Originally in November of 2007, Crytek’s Crysis was a beast of the highest order. It was arguably designed to be beyond the capabilities of every PC in the world when it came out, which led to the question “Can it run Crysis?” passing over the lips of every single person involved with PC gaming that year. Fast forward to 2011, and what was once proof of one company’s overriding commitment to the bleeding edge of PC hardware has been released as a lowly old downloadable title for the not any tougher for your 360. Oh how the times have changed. Now the question, “Can it run Crysis?” has been rendered moot because you can, without the stress of gutting your existing rig and filling it up with hardware that all-together probably costs more than my car.
Graphics were what set the PC version of Crysis apart from the other first person shooters out there. Console Crysis’ graphics, on the other hand, don’t set it apart from much of anything (in fact, console Crysis looks every bit a four year old game). That’s not to say they’re bad; however, the game is littered with environmental pop-in, weird shadows, strange graphical glitches, and dated textures. I’d say it doesn’t even look as good as 2008’s differently-engined-but-nonetheless-spiritually-related Far Cry 2. Both are “open-approach” (that’s mine, I coined it) first person shooters set in lush jungle environments, prominently feature water interactions like swimming and boat travel/combat, wildlife, combat that encourages infiltration and stealth rather than Rambo-style frontal assaults, and day/night cycles (although the day/night cycle is scripted in Crysis - and you only get one). In a straight up graphics battle between console Crysis and Far Cry 2, Far Cry 2 wins hands down.
But it’s not quite the rout I’m making it out to be however, because even though Crysis lacks a certain graphical “umph”, the overall gestalt effect is rather breathtaking. The whole is definitely greater than the sum of its parts. The lush jungle is gorgeous as long as you don’t look too closely at it. The mountains that populate the background are truly awesome, especially later on as you get closer to them. And the explosions are excellently rendered. A few levels even take place in a snowstorm that leaves a gorgeous layer of hoarfrost on your guns, suit, and visor. There is even one whole level (no spoilers), about 2/3 of the way through that was so amazing in its scope and aesthetic (you’ll know it when you see it) that it is probably the best looking shooter level I’ve ever experienced, and frankly shames its big brother Crysis 2’s similarly themed late-game levels.
It also trumps Far Cry 2 and Crysis 2 in the gameplay department as well, as it suffers from neither the repetitiveness and unforgiving difficulty of Far Cry 2 nor the dreary linearity and soulless narrative of Crysis 2. The open levels offer multiple approaches where even though infiltration and stealth are encouraged; goin’ in all gunz-a-blazin’ is still a legitimate strategy if you’ve got the twitch for it. Vehicles often litter the battlefield and can be appropriated as needed. Humvee-style armored vehicles and gunboats, accented by the occasional civilian pickup truck and a few delicious scripted vehicle sequences in the game’s second half, make for some of the best FPS vehicular combat you’ll see this console generation, outside of games dedicated to vehicular combat.
Lending support to the superb gameplay is the meaty and entertaining selection of weapons you get access to throughout the game. Mostly represented by your standard FPS weapon selection (pistol, sub-machine gun, automatic rifle, shotty, sniper, minigun, rocket launcher), your virtual arsenal is also bolstered by grenades (frag and flash), C4 explosives, a gauss rifle, and a few science fictiony “candy” weapons whose ammo capacities are inversely proportional to their awesomeness. All the standard weapons can be customized on the fly with an ingenious menu that allows all the parts to be swapped out with just the face buttons and the back button. You can add a silencer, laser pointer, flashlight, secondary tranq gun, under-barrel grenade launcher, and a reflex, assault, or sniper scope just to the assault rifles - and late-game you even get the option of swapping out your regular ammo for an incendiary variant. I can think of no other game that allows such free-form, on-the-fly weapon modding. It’s true that not every weapon supports every attachment, but if you’re crazy and want to add a sniper scope to your shotgun, and smg, or go with iron sight and a laser pointer for your sniper rifle, you can. And all of this can be done, along with switching between fire modes, in-game without pausing. Crytek should be particularly commended for that contribution to the great pool of weapon-mod menu styles.
Of course, guns are only one of the options you have to take on bad buys. You also have Crysis’ signature weapon - yourself, or more accurately the advanced nanosuit that you wear. Using only the shoulder buttons, the thumsticks, and the A button allows for easy access to your powers that include cloaking, armor, super-speed, super-strength, and the strength jump. And just like with weapon modding, it’s all done in real time without interrupting gameplay. All these powers draw from a pool of energy that depletes as you use them, and that pool is just small enough to keep you honest and unable to spam your powers to cheese your way through tough sections. Using them never feels like cheating or makes you feel particularly overpowered either, just more powerful than any one enemy soldier, but when you’re outnumbered (as you usually are) you feel just as vulnerable as if you had no powers. The nanosuit isn’t a god-mode, but rather a tool to be utilized that gives you the smallest of advantages over your foe but still requires the ability to think tactically to leverage that advantage properly.
Along with all the other wonderful flavors that meld into Crysis’ roughly 15 hour single-player campaign (no multiplayer this time - sorry), you have the sound design. Let’s call it the icing on the killer app cake because it is 100% top notch starting with the most important thing - the guns. They sound great. That’s such a simple thing, yet so many games get it wrong and end up with shotguns that sound like two metal trash can lids being banged together, assault rifles that sound more like NERF guns, or sniper rifles that sound like an over-revving electrical motor. But that isn’t so in Crysis. Gun shots crack wonderfully and echo in a realistic fashion, while all the other weapon sounds seem as if maybe they’re recordings of actual gun-play rather than the foleyed nonsense so many other games seem to use. Beyond your own guns, battle sounds are applied to great effect, often echoing all around you and giving the impression that you really are stuck in the middle of a larger conflict. Finally, the game offers a beautiful musical score and winning voice work all around.
I do have a few complaints, though. Two little ones that annoyed me to no end were the fact that adding a silencer to your assault rifle suddenly meant that a single head-shot was no longer fatal, instead only pissing your target off. Also, enemy detection seemed random at times. Occasionally, even if I was hundreds of yards away hidden behind a huge rock, the second I uncloaked enemies knew exactly where I was and began shooting at me.
My bigger complaint, however, is that story-wise, Crysis is merely adequate and doesn’t quite reach the same lofty heights as the other components of the game. The dialogue mixes quasi-realistic military jargon with a heavy dose of non-stop call signs along with more esoteric terms such as “five by five.” The game also wears its military glorification on its sleeve with several scenes existing only to drive home the camaraderie and heroism so common in war stories. It’s the kind of game where characters routinely yell things like “I’m a Marine, son” right before they march off to heroically die providing covering fire against impossible odds so other might escape. They’re the kind of scenes designed to make even the manliest of men tear up, but they come off a bit rote and on the nose in Crysis.
And then there are the aliens whose motives are murky, technology fantastic, and weapons beyond the capabilities of human understanding - and the only reason is “of course it is,” and you don‘t need to know any more than that. The human characters tasked with the expository dialogue necessary to convey all this to the player do so in the most perfunctory manner possible. And as in all alien invasion stories, the techno babble in Crysis is thrown around rather liberally, but all you ever really understand or care about (or need to understand or care about) is that you have to kill the space-cephalopods, and that the larger space-cephalopods require plot magic and candy weapons to take down. Despite its flaws, it’s executed so competently that you almost forget how tired the story is conceptually.
However, there is one thing I cannot forget or forgive - how abruptly the game ended. I’ve never been so caught off guard by end-credits before in my life. It’s more of a cliffhanger ending than a hard stop with a million dangling loose ends, but it came as a shock to me nonetheless. I was totally ready to finish the fight and my adrenaline levels were pumped all the way up to “LETS GET IT ON, *************! (*sounds of machinegun fire*)” boosted by an epic set piece battle on board the aircraft carrier USS Constitution, but instead I just got end credits, and that left me sad and confused. I know it is generally regarded as entertainment gospel that you should leave the audience wanting more, but I say no. There’s a difference between “leaving them wanting more” and “appearing like you’re going to give them more, then slamming the curtains shut, turning on the house lights and telling everyone to go home.” I say Crysis is missing a final level, and if you disagree then you‘re just wrong, because a cheeseburger without cheese leaves you wanting more also, but no one will argue that that makes it a better meal.