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Crysis

Crysis_Cover

Three years, I’ve waited to play this.  Watching the home computer I primarily use steadily receive upgrades and updates, keeping an eye on its specs, waiting for the day it could run Crysis – a.k.a “The PC Killer” – on modest settings.  I’ve been fairly hyped, I’ve been anxious, and I’ve been relatively patient (all those bouts of mumbling to myself and pacing, aside).

Now, finally, I can safely say I have played Crysis – and on High settings, too.  And my summary of the experience is that… it was okay.  It went well enough, but Crysis really isn’t as special or high-quality as we were lead to believe.

Take, for instance, the story.  Yes, it’s socially relevant if you put North Koreans in your game and make them the primary antagonists.  Yes, having aliens pop up can be an entertaining experience when done right (thank you for nearly ruining the concept for me, War of the Worlds remake).  Yes, combining both together is not only an interesting idea, but one that I’ve put serious thought into – it’d be a three-book series, it would start in Shanghai, and it would eventually evolve into an “Illuminati-esque conspiracy-meets-tense alien/human territorial conflict” story.

However, you need to provide more than just set dressing to make such a potentially interesting three-way conflict not only entertaining, but also sympathetic.  For instance, the elite American soldiers (yes, even that stereotype is given a nod) that you, as the dry soldier Nomad, follow across the island for several missions don’t quite convey a sense of personality or development, and their opportunity to make such an impression is cut short by certain narrative developments (think Star Trek‘s Redshirts, but with even less usefulness).  The fact that any other side characters tend to either make the first installment narrative equivalent of cameo appearances or exist only as voices on Nomad’s radio for much of the game doesn’t help matters. 

There’s no real exploration of the ramifications of a North Korean invasion of an American area of interest, no clever commentary on how ruthless and overly ambitious yet ultimately risky such a move would be.  Instead, exposition and (reluctantly) well-staged first-person cutscenes move you, as Nomad, through the more dense narrative moments, acting as a string of sequences rather than a cohesive story.   Sure, the writing’s not as bad as it could be, and it does set up some great action sequences, but I doubt anyone can get any more invested into the conflict, characters or setting than I was (and I wasn’t invested whatsoever).

Now the gameplay is a more interesting matter, because there does seem to have been thought put into making it as engaging an experience as possible.   The addition of a Nanosuit-wearing protagonist to fairly hardcore first-person shooter gameplay, while not on its own a unique circumstance, offers a certain strategic element to every scenario the player will find themselves thrown headfirst into.

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The Nanosuit in question is an interesting in-game device, providing the player with invisibility (Stealth Mode), enhanced strength (Strength Mode), enhanced speed (Speed Mode) and resistance to damage (Armour Mode) at any given time.  The catch is, the Nanosuit has a limited (though automatically recharging) battery life and only one mode can be active at a time.  So if you run headlong into a platoon of North Korean scouts, and the Suit runs out of power, you will be screwed… hard.

Fortunately, such a gruesome death can be avoid with careful consideration.  The game clearly wants the player to be stealthy – why else would the foliage and jungle bush be so plentiful – and it reinforces how badly direct assault can end in a number of ways, namely through the competence of the AI.  These bastards know how to work in groups, provide cover fire and relentlessly hunt you down after catching a glimpse of you, even a mere glimpse.  The enemy AI, I’d argue, is perhaps too well-programmed to the extent of being overwhelming, but the challenge of facing a quite real threat can be enticing.

It reaches a point where, when given the option to travel through a few klicks of enemy-infested jungle or wading through relatively safe water, I just cloaked with Stealth Mode and channelled my inner fish.  The game claims to have open-world missions, and to its credit each level sports a massive area, but completing the game with minimal frustrations will probably require the player to stick with the road less travelled, jumping from bush to bush and using Stealth Mode conservatively.

That’s not to say the other Nanosuit powers won’t ever come into play.  Armour Mode takes centre-stage in many unavoidable firefights where stealth is no longer an option, buying you precious seconds to get to cover and plan out your next move.  Early on, there’s an encounter with a large encampment of soldiers and a pair of tanks that puts the pressure on to keep moving with Speed Mode and pray that Nomad’s armour holds up.  This and a few other set-piece moments do call upon the full range of your abilities, but expect mostly stealth gameplay.

Other mechanics are in play that do their best to freshen up the classic shooter formula, like an in-game weapon customization screen.  Accessible in the wheel menu with the Nanosuit abilities, this screen allows you to modify various aspects of your presently equipped weapon with various parts – silencers, reflex sights, laser indicators, and so on – while never pausing the action.  This adds to the game’s constant immersion and ensures that you’re always on your toes.

Making a resurgence here is the “one-man army” approach to inventory design.  While Nomad can’t carry one of every weapon, he is permitted to carry a fair range of weapons like a pistol, two assault rifles or shotguns, a missile launcher and so forth.  I see how a super soldier would probably be able to handle carrying all of those weapons, and it’s a useful design choice, but I would have liked (or at least respected) the strategy-infused “two gun limit” system.

In terms of controls, everything is fairly standard.  Fire with the left trigger, look down the sights with the right, toss grenades with G, sprint with Shift.   Some choices, like holding down-the-sights aim in place until a second click of the right trigger or having the player hold  down Control to crouch instead of just pressing the key once, feel questionable at times, but the goal was clearly to create a comfortable shooter and it worked out well.

Finally, the pacing is quite solid.  It’s odd to complement directly, but the game pushes the player from objective to objective at a consistently swift rate, with occasional detours to helpful side objectives.  Throw in some of the aforementioned set-pieces, and you have a game of average but respectable length.

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The presentation manages to be both a notable quality and a bit of a hindrance.  Obviously, the talking point is the controversy-stirring graphics, which remain virtually unattainable.  Despite having a rig capable of running the game on High settings, Crysis suffered from visuals issues like pop-in and flickering environments, not to mention the struggle to keep up the framerate.  If ever you manage to get this game, run it at reasonable settings!

Fortunately, the natural beauty of the island still remains noticeable at lower graphics settings, with a nice colour palate and a reasonably pleasing, though repetitive and not quite creative, art style.  Sound design is also a mixed bag, as while the voice actors deliver modest performances and the atmosphere is thick with fitting background sounds, nothing about the soundtrack excites or elicits emotion.

Crysis was very much a test in patience, in some respects.  For every moment marred by underwhelming storytelling, underdeveloped gameplay mechanics or technical issues, I can recall times where I cautiously snuck past patrols or made an impressive “final” stand against enemies.  It took some finagling to get the game to run just right, but once it was steady the experience was generally acceptable.

With that said, it’s clear not everyone will like or appreciate this game.  Just the fact that running this game takes, as Mr. Croshaw once put it, “a computer powered by the ghosts of dead Microsoft employees” will serve as an initial bar for gamers to overcome.  If they manage to overcome the odds, though, the game is worthwhile enough (and cheap enough) to warrant a playthrough.

Score: 7/10

Recommendation: Try It

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