How do you make your audience feel like Superman today? You’ve been so used to suiting up in prototype intelligent armour, injecting DNA-enhancing chemicals, receiving Treadstone-style uber-soldier training and shooting the ballistic equivalent of a massive solar discharge, that a bullet-proof latex suit with an ostentatious ‘S’ logo just doesn’t qualify any more.
Real life starts to drag its feet as you realise you can’t skip effortlessly across the rooftops to work every day, and those six hoodies you’re about to jump won’t engage you one by one in honourable observation of the Marquess Of Queensbury rules. So now that shooters are toeing the line between speculative science fiction and total fantasy, we’re looking to the big franchises to empower us in ways we hadn’t thought of, a lateral move that we’d expect a forerunner like Crytek to make.
Let’s talk about the Nanosuit 2 and what it will do for you in this CryEngine 3-driven world. You’re fast, can turn all but invisible and you’re enormously strong – more so than in Crysis. Hoisting the hefty alien Ceph up by their throats with one arm is well within your capabilities and booting cars several feet in the air won’t hobble you for the next six hours.
Also, you’re quite capable of falling several storeys and walking away, moving through a stream of automatic weapon fire and vaulting walls like free-running was never invented, and, as long as your suit energy holds up, you can swan-dive into a bubbling caldera and pick molten bricks off the bottom with your mouth.
The point is that suit energy depletes quite easily; apart from intrinsic regenerative health, which we would accept without question from a first-person shooter (deftly explained anyway about a third of the way into Crysis 2), for a few seconds in which it’s at zero you’re as vulnerable as the marines that occasionally escort you across the city.
Consider it a reminder that these powers shouldn’t be taken for granted, a kind of Kryptonite to your otherwise limitless abilities. The upgrade system is the clever part of the Nanosuit 2 technology though, which turns what might have been an impenetrable mess of options into a fairly sublime series of tactical choices. You don’t encounter the Ceph in any significant quantity for a few hours, which gives you a chance to pick up the clouds of nano catalysts that buzz around their corpses and experiment with the early unlocks in each area of armour, stealth, mobility and tactics.
You won’t necessarily need anything but the suit’s basic abilities to survive the campaign but, once you’ve started playing with upgrades like Cloak Enhance and Nano Recharge, you’ll begin to find alternate combinations of suit powers that better fit your play style. All of this needs to be sampled within the context of the Crysis 2 environment to better judge the effectiveness of the new Nanosuit. The euphemistically dubbed ‘choreographed sandbox’ that Crytek promised us is a little more contrived than we expected, but it still manages to convey a feeling of freeform gameplay.
Strictly speaking it’s a linear shooter with corridors linking much wider arenas, with scope to creep, snipe, blast or otherwise progress in any manner you see fit to reach the blue dot that marks your next waypoint on the mini-map. Upon moving into one of these arenas you’ll get a prompt from your Nanosuit to hit the up button and bring down your tactical assessment visor, which will highlight points of interest on-screen such as ammo dumps, explosive barrels, viable routes to the next objective and patrolling enemies.
The choreographed part of these mini-sandboxes becomes apparent once you try to move anywhere the game doesn’t want you to go; invisible walls prevent you from springing over perimeter obstacles and falls that armour would normally protect you from result in instant death. It’s not like there isn’t enough to keep you occupied in every new sandbox, but it’s frustrating when you can’t take what appears to be the most obvious route to the next waypoint because the rules of the game have inexplicably changed.
Crysis 2 is mostly a steady crescendo in battle intensity up to the final onslaught in Central Park – which won’t be quite the landmark you might recognise… let’s just say you’ll have more than muggers to worry about when walking around there at night. For about six hours of the 12-hour experience the pacing is right, with an appropriate mix of C.E.L.L. mercenaries and Ceph baddies in sufficient quantities to enable players to play the stealthy sniper with a few dirty tricks up their sleeves.
Sniping key patrols and then moving in for stealth kills is a viable tactic at this stage, but once the evacuation begins and the Ceph hit the Big Apple in numbers, your only real choice is to grind your way through wave upon wave of baddies or attempt to slip through to the next checkpoint in stealth mode. It’s not a problem as far as your Nanosuit abilities are concerned, because you can always switch to a loadout better suited to combat, but your options at this stage largely depend on your skill as a player and the difficulty setting you play it on.
Crysis 2 is hard too – old-school PC-hard – and it’s not as if the checkpoints are unforgiving, but the average player on any normal difficulty or above will find themselves worryingly out of their depth if they’re caught slipping between cover behind enemy lines in the later levels. We can’t honestly say that this is a flaw, as the intensity is thrilling at times, but at this point the early tactical options fall apart as visceral shooter action takes centre stage.
But what this does mean for players who don’t grab all the collectibles and completely fulfil their preferred play style, ace-ing Crysis 2 on their first time around on the hardest difficulty setting (which you absolutely won’t – and we’ll eat a tramps’ rancid sweat-encrusted beanie if you do), is that there’s now twice as much game here in replay value. Because you can access any chapter you’ve completed, any time, with all the experience and unlocks you’ve collected so far, sandbox arenas that were prohibitively difficult the first time through are suddenly open to other strategic avenues.
Alcatraz will eventually become a one-man SWAT team, akin to an entire Rainbow Six squad’s tactical options bundled into one incredibly tough super-soldier. Crucially, Crytek has nailed the balance of creating a superhuman capable of taking on armed hordes of Ceph and C.E.L.L. enemies, yet not so invulnerable that you can plough through with the impunity of a tank. The net result is a game that, for all its flaws in proper pacing, slightly patchy AI and occasional grind to the next checkpoint, will provide many hours of intense and challenging but ultimately rewarding shooter action.
It’s a benchmark by which other shooters should take an example from, and not the shamefully perfunctory five-hour-and-under campaigns that have flooded our shelves in recent years. If Crysis 2 is anything to go by, we can’t wait to see what evolves from the CryEngine 3 next.