For many, the graphical powerhouse Crysis is more notorious for its tendency to bring even cutting edge PCs to their knees, than for its gameplay. While it offered tons of eye candy for those that could run it, the fact remained that most were forced to watch from the sidelines as it was simply impossible to play on anything but the best hardware. But all that changes with Crysis 2, a ruthlessly optimized machine that finally lets all those wondering about the series a chance to see what it’s all about. Unfortunately, it never lives up to its reputation in any way than being a pretty face, and once you look past the visuals quickly evaporates into a game I couldn’t wait to leave.
Everything in Crysis 2 revolves around the Nanosuit, a secret military project which grants the user superhuman powers and provides both tactical and medical support. Armor, invisibility, super strength, and Nanovision (a combination of solar and night vision) round out the list of your abilities, and for the most part you are given free range over how you use them on the battlefield.
This is what sets Crysis apart from other shooters. While still linear in progression, there is a lot more freedom in how you tackle situations than you are typically allowed in a modern FPS. Maybe you’ll choose to go in guns blazing, armor at its max as bullets ricochet off like water drops, or perhaps opt for a stealthier solution and sneak through the water ducks behind enemy lines. Experimentation is encouraged by way of a helpful visor reminiscent of Metroid Prime, which highlights enemies, weapons, and different points to begin your assault. When everything is working right Crysis 2 can be an incredibly rewarding and exhilarating experience where each fight becomes its own puzzle for you to unravel. The real problem though is that these moments are few and far between.
One of the main reasons for this is every feature of the suit is tied into an energy gauge. When you use one, the meter depletes leaving you completely exposed and unable to cloak or use armor. While clearly designed to keep the game from becoming too easy, it also does a fantastic job of taking away from the feeling of being a super soldier developer Crytek tries so hard to create. Getting stuck in a firefight without the suit’s abilities is a common occurrence that almost always results in a near instant death, and even passive abilities such as meleeing enemies and sprinting are tied into the bar, which leaves you essentially helpless once it runs out. Using the energy bar to regulate abilities isn’t a bad idea in theory, but the execution is constantly working against the player to create a frustrating experience constantly stifling its own potential.
ENEMY AI IS BUGGY AND COMICALLY INCOMPETENT
The other big issue are the enormous amount of bugs, most of which revolve around the comically bad enemy AI. Cloaking highlights this most, as enemies are entirely oblivious to you when you are cloaked, going so far as to ignore you taking out their comrades mere inches away (I can only assume they are used to seeing their partners suddenly fall to the ground for impromptu naps). Fall into an enemy’s line of sight however and all of a sudden every living being knows where you are. Cloaking then acts as something of an on/off switch for enemy fire which comes grinding to a halt the second you cloak, a useful if entirely unrealistic way to exit a firefight that is equally unsatisfying.
Finally you have the moments when the enemy AI simply breaks, getting stuck on geometry, running in endless circles, and all around being complete fools that are almost more fun to watch than to shoot, because truth be told shooting them just isn’t very fun. When everyone acts like a broken robot it’s hard to feel as if you’ve accomplished anything when you outsmart them, and for as intelligent as Crysis 2’s mechanics may be, every enemy you come up against seems to have drawn the short straw for brains.
The narrative also left me wanting, hitting every cliché in the book and topping things off with some of the most abysmal writing and voice acting I’ve had to endure in a very long time. The interesting premise and opening scene where you, a soldier on his deathbed, are given the nanosuit and along with it the memories of its previous owner, is quickly swept aside in an endless stream of betrayals, convoluted twists, and an inability to ever explain what is really going on. I lost count of the number of times you lose consciousness, only to awake with your allies once again swapped and your motives changed. The writing is overly simplistic and juvenile, turning a lackluster plot into a cringe worthy affair. Rounding out the package is the flat voice acting that never could hit the right emotional tone nor bring any life to the script, but I suppose you can only do so much when given so little.
But if there is one thing everyone is wanting and expecting from Crysis 2 it’s another benchmark graphical showcase, and in that regard it does not disappoint. The level of detail in each scene is astounding, with the lighting effects in particular standing even higher above the rest. Seeing the sun breaking through the dilapidated buildings of New York is awe-inspiring, and although I won’t spoil them, the later half of the game is filled with some of the most impressive set pieces I have ever seen. Few games can match the visuals found in Crysis 2 even years after its release, and the amount of optimization wizardry done to ensure it runs well even on lower end machines is nothing short of impressive. Sound design is equally well done, with deafening explosions and gunfire which threaten to blow your subs and does more than anything else to provide a much-needed wow-factor to the proceedings. The great score grabbed me right from the opening menu, setting the tone for the game and adding to the overall epic feel of the game.
Undeniably beautiful, Crysis 2 has a lot of good ideas but does a poor job bringing them together. The bevy of bugs and glitches, most notably the terrible enemy AI, took almost all possible enjoyment out of firefights, and the few instances where the game actually worked as intended only further displayed just how much wasted potential was left on the table. What we are left with is a below average shooter wrapped in an extremely pretty package, but one that can’t hide the dull and lifeless game underneath. It’s hard to dislike something that throws so much eye candy at you, but in this case beauty is only skin deep.