It was hard not to be completely impressed when the first images and videos of Crysis appeared about 18 months ago. Scenes of lush jungles and towering alien war machines looked light-years beyond what seemed possible. Of course, the two questions that revolved around Crysis since its announcement were whether it would deliver on those visuals and whether it would deliver a game worthy of those fancy graphics. It turns out that the answer to both those questions is a resounding yes, as Germany's Crytek has proven that its 2004 hit Far Cry was no fluke. In fact, it was just the beginning from this studio. With its sophomore effort, Crytek has managed to deliver an incredibly advanced and exciting first-person shooter that practically rewrites the rules for the entire genre.
Welcome to the prettiest jungle that you have ever seen in a game. Notice that it's starting to snow?
Crysis is an alien invasion game set in the year 2020. An archeological team on a remote Pacific island is captured by an invasion force of North Koreans, and your US Special Forces team is dispatched to investigate and rescue the scientists. Clad in high-tech nanosuits capable of boosting your strength, speed, and armor, as well as cloaking you temporarily to the enemy, you're parachuted into a tropical paradise that's crawling with intelligent enemies and something else that's tearing both the North Koreans and US forces to shreds.
Like Far Cry, the first half of Crysis is essentially a "sandbox" game where you're put in the middle of incredibly large levels and tasked with an objective. How you get the job done is pretty much entirely up to you, which is part of the brilliance of the game's design. For instance, the environments are big enough to give you a wide range of latitude. Do you have to get to a certain point on the map? You can take a meandering route that avoids patrols and go stealthy, or try the up-front approach and try to blast your way through, with the danger of enemy reinforcements showing up. Need to infiltrate a North Korean-held village? You can try the front gate, or maybe explore and find a quieter way in.
Couple these huge environments with the powers of the nanosuit, and you have a ton more options. You can play like the eponymous character from the movie Predator and use your cloaking abilities to stalk North Korean patrols, picking them off one by one and watching the survivors react in confusion. That could be via a silenced rifle, or simply coming up from behind a guard and grabbing him by the throat and hurling him off a cliff, or through the roof of a building, or against a tree, or whatever catches your fancy. Enhanced speed and strength give you an amazing amount of mobility, so you can vault atop buildings and come down behind someone, or run up against a North Korean vehicle next to a cliff and push it over the side. In a heartbeat you can switch between different roles, from stealthy assassin to seemingly unstoppable death dealer. It's a game that makes you feel like a superhero, though not an invincible one, because you simply can't run roughshod over the enemy. Crysis rewards smart, fast thinking.
The firefights are stunning, as well as challenging, whether you're tackling North Korean soldiers or alien war machines.
It helps that the game features a high degree of advanced physics and destructibility in a highly dynamic world. Getting caught in a firefight in the jungle is a cinematic treat, thanks to the way the bullets will chop down trees, while branches sway from impacts. This isn't just a visual effect, either, as falling timber can kill if it lands on someone. There's all sorts of emergent behavior like that throughout the game, events that spring up completely unintended or unforeseen. In one instance, the flaming wreckage of a chopper landed on a hut, crushing it and killing all those inside.
Meanwhile, the gunplay and ballistics modeling make this shooter feel as if you're handling real weapons. Trying to hit a target at long engagement ranges is challenging thanks to weapon recoil and other factors. The North Koreans are encased in body armor, so they take some time to gun down, unless you aim for the head, which usually puts them on the ground. At your disposal is a variety of firearms, like shotguns and assault rifles. One of the neat aspects of the game is that you can fix up your weapons on the fly, adding scopes, silencers, and grenade launchers, provided you've found them. There are trade-offs for each add-on. Silencers let you take down guys quietly, though they reduce bullet damage, meaning you've got to make every shot count. Or flashlights mounted on your weapons might help you out in dark levels, but will give you away.
It's not just infantry combat, as you can hop into almost every vehicle in the game, as well as take part in an incredible tank battle.
Crysis gives you all of these toys and ratchets the action higher and higher the deeper you get into it. The first level of the game introduces you to the sandbox combat and the nanosuit. From then on, the battles become larger and more intense as the action escalates. You'll storm North Korean-held villages and bases; encounter their counter to your nanosuit; take part in a chaotic assault on a North Korean harbor; and from there the game accelerates. Next is a wild tank battle in a tropical mountain valley, with helicopters and jet fighters roaring overhead. There's a sheer rush as your tank plows through vegetation and knocks down trees as missiles and tank fire erupt all around you. Meanwhile, the vehicle explosions are convincing, right down to the way ammunition cooks off and sends spirals of smoke outward. It's visual poetry of destruction. You're not confined to your tank the entire time, either. You can jump out at any time and use your suit powers and rifle to take on enemy infantry. When they're dead, pick up their dropped rocket launchers and engage vehicles in a cat-and-mouse-style game.
As events in the game continue to ramp up, you'll find yourself inside the alien ship, the zero-gravity environment delivers a visually strange and yet wondrous setting. As you navigate through the environment and engage the aliens you have to figure out your way through the level. Escape the alien ship and you're tossed into a frozen environment against the alien foe. After the alien vessel, the game becomes less free form and more linear, but it also amps up the action along the way, reflecting the way that the stakes are being raised. Now you're trying to fight your way out of the alien sphere, which means dodging war machines that look like something from The Matrix. There are a few more surprises in store from that point before you get to the ultimate showdown.