night-time, the windows are illuminated and bright, another illustration of the game’s great technical prowess – the overdone location of New York City has been transformed into something singularly unique aesthetically and atmospherically, a massive achievement.
Exploring this world is highly pleasurable, given the intuitive controls, with deftness in mantling and an overall exaggerated jump height, springing from the nano-suit’s powers. The maps are often sprawling in size, many opportunities afforded the player – there is great tactical and strategic freedom. Regarding the title’s uniqueness in gameplay, again there is the nano-suit, outfitted with a plethora of useful functions. The mobility options permit easy redirection, this act of locomotion thrilling when considering the immense speed conferred by the nano-suit; snapping from cover to cover, while being fired on from all direction, is a consistently thrilling experience. Beyond mere locomotion, though, two more prominent features stand out, namely a cloaking system and an armor system, which swift become key to eventual success. The endurance of these abilities is conveyed by a small, non-intrusive meter in the lower right of the screen, which gives active notice of the suit’s energy level, depleted particularly rapidly while the cloaking system is activated, while in armor mode the suit’s power is drained principally upon receiving direct gunfire. The recharge rate is very fast, which only encourages repeated exploitation of these abilities – the game is far from stingy, encouraging also a certain boldness of engagement; alongside the armor, health regeneration is present, these systems coming together to create an overall empowering sensation; while occasionally difficult scenarios arise, the majority of the game is rather easy, even on the hardest difficulty settings.
Even if engagements are basic in terms of challenge, there is the freedom of choice, which prevents a descent into staleness; the bold approach of spraying bullets on a distant enemies can be departed from, a stealthier approach adopted – there is the cloaking system. Highly rewarding to use, I understandably employed it wherever possible. Beyond decreasing visibility, even footstep noise is quieted, allowing again further brashness. Unsuspecting enemies, when approached from behind, can be dispatched with a brutal assassination action, and while the cloak is temporarily disabled during the animation, I never felt particularly vulnerable, as enemy detection radius are fairly believable. Furthering options for stealth, there are silencer attachments which can be attached to many different weapons in the game, though their inclusion seemed more of a novelty, rather than occupying a critical position within the overall stealth systems. Also, given the heights navigated through, there are expected drops of considerable distance, though activating the armor functionality while airborne can almost totally mitigate this damage, ruling out possible frustrations if missing a ledge or making a wrong movement decision.
A silent approach is adoptable in many engagements, though inevitably gunfire will erupt. Fortunately, what is here is intuitive and enjoyable. While the arsenal of weaponry is rather small, and mostly unimaginative save for a few more exotic guns exclusive to the late game, the modelling is fantastic, while the reloading animations and overall sound quality are also impressive. Furthering tactical considerations, the weapons can be modified in real time, various sights attachable, while things like silencers and under barrel additions can be fashioned to the guns. It bestows further tactical freedom, as a close-range assault rifle can seamlessly become effective at longer ranges, merely by the swapping of a sight. In contrast to the prior game, though, ammo is in abundance, further encouraging an aggressive approach; ammo boxes are scattered everywhere, and each one can be revisited multiple times, meaning ammo conservation is no longer a concern. Knowing a vast supply of grenades is always at a tangible distance only encourages greater use of grenades. I am divided about this fact, as much of the tension in the first game was attributable to this constant micro-managing. Still, unexpectedly sniping excels here, with the boom accompanying the weapon conveying its overall immensity of power, able to drop all opposition in a but a scant bullet or two. Letting down the gunplay somewhat is the cliched two weapon limit, though this limitation is not as strict here when considering the adaptability arising from the weapon attachments.
Furthering flexibilities in combat and in stealth, a subtle upgrade system is in place, with a clever narrative explanation for its inclusion. Alcatraz’s nano-suit can somehow interface with the genetic makeup of the hostile Cephs, accumulating DNA upon walking over the corpses of fallen foes. The quantity dropped is typically miniscule, though the larger, more dangerous enemies drop a vaster stock. Once enough points are gathered, upgrades are purchasable. Rather than including some clunky interface or some unneeded menus which could only increase unnecessary complexity, here everything is done in real-time, just as with the weapon modifications systems. Mainly, these abilities are lackluster – increased control while falling is a mundane example, while the trajectory of enemy bullets is also visible after unlocking a different upgrade. The systems, though, are not tiered – the most expensive ability can be purchased if the sum of points is sufficient, without needing to purchase prior skills. The more expensive abilities can alter the gameplay in fundamental ways, one decreasing the energy drain in cloaking mode, another hastening health and armor regeneration. Highly useful, these upgrades further increased freedom, the empowering sensation arising again, redoubled in intensity – these upgrades may not be especially profound, but they convey a sense of Alcatraz’s journey throughout the narrative. With four different slots, there is some complexity here, mainly while regarding precisely what ability to unlock, what to wield. And with the inclusion of these progression systems, I never groaned upon fighting the Cephs, even as the tactics used to defeat them were less exciting than those employed against the mercenary grunts – every looted corpse meant progress towards some useful upgrade.
As happened with Crysis, the game betrays its identity as the ending approaches. Whereas much of the early game was spent in a cerebral, more subdued manner, with great flexibilities for the player, the game eventually devolves into a more typical, mundane title. The levels remain impressive in scope and in size, but something critical has been lost. In an earlier scenario, for instance, Alcatraz, freshly donning his new nano-suit, is positioned at a place of considerable elevation, with clear sight lines on the human enemies mulling about below. A critical visor ability becomes useful here, marking potential enemies on the mini-map, while showing their movement patterns by a useful arrow. It is slow and it is methodical, and the game excels here, encouraging planning before engagement. Failing a few times in situations such as this, I was rarely frustrated, even as such failure can lose upwards of ten or fifteen minutes of work; this frustration is minimalized because it prompts a fresh start – a new strategy – always welcome and refreshing. Later, though, the Cephs are introduced, made dominant antagonist, and the game changes drastically. With erratic movement patterns and an unfair, overabundance of health, they are not particularly enjoying to combat, even as their death does contribute to the nano-suit’s progression. Admittedly, an impressive diversity of enemy types is present, with basic grunts supplemented by even tankier enemies, and towering ones vulnerable in but one key location upon their person. A sniper rifle could effortlessly bring a mercenary to the ground in one shot – against these enemies, four or five rounds need be expended. It is frustrating all around. Stealth can still be exploited, but it is primarily for deception or to pick off some distant straggler, rather than an active tactic.
Crysis 2 excels mainly in its gameplay systems, chiefly in its implementation of the nano-suit and its varied abilities, affording a great deal of tactical freedom; it is the moment-to-moment gameplay which is lasting and memorable, certainly when compared to the game’s unfocused narrative, which often overextends itself, thusly becoming forgettable, generic in tone. Admittedly, there are some subtle narrative strengths, especially when regarding the nano-suit on a larger level – it sustains Alcatraz, elevates him above the common grunt, transforming him into something greater; there is dependency here, which conveys the fragility of mankind, the immense threat of the antagonistic Cephs, only one man – one suit – capable of achieving their ultimate destruction. These musings, though, do not excuse the overall unfocused nature of the narrative. Fortunately, these flaws are tempered in another sphere: the production values are high, the pre-mission briefings well-animated, while voice-acting is adequate for the most part. What is here serves as an effective framework, serving to guide and explain Alcatraz’s varied efforts and travails around New York, though too many plot threads persist. But when the narrative enters the backseat, the game does begin to shine. Impactful guns, empowering stealth systems, a methodical, predatory playstyle – these are all compelling things, resulting in a highly enjoyable experience, though enjoyments are tempered somewhat when the gameplay trends towards the tropey. The suit never loses its effectiveness or its necessity, meter management a constant concern, though still the game eventually becomes a rote, somewhat mindless shooter not dissimilar from countless others on the market. It is elevated further by a unique presentation and technical achievement, but the plot seems to drag off far too long, resulting in burn-out, even as quantitatively it is on the shorter side. As with so many other games, it is originality which matters most. Had originality been embraced to the last, a truly special title would here exist.