Crysis 2 campaign: More spectacle than substance?
18th Mar 2011 | 18:05
With Crysis being considered one of the best looking games ever - especially if you're running it on a nice high-end PC - there's been a lot of scepticism surrounding the series' first console outing when it comes to Crysis 2.
While PS3 fans and 360 followers probably realise that their consoles won't be the pinnacle of presentation as long as the PC is around, it wouldn't be unreasonable to expect a studio with Crytek's visual track record to deliver one of the best looking games of this generation (perhaps even the best).
We were a bit disappointed, then, when our recent hands-on with the sequel started in a dark, derelict tunnel. The textures might have been the most detailed ever to grace a screen, the depth of field may have stretched further than time itself - but if it did we couldn't see it for lack of light.
In a dark tunnel, textures are mainly black and grey and the depth of field stretches to the rock that's a few metres in front of you. The rest is your typical underground FPS section fare in terms of design: a twister girder here, a sparking live-wire there, a de-railed train carriage with doors bent ajar.
There's an attempt at the spectacle in these early stages as a train, flames pouring out of it, hurtles towards the end of the line in the distance before crashing at the end of the line.
We're prompted to press Y when the event is triggered in order to watch the whole thing unfold in all its glory but, in truth, with the likes of Uncharted 2 on the books, we've seen set-pieces that are far more worthy of the "watch this!" cam. By comparison, a train moving at moderate pace into a wall is a bit underwhelming - ablaze or not - and besides, thanks to our position when we were prompted to press Y, our view was obstructed by girders and fallen rock anyway.
Still, let's not dwell on one three-second event. The first contact with our alien foe comes in another familiar scripted event where we see a couple of our human comrades butchered in the distance by what he refers to as a 'Squid' before he's destroyed.
They've picked up the affectionate nick-name because of the dread-lock like tentacles reaching from their head, but with glowing red eyes, substantial, Vanquish-like armour and a pair of legs that make them fairly nimble, they're obviously far more dangerous than your average ink-squirter. Oh and some of them have guns too, that's the other think the common Octopus lacks.
With these seemingly the standard grunts of the game, we're looking for that 'greatest AI ever' that Crytek has promoted in the last few months. It's supposed to be a firm but fair approach to AI and although we obviously want to see more before we comment definitively, Crytek seems to have managed a mix of AI traits we've seen before with some new intelligent additions.
A lot of the time for example, the main tactic of the enemy seems to be to run towards you and get in your face if they're close enough - nothing too revolutionary there. If you take them by surprise though, they'll use those spring loaded legs to dart to cover. It makes a nice change to the kind of enemy that's pre-placed behind cover and seems in-capable of moving outside of a five inch radius.
This kind of AI mechanic does work well in the dark, corner filled tunnels where we lost a couple of enemies once or twice which put us on the back foot. In more open areas, however, if the enemy didn't dart towards us to claw at our sexy nano-suit it stomped towards us as it fired blasts. Some glimpses of above average intelligence, then, but we need more combat time to so how improved it really is.
Moving out of the tunnels and into the light is when we get our first hint at Crysis 2's graphical potential and light is the key not only because it illuminates the details of our surroundings but because it's probably the main thing Crytek has nailed in terms of visuals.
If you've seen footage of Crysis 2's Grand Central Station level, you'll know what we mean: It's when light streams that it's at its most impressive and we get a few examples of shafts shooting through ornate skylights as we emerge from the underground.
Reaching the surface we find ourselves in a vantage point on the edge of, and half way down a gigantic crater in the middle of New York City, which is yet to be revealed in all its glory.
It's here that a more tactical element is applicable, in fact, you're informed of "tactical options" by the nano-suit and pulling up a HUD lets you easily locate weapons, ammo, objectives, possible routes and enemies, before marking up the things you want to keep a tab on.
Our main concern is the big mini-gun wielding beast at the bottom of the alien-made canyon (wearing similar garb to the Squids scattered about the area as well but more of it). From here we could activate the nano-suit's armour ability to give us added protection in an all-guns-blazing approach or we could creep down and pick off each enemy one by one from close-range.
Or we could super-kick a written-off car that's right in front of us down the carter. We go for this option expecting a belting blunt-force to the vehicle sending it hurtling into some Achievement giving sequence of destruction that takes our enemies by surprise. But it doesn't, in fact our front-kick barely gets the battered shell over the edge and all we've really done is make ourselves known.
We're hoping that we can improve our strength later on in the game. The suit does feature a new upgrade system, mapped to Alctraz's hand, which allows us to level-up and enhance abilities like speed and agility or gain new ones that assist in ways like highlighting enemy footprints or suppressing the noise of our own steps.
With the enemy alerted we're faced with bullet fire from all sides, not least from the chain-gun the bruiser below is packing. Dealing with him, however, is still just a case of returning fire until he drops to the floor. Do this at ground level and his slow trudging is easy to out manoeuvre and his aim fairly easy to evade - especially when you've got the ability to jump and clamber on top of over turned buses and the like.
Having said that, areas like this did present us with a bit of a challenge. From our original vantage point we found ourselves quickly flanked by the nippy Squids once our less than impressive car kick went and ruined everything. Some of the gun-touting enemies stayed in position to snipe from a distance as well, giving us a lot to deal with at any one time. It took a few deaths before we'd effectively worked out how best to deal with the multiple threats.
After dealing with another crater of alien scum, we were finally let out onto the streets of New York City as we might see them today (albeit in a state of emergence) and then it hit us. This was what we came to see, this was what we expected from Crytek: The perfect textures, the impressive draw-distance neatly helped out by a fog, reducing distance sky-scrapers to silhouettes, the way the sun forms pools of light on the tarmac and glints of yellow taxis dropped across two lanes.
While we've seen some promising gameplay elements in Crysis 2, plus the Crysis hallmarks that are carried through from the original (the jumping, climbing and nanonsuiting that provides more freedom and options than other FPS titles) it's still looking like it will be the visuals that get people talking about Crysis this year.
Then came the finale of Dark Heart as, out of nowhere, vehicles spun from the distance and whizzed past our eye-line, followed by and all-consuming tidal wave of water that gushes around the buildings and sweeps us off our feet, our limbs flailing in front of our eyes. Now that's a spectacle. Beats the nano-tech out of sluggish train-crash, anyway.