With the benefit of hindsight, I think I've figured out what made Crysis 3's story feel a bit detached and iffy. What it is, is that Crysis 2 ended with New York being all fucked up from the big intergalactic war that just happened in it, but with everyone somewhat hopeful for rebuilding the future. And then there's a big gap, and then Crysis 3 opens with New York being fucked up. Only now its 24 years later and it's fucked up in a different way. There was a point after Crysis 2 when it was un-fucked to a certain degree, but then it got fucked up again before we got back into the action. So from our point of view we've just gone straight from fucked up to fucked up. Which is a bit discouraging, I suppose.
It doesn't help that we arbitrarily jumped ahead 24 years in what amounts to a quickie sequel to a game that came out almost exactly a year ago. Half-Life 2 got away with a big time jump because it was a new engine, new central gameplay, and the story had expanded massively in scope from a single facility in New Mexico to basically the entire world. And it had also been quite a few years in the real world since the release of Half-Life 1, so the big story jump was to illustrate how far things had moved. Crysis 3 has pretty much the same gameplay as before, so going straight to the big story jump felt like blowing a load to create the illusion of being a bigger and more epic game than it actually was. It didn't feel earned, is where I think I'm waffling to.
It also didn't hurt that Gordon Freeman had been in suspended animation from the moment Half-Life ended to the moment Half-Life 2 began, but in Crysis 3 the protagonist has been doing things in the intervening years that we don't know about. On top of whatever it was that ended with New York being fucked up for the second time and the evil corporation taking over the entire world. What I'm saying is that I feel like an actor on a stage that's been set up right next to a cliff edge: I'd feel a lot more comfortable if they'd given us some background.
This is why I liked Prophet a lot better back when he was Alcatraz in Crysis 2, because I felt I could relate more to that character. He was just a dumb marine, severely wounded and piled into a nanosuit that just barely kept him alive, which gave him an essential, very human vulnerability. And then he was shoved in the general direction of a situation he didn't understand in the least, which also helped, because that was pretty much the same mindset I was in, as the player. I felt like a small piece floating on the surface of a very big, unfathomable crisis. Yes, I think that's best the word for it.
Roll on Crysis 3, and Prophet now seems to have a much bigger understanding of the situation than I do. Now I feel the game expects me to have a firm grasp of a background that it hasn't given me. This is the moment when we need some Alcatraz equivalent, perhaps as a sidekick if not the lead - an audience surrogate who doesn't know what's going on, so things can be explained to us through them. Otherwise I'm just dumbly going through the motions demanded by the game, lacking understanding and consequently lacking the essential engagement in the action.