The question of Crysis 3 protagonist Prophet’s humanity comes up several times over the course of Crysis 3’s single-player campaign. Pretty much everyone he meets on some level thinks of him as not quite as human as they are. Even his old war-buddy Psycho, a former nanosuit soldier himself, questions just how invested Prophet is in stopping the Cell Corporation from grinding the entire planet down under the boot of wireless energy, debt, and indentured severitude. Psycho doesn’t quite buy it when Prophet claims he’s just as committed to stopping Cell as the other rebels that have sprung up in the 20 years since Crysis 2.
You see, when the Ceph were stopped at the end of that game, they were seemingly stopped for good. Cell parlayed that into global influence by taking the credit. Psycho believes that Cell is the threat and that the Ceph are just a footnote in human history - that one time way back in the day when aliens invaded and New York was destroyed. He doesn’t believe in the hive mind Alpha Ceph that Prophet encountered became connected to in the original Crysis, but Prophet does, and every action he takes leaves those around him scratching their heads as to whether Prophet is really trying to find the mythic Alpha Ceph, or even that, thanks to the nanosuit’s use of Ceph DNA, he is more Ceph than human.
As I played Crysis 3, I couldn’t help but wonder why I should care, however. The overarching story in the Crysis trilogy is spun with just the barest minimum of information. I’ve never played a story-driven game with such a skeletonized story. Huge gaps seem to exist in the information that the characters in the game know and the player knows, and the game is happy to never even give you a hint. Things happen, you don’t know why, characters appear and you can’t remember who they are, and references are made that leave you wondering whether you slept through the two previous games or that there is a whole bunch of licensed fiction that you didn’t read.
Luckily for Ubisoft, most people who play Crysis 3 will have no problem ignoring the story to tackle the chaotic multiplayer, or simply enjoy the single-player campaign for what it is: a loud, boisterous, and very pretty first person shooter. Oh, and it’s a lot of fun to boot.
First person shooters have long been held up as test-cases for the hardware said shooter is running on. The question, “Can it run Crysis?” wasn’t born in a vacuum, after all. Even on consoles, Crysis is a bit of a showpiece series and is a good indication of the power still present in even a technically obsolete console like the Xbox 360. Crysis 3 probably has the closest thing to “photorealistic” graphics possible on the system. Textures are spot on, foliage is lush and rich, the sunlight is a natural as possible, and the particle effects really sell all the explosions and exploding aliens.
It is not all exactly however, as there was some environmental fade-in and my framerate occasionally chugged a bit. It only ever happened when I’d aim down my gun’s sights during intense close-quarters firefights, but it did happen from time to time. The color-scheme could also be described as a “bit drab.” It’s not all browns and grays, but it is fairly subdued. In a way, Crysis 3 on the Xbox 360 is a bit like a bodybuilder in his 60’s; he can still bench press way more than you or anyone you know, but not nearly as much as he could in his prime.
When you’re not staring at the graphics, and can finally get over the fact that you can turn the bloom off in the options, you’ll obviously spend your time firing projectiles of all shapes and sizes at both human and alien enemies. More so than in Crysis 2, the combat feels loose and is tough without being punishing. That’s not to say it’s easy because it isn’t. It’s just that, unlike in Crysis 2, open combat feels like more of a realistic option. You have to know when to go that route, however. Trying to shoot your way across a large open space patrolled by a never-ending stream of Cell soldiers covered by auto-turrets is suicide. If you using cloak to kill a few squads without setting off every alarm, then hack the auto turrets, however, suddenly you can make your presence known without getting your face shot off. Pretty much every encounter in the game is like this. There’s almost no corridor shooting, and setting-wise Crysis 3 is more varied than Crysis 2’s largely office-based setting.
The weapon variety in Crysis 3 is basically identical to Crysis 2 with the exception of two stand out weapons (and the fact that you can scavenge Ceph weapons): the Predator bow and the Typhoon. If you saw a single trailer for Crysis 3, you know all about the bow and it really is as much fun to use as those trailers make it seem like. It is almost always a one-hit-kill weapon, but your ammo is severely limited. You get 9 standard arrows (that can usually be recovered), 3 frag arrows, 3 electric arrow, and 3 super-thermite arrows on a delayed fuse. These numbers cannot be increased, you can’t scavenge arrows off fallen enemies (besides your own basic arrows), and caches of arrows are few and far between. Since the bow is so powerful, the ammo scarcity is the only thing that keeps it from breaking the balance of the game.
The second stand out weapon is the Typhoon. The Typhoon is, essentially, a rack of 10 tubes stuffed with caseless projectiles. When you pull the trigger, the Typhoon electromagnetically spits its caseless projectiles out of all ten tubes at once creating a wall metal that all at once slams into the enemy you’re aiming at. It’s an automatic weapon with a huge reserve of ammo and short bursts kill almost everything instantly. If you so choose you can have one with select fire, set it to semi-automatic, and suddenly you have a gun that you can carry around with you for the rest of the game. In semi-auto mode, it throws out a wall of 30 projectiles. In that mode it dominates mid to close range combat. Once you unlock it, you can even attach an under barrel mini-Typhoon to your assault rifle. Between the Typhoon and the bow, you don’t need another weapon for 90% of the game. However, there is a standard selection of assault rifles, sub machine guns, shotguns, a sniper rifle, grenade launcher, anti-armor rocket, and a heat-based microwave gun to play with. For the most part, those weapons are all functionally the same as they were in Crysis 2.
Also remaining from Crysis 2 is the method for selecting attachments for your weapons. By holding the Back button and pressing the appropriate face button, you can instantly swap out your sight, barrel attachment, under-barrel attachment (including semi-auto fire), and ammo type. My experience with ammo types (armor piercing, incendiary, etc…) was a negative one, however, because I never found any other than a handful dropped by enemies that weren’t compatible with my weapon loadout.
Of course, the real meat of the combat in the Crysis series isn’t the shooting, but rather comes from the nanosuit itself, and you’ll find that functions pretty much identically in Crysis 3 as it did before. The cloak and armor modes, power jumps, super-speed, and death-from-above attacks all return with no noticeable differences. What is different is how you go about upgrading it. Instead of collecting nano-crystals off fallen enemies, you’ll find upgrade kits out in the field. The upgrade menu consists of 4 columns and four rows with upgrades costing one, two, or three upgrade points. Each one upgrades your suit’s stealth, armor, power, speed, or system capabilities and can be further upgraded to “maximum” by meeting certain gameplay goals. You can use up to four at any one time but you’re limited to picking one from each column. When you find four you like you can easily save them as a set. You can save three sets that can be swapped by accessing the upgrade menu, then hitting a face button. Unfortunately, that doesn’t pause the game so you can’t really do it in combat. That seems like a really poor design decision to me since the combat is so fast paced and free-flowing.
That’s not the only questionable design decision, either. The HUD, for example, is a mess. It presents you with too much information and makes most of it completely unclear to you until you’re able to just figure it out based on experience and in-game context. You have a detailed map, threat level, and currently equipped nano-suit upgrades (whose icons don’t match what’s in the upgrade menu) on one side. On the other side you have the current ammo for the gun you’re using, an inexplicable picture of the gun you’re not currently using, four tiny icons indicating the d-pad functionality (select fire, bow, scanner, and equipped explosive), your suit’s power level and your cloak and armor mode indicators. Its awfulness is summed up perfectly by the fact the it shows a picture of THE GUN YOU’RE NOT USING, BUT THE AMMO COUNT FOR THE ONE YOU ARE. What in the world? That must be one of the most misguided HUD design decision that’s ever happened. The final insult is that you can’t even access the digital manual without quitting your game so it’s not even easy to look that stuff up when it’s relevant.
Also of note is the fact that even thought you will collect a lot of intel that is stored in a “codex-like” section of the menu, the game doesn’t differentiate between new or unread entries and old ones you’ve already read. This wouldn’t be such a problem if you didn’t get intel updates in the middle of combat and other unexpected times, or that the only sure way to access the newest entry is to hit the Start button in the one second window after you pick it up. Also, sometimes you get intel updates during in-game cutscenes and hitting Start won’t do anything. Good luck tracking that one down, since they’re also not logically or intuitively organized.
Speaking of in-game cutscenes, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the sheer number of in-game cutscenes that rip control away from you. I understand that the devs have stuff that they need you to look at, but it’s jarring in the current gaming environment where at least controlling where you look during in-game scripted events is the norm. It’s made worse by the fact that Prophet is often doing cool things during these in-game cutscenes - things that I want to do like fly drop ships, and barely escape certain train-car based death. These are things other games let you control and it’s very jarring and unexpected when it doesn’t happen.
Another thing that bugged me to no end during these in-game cutscenes is the way the “skip cutscene” option appears automatically even if it was the first time I saw it, and it’s the same button as all other contextual options. In today’s QTE kingdom, reflexively hitting button call outs during cutscenes is a perfectly reasonable expectation to have so it sucks when it causes you to skip in-game cutscenes accidentally and then doesn’t offer you the chance to go back and re-watch them despite the fact that you CAN go back and re-watch inter-mission “cutscenes” that are really hidden loading screen and much harder to skip, and listen to area-specific cuts from the soundtrack (which I though was fairly outstanding, by the way).
The final issue I had with Crysis 3 is the one that is most damaging to the game itself: its linearity. Yes, I know I said it wasn’t a corridor shooter, and there were open areas, but you’re always funneled toward your goal thanks to invisible walls and insurmountable rubble. Many of the game’s levels are set in ruined portions of downtown New York. The buildings are little more than ruins and nature has come back to reclaim what was formerly the realm of steel, iron, and aluminum, yet you can’t explore them for the most part. There are occasionally side paths you can go down that lead to quick side missions and weapon and upgrade caches so exploration does play some role. However, I guess I was hoping for a return to the actual open world of the original Crysis. After all, it’s not like that stuff is beyond consoles anymore, look at Ubisoft’s own Crysis-cousin, Far Cry 3. That was as open world as open worlds get, so why is Crysis 3 so damn closed? Far Cry 3 ran great on the Xbox 360 and was more open world than the original Crysis which didn’t appear (and allegedly “couldn’t” appear) on consoles until last year as a downloadable title so obviously the console can handle it. Yet we still get a linear shooter. Why? Open-worlds are what Ubisoft’s Crytek/Cry engine games are most known for. I don’t get it, and I don’t like it.
Similarly, the previews talked about the seven zones of the Cell Corporation’s Liberty Dome. We even got a series of trailers called “The 7 Wonders of Crysis 3” yet never once do we get a sense for these mythical “seven” zones or wonders. Every level is set in one or two areas that are always either “ruined, overgrown city,” “secret lab,” or “war zone.”
Despite all that, the single-player campaign is a lot of fun and when you get done with it (or before you even start it) you can tackle Crysis 3’s fairly deep and complex multiplayer component. It’s “deep and complex” in that there are a lot of modes. You have the standard deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture and hold (called Crash Site and Spears), Assault (your team must download data and everyone only gets one life), and Extraction (capture the flag). Beyond that, it gets more original. You have Hunter where a team of Cell operatives must work together to take down a nanosuit-wielding hunter. You can also choose to play “Cell versus Rebels” which takes all the basic multiplayer modes and forces you to play them without a nanosuit. You can also choose to play deathmatch and team deathmatch with minimal HUD information and maximum weapon damage. Finally there is the anything goes “Developer’s Choice” where anything can happen because the developers set the rules. There really should be at least one mode in there for everyone. The games themselves take place in tight, multi-level, claustrophobic, and rubble-strewn maps. The nanosuit make things very chaotic where death can come from any angle and enemies are often invisible. It’s not friendly to new players, however, or maybe I’m just terrible. It’s probably a little of both.
So that’s Crysis 3 in a whole bunch of nutshells. It’s a lot of fun to play, despite the string of annoyances and disappointments that hold it back from being truly great. What Crysis 3 does right, however, it does extremely right and it’s definitely better than Crysis 2; it just could have been so much more.