Crysis 3 – Review
Crysis 3 has arrived a year too soon. Think about it. In about twelve months from now both Microsoft’s and Sony’s next-gen machines will be whirring away under your televisions with enough power to rock the Earth off its axis. And with the amazing CryEngine 3 crying out for some extra oomph, to release now on hardware that restricts its technical prowess seems counter-intuitive. In theory, a hypothetical next-gen console version should closer resemble what Crysis 3 currently looks like on a nuclear-powered PC, and if you want see Crytek’s latest at its most eye-sizzlingly beautiful then that’s the only way to go.
This is strictly a console version review, however, and for anyone who doesn’t want to sell their pride, soul or kidney to afford such a monstrous rig then console is your best bet. And, truth be told, it’s no slouch here either, squeezing the geriatric 360 and PS3 for almost every drop of juice, apparently leaving less than one percent of power unused. You’ll be hard-pressed to find many better looking games on console, and that’s even without a highly recommended installation. Thing is, as with all games, graphics aren’t everything, and if any of Crytek’s output played as good as they looked then they’d be some of the best games ever made.
Predictably, Crysis 3 comes with a string of caveats. For everything it does well, there’s a stigma attached. Typical Crytek, eh? But let’s not give out the wrong impression here because Crysis 3 is a good game. You know this, because you’ve already scrolled to the bottom and seen the score (don’t deny it, you always do). It’s a slick, empowering and oh so sexy-looking sandboxy shooter. It is also an inconsistent, misjudged and occasionally dull slog.
Coming in with no prior knowledge of the series may prove a turnoff, however. The first level’s muddled storytelling and a “Previously On” catch-up video throws an awful lot of information your way, and anyone who hasn’t played at least the last game will have a tough time figuring out just what the hell is going on; even if you have there’s still a substantial leap to get your head around. It’s 2047, 24 years after the events of Crysis 2, and evil corporation CELL, who’ve clearly been on a company trip to Cornwall’s Eden Project, has saw fit to plonk a giant dome over New York City to lock in the remaining forces of the squid-like alien Ceph, turning the Big Apple into a giant greenhouse in the process. Well, that’s what CELL’s PRs would have you believe. In truth, the dome’s real purpose is much more sinister, keeping prying eyes from discovering CELL’s covert operation to harvest Ceph technology and generate an infinite supply of energy, using this influence to drive the world into debt and overall achieve global domination. It certainly puts the horsemeat scandal into perspective.
So now it falls to Prophet, having seemingly taken over Alcatraz’s body thanks to his personality and memories being stored within the Nanosuit, the super-strong, super-fast, super, er, invisible getup that is Crysis’s centrepiece, Michael “Psycho” Sykes (making his first return since Crysis 1 expansion, Warhead) and a small group of resistance fighters to kill the remaining Ceph, expose CELL and save the world, as per usual.
First things first: New York, “version 2.0” as Psycho puts it. Relocating Crysis 1’s tropical setting into Crysis 2’s concrete jungle could be seen as an ingenious move, combining the best of both worlds, or just plain lazy, simply overlaying the readymade New York from the last game with a few shrubs. Call it what you will, but when you get your first glimpse of the Nanodome’s insides you’ll be picking your jaw up from the floor. It truly is awe-inspiring, and after the repetitive metallic corridors of the opening level it’s a liberating breath of fresh air. Yes, we’ve seen New York dozens of times before, but never like this. Hats off to you, Crytek. You’ve done it again.
But here’s the first “but”. As enticing as this new New York is, it’s not even midway through the story that the novelty begins to wear thin. Excluding the time of day, the jungle environment you’ll explore first isn’t greatly artistically dissimilar from the one you’ll explore second, third and fourth, only marking major shifts towards the end where things take a disappointing turn for the brown, so all the marketing talk of the Seven Wonders has been slightly misleading. There is variety, just not enough to feel meaningful, each zone never feeling memorably distinct, and, barring the odd wild Deer, things feel comparatively static after watching the city fall under escalating siege first-hand in Crysis 2.
The trade-off for that bustling activity are refreshingly larger play spaces, never forcing you to commit to one path and putting a silence to anyone who complained that Crysis 2 was too directed. It’s ironic, then, that something a bit more directed is often what you’ll crave for. The further you progress through the campaign the more the levels open up, but their wider avenues are rather barren as far as tactical options beyond the classic ‘exploding red barrel’, and rarely throw any good fights your way, nor promote much in the way of creative thinking, even in conjunction with the Nanosuit’s armour and cloaking abilities. Secondary objectives aren’t exactly off the beaten track either.
You’re still free to choose how you approach each objective, though, deciding whether to put the Nanosuit’s armour to good use by absorbing damage in the heat of action or activating the cloak mode to ghost your way through. The overpowered Predator Bow (which can be fired while remaining cloaked) and ability to tag enemies from a distance means you’ll often opt for the latter, even if it inevitably leads into the former. It is possible to stealth your way past an entire area undetected, but unlocking new weapon attachments, finding backstory-filling intel and, most importantly, acquiring Nanosuit upgrades requires you to dive into the thick of it, and this is probably where the fluky AI will catch you out. Uncloak yourself behind a solid wall and your presence should remain unknown. However, attempt to sneak through the undergrowth a la Far Cry 3, relying on the dense foliage to hide you rather than the suit’s invisibility function, and you’ll immediately find yourself on the receiving end of hot pointy lead from all directions. The introduction to the Ceph Stalkers (think Jurassic Park’s Velociraptors, complete with long grass) is particularly undermined because of this irritating blemish.
But if you want those precious upgrades then it’s a necessary inconvenience. It’s not that shootouts are difficult, because they’re really not, but an upgrade system that rewards the way you play, rather than forcing you to find upgrade nodes, would be more desirable. Made it through a level without firing a single shot? Have a stealth bonus. Thinned out the ranks of CELL? Here’s an armour boost. Even when you do have a few enhancements under your belt you’re only ever allowed to have four active at once. Sure, you can create three separate loadouts, one specialising in stealth, another in strength and the last a mix of both perhaps, but having to frequently flit between them through a menu, no matter how near-instantaneous Crytek make it, always pulls you out of the experience and breaks the flow of the action. It’s a means of making sure you’re never too overpowered, but it inhibits the moment-to-moment improvisation just as much as the unpredictable AI does to any forward planning.
But when those special moments do happen, when you’re in the right place at the right time, when you power-kick a burned-out car shell to crush a guard below and detonate the C4 you plastered across it to take out his startled buddies, when everything clicks into place, Crysis 3 is at its best. Yep, fighting the Ceph is still as dull as ever, and spectacular set-pieces are noticeably thin on the ground (you won’t find anything on the same scale as Crysis 2’s battle at Grand Central Station, for example), but you have to take the rough with the smooth. There’s more good here than bad, it’s just that there’s more bad than has been in the previous two games. It’s consistently solid but never quite spectacular; always entertaining but just shy of exciting.
Stronger is the multiplayer suite. Crysis 3’s online offering only ever had to be as good as Crysis 2’s and it would still be worth a look, once again channelling the immediacy of COD with the armour abilities of Halo. Throw in some better map designs, new weapons and the headlining Hunter mode and you’ve got a much more tempting proposition. Essentially the film Predator condensed into a ten minute match consisting of five rounds, Hunter sees two overpowered Nanosuit wearing players armed with bows and infinite cloaking capabilities outnumbered by up to ten regular players acting as CELL, packing all kinds of stopping power. The twist is that for every CELL player killed they respawn as a Nanosuiter, one by one switching sides until only a single CELL unit remains, leading to tense bouts of hysteria and panicky shooting. Be sure to play with friends though, for uncommunicative strangers tend to split up on their own, setting themselves up as easy prey for the silent hunters, exactly how this mode shouldn’t be played. If all else fails, the standard deathmatch and objective based playlists are still a blast, providing a worthy alternative to the more dominant online shooters.Pros
- Look! Just look at it
- A new spin on the Big Apple
- Strong multiplayer
- Spacious sandboxy levels…
- … are light on tactical options
- Fluky AI undercuts otherwise solid stealth
- Lacking in spectacular set-pieces
- Upgrade system could be more thoughtful
Getting back to that initial statement, Crysis 3 has arrived a year too early. Not only could it have been the poster-boy for the next generation, but the extra time in development could have helped iron out some annoying crinkles and maybe add a few more notable additions to the campaign. As it stands, Crysis 3 is a classic case of being good but not great, further evidence that appearances aren’t everything, and another reason why next-gen can’t come soon enough.
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