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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Review Week Day 3: Crysis

Crysis embodies a fairly new class of games that we are seeing more and more often as the number of gamers and the available money increases. It is the gaming equivalent of a summer blockbuster: high production values, great special effects, high action and high adrenaline experiences complete with mind-numbing plot and questionable acting (though it's actually quite good in comparison with most other games). We've always had big budget games, but the budget and production for a game like Quake 2 that reached tens of thousands of people is pittance in comparison with the big money titles that we are seeing these days with six and seven digit sales numbers.

With that much money circling around, we've seen, in the last few years, a phenomenal increase in the number of truly excellent games that have been released. Crysis is no exception. But high production values and spectacles can only help or hurt a game so much. A game lives and dies by the quality of its gameplay (there is another interesting discussion to be had about the imbalance of elements inherent to games, but again, not in this post); and in Crysis the gameplay is solid.

The addition of the nanosuit turns this from an above average shooter into the high quality game it is. It acts as an enabler and exaggerating influence to every different playstyle, freeing the player to act how they want. Regardless of whether you like to stealth and snipe, to stealth and ambush, to run and gun or just to overpower your enemies, the suit functions will make each path more interesting, more effective and especially more fun. As the first type (like many gamers) I thoroughly enjoyed leading teams of North Koreans through the woods in panic. The game heightens every playstyle so that one truly feels like a supersoldier, like a one man army, but it doesn't make it easy. You will still be outgunned and outmanned, working from an inferior strategic position much of the time. The combat rewards bold moves, cunning tactics and above all careful and accurate shooting. The enemies go down fast when you shoot for the head, but the fights will take forever if you just spray and pray.

But that's just the first half of the game. In the second half, *SPOILER TIME* when inside the mountain and subsequently when the aliens emerge from said mountain, the combat changes tremendously. Here as you move from setpiece to setpiece there is little cause to use stealth, as most of the enemies will know where you are when they appear. That does not, however, reduce the fun of the combat. Fighting the aliens in zero-g or in the frozen wastes is always fast, dizzying and frantic, with lots of spent ammunition and cover to cover dashes. The fights here are much shorter but far more hectic. Each fight and each setpiece builds the scale of the conflict, reaching a crescendo in the final climactic moments.

The endgame is exaggeratedly epic, and because of that incredibly fun. A few objectives on the ship do feel like padding (nuclear core), but are only noticeable because they feel like unnecessary lulls in the high-action finale. The story ends on a cliffhanger, leading into the imminent sequel, but the narrative arc for the game is sufficiently resolved to give a real feeling of accomplishment.

Crysis is a finely wrought game. The combat, with the addition of the nanosuit, is exaggerated and exciting. The story is ridiculous, but, like a summer blockbuster, we're not in it for story: we're here to blow stuff up. And thanks to the excellent Crytek engine stuff blows up real nice. The world is rendered beautifully, the enemies are clever and aggressive, the open levels have plenty of paths to victory and side objectives, and the linear levels have tremendous setpieces and difficult, epic fights. Crysis is extremely well built from start to finish and I highly recommend it for any shooter fan.

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