With all of the reviews I've been doing about older PC games, some people might be wondering, "is this reviewer averse towards newer games, or does he just not have a fast enough computer to run them?" I am pleased to announce that neither of these characteristics apply to me, having played many of the big first-person shooter hits of 2007, including Call of Duty 4, BioShock, Half-Life 2: Episode 2, Portal and the game I'm about to review now.
Ah, Crysis, murderer of graphics cards and technical demonstration extraordinaire. Without further ado, here commences my first "I-don't-just-play-old-games-honest" review. (Apologies if my review seems overly Yahtzee-like - he just covered all of the bases before me.)
Crysis - A Review
The year is 2020, and the plot of Crysis follows the adventures of a Delta Force special operations lieutenant, codenamed Nomad. Nomad's Delta Force team, which has been outfitted with sets of highly advanced nanotech battle armour, has been called in to investigate the kidnapping of a group of American archaeologists, who were on the brink of an important discovery, by the North Korean Army. Supported by the USS Constitution - a Gerald D. Ford class aircraft carrier - and its carrier group, the Delta Force team prepare to air-drop onto the island where the game is set.
But complications occur almost from the start. After some sort of disturbance with the on-board computer in his armour suit, Nomad almost dies as his parachute fails to open after his descent from the aeroplane. Another member of the team, Aztec, lands among a series of trees and his parachute is caught. While trying to rescue Aztec, Nomad and Jester, another member of the Delta Force team, uncover signs of some sort of mysterious antagonist who has not only killed Aztec, but also the opposing North Korean forces.
With the North Korean forces ahead, the four remaining members of the Delta Force team must try to rescue the captive archaeologists. But there are mysteries on the island, aggressors who oppose the presence of the Delta Force team, and their intentions are malicious.
So, this review will begin with a brief analysis of the plot. Let's be honest: It's not fantastic, is it? At the same time, it's hardly bad either. It is a typical action game plot, and the presentation of it sticks to the hallmark of a good action game by not attaching overbearing significance to it during the game. It does as a good action plot should do: it provides the impetus to progress through the game. What I mean to say is that nobody watches the likes of Die Hard for the plot, or for the storytelling, and the same applies to this sort of game. The plot is a means to an end, and when you consider that less than fifteen years before this game, an action computer game's plot would be no more elaborate than, "Demons killed your squad. Kill them, pick up arbitrary game items, get the hell out of Dodge. Occasionally fight significantly stronger-than-usual demons.", you can see just how far the medium has come in a few years.
That said, there is one slightly illogical detail in the plot which I will pick at: It seems like the Chinese military would have been a more appropriate set of antagonists for this game, but with the Chinese being an increasingly important computer game market, they didn't wish to offend Chinese sensibilities and instead put the universal enemy, North Korea, as a quick geographically-convenient substitute. Then again, the prospects of offending a country's sensibilities haven't exactly stopped computer game makers from making the Germans the great gaming whipping-boys for that six-year embarrassment starting from 1939.
(NOTE: The writer of this review would like to emphasise that he is not claiming that the Second World War was anything less than a huge and disasterous world event, but that he is becoming quite disinterested in the typically sophomoric description of the events as seen from the computer games that deal with it. He would also like to ask why no computer game developer has picked up a well-known project about the obviously more difficult-to-produce, but ultimately more insight-bringing First World War. He would like to think that it's because the developers are afraid of historical inaccuracies, but cynicism prevents him from subscribing fully to this belief.)
The first great strength of this game becomes apparent almost immediately in starting the game. The great strength I talk about is a major selling point of the game, and the most well-known characteristic of the game. The graphics in this game are not only spectacular, they are polished, ambitious and very technically advanced. Scenery is rendered from amazingly long fields of view and every object is captured in very high levels of detail, and is by far the most graphically impressive game on the PC so far.
There must, of course, be a caveat for these levels of graphical performance, and that comes in the form of very high hardware requirements. In order to render the game in at the High level of graphical settings, one is speaking realistically of using a GeForce 8800-series graphics card, or a Radeon 2900XT with a high-performance dual-core processor at least. This means that a dedicated gaming PC must be purchased, because those specifications are not found in standard consumer PCs, and it means that the game is only available to a limited audience.
Not that the game would have it any other way. The gameplay, another strong suit of Crysis, maintains a certain degree of freedom in capturing objectives at any point. The game environments in Crysis are relatively large for the genre, which allows the realistic use of scoped weapons, for instance, and with rivers and streams running through the jungle environment as well, the landscapes feel natural and unforced, further allowing for freedom.
The gameplay in Crysis seems to me to be a relatively refined version of the first-person shooter action that the previous few years had been culminating towards, with the physics engine being one of the most developed of any game on the market, highly polished and rather satisfying weaponry which sticks mostly to the realistic angle which many modern shooters have aimed towards, and the ubiquitous vehicle sections, which I will discuss later. There is little innovation, but that's not the aim of Crysis.
There are, however, a few features of that nanotech suit that the game holds so dear that are quite interesting. Being one of the few futuristic first-person shooters that remembers that you are wearing a powered suit of armour in any respect other than damage soaking, the game allows you to use suit power, which normally acts as additional armour, in order to increase your strength or speed, or alternatively, to generate a field of invisibility around you, which greatly increases your ability to avoid enemy patrols, but which runs your batteries short in very little time. These additional features can come in handy during different situations.
Take, for instance, the extra strength idea. Hardly a new idea in first-person shooters, but one that's used to good effect, the strength enhancement allows one to punch harder, jump higher, and because this is a game which uses its physics engine well, to pick up and throw game objects harder. Being able to punch harder also allows one to clear game obstacles more readily, which means more mutable scenery which a resourceful player can use to their advantage.
In general, the gameplay of Crysis is strong and competent, not really stretching the boundaries in any particular way, but instead polishing the aspects which have been proven in other first-person shooters. However, there is one particular point at which this strong following of other first-person shooters causes a gap in good gameplay, and that refers to an already-controversial element of first-person shooter gameplay.
2001 was the year when vehicular action first saw its way into mainstream gaming, especially with the extremely popular Halo being released that year. However, not all people like vehicular sections, largely due to a strong change in the gameplay of an infantry-based game. I'll admit straight out: I like vehicular sections a lot. I'll almost always be the first to hop into a car, or a tank, or some other sort of vehicle. My automotive enthusiasm demands it. However, even I must admit that the vehicular sections of Crysis are not well-done by the standards that dictate the success of these elements of gameplay.
The vehicular sections in Crysis are superficially similar to those in Half-Life 2, in that they are rendered from a first-person perspective. That's something I like. It's the default way it was in Operation Flashpoint, a game which I found had spectacular vehicular sections, it's the way it should be in any driving simulator, and I strongly feel that first-person perspective increases suspension of disbelief in a vehicular section, because it's realistically the way that one would drive in reality. The handling is acceptable, but not excellent, which is not much of a problem either. Where it all starts to fall apart is the extreme sensitivity of the vehicles to any sort of shock.
In a computer game, I expect to be able to crash through a few small trees in my military-specification vehicle without accumulating enough damage to render the vehicle as a moving explosive device, a point which is sorely missed in Crysis. Even the slightest of scratches in a jeep or truck carries the possibility of irreparable and huge damage, which is just about believable by a stretch of the imagination in a jeep, but not so in a huge, several-ton ten-wheel military truck. It got to the stage in these games where I'd drive as far as I possibly could using a single vehicle before jumping out of it and ramming it into the enemy as the aforementioned improvised explosive device, the only task that many of the vehicles seemed capable of. I don't like to abandon any vehicle in any game, and I don't want to have to find a new vehicle every time I come up to a new settlement.
What was frustrating in a jeep or a truck becomes ridiculous when you realise that the same sensitivity occurs with a main battle tank, a 60-ton machine specifically designed to take scratches with impunity. That really destroyed any chance at redemption that the vehicle sections have, and the only mercy is that it is almost unnecessary to take any vehicle along the course of the game, something which many gamers will find a huge relief.
Until they realise that I used the qualifier, "almost". There is a point in the game where it forces you to get into the cockpit of some sort of futuristic VTOL aircraft. The sensitivity to attacks that the other vehicles suffer from is compounded with a frustrating and unintuitive control system. I bought a joystick for flying sections in games, and the game expects me to use the keyboard and mouse? Now, I'm not saying that the keyboard and mouse are incapable of being used for flying sections; I managed quite well flying helicopters in Operation Flashpoint with those sorts of controls. However, what I am saying is that it's very easy to mess up a flight control system when using keyboard and mouse, and that's exactly what they've done in Crysis. This section of the game suffers from quite a big logic problem as well - what the hell are these VTOL transports doing entering into dogfights? It's hardly like the United States are bereft of jet aircraft - they have a brand spanking new carrier just waiting off the coast, and that's got to have at least thirty F-35 Lightning IIs on board. They're much more capable of dogfighting than what they're making the player use in Crysis, for you don't really see AH-64 Apaches or Mi28 Hinds going into dogfights, do you?
Apart from those certain flaws in the presentation of the single player that I've discussed, there are only a few other points to touch on where it comes to where this game is weak. The multiplayer felt like a last-minute add-on, with little of that freedom and that polished presentation which Crysis brings to the board. Where the single player felt like a refined experience, distilling the features of other first-person shooters to a relatively successful mix, the multiplayer felt uninvolved and quite disappointing after the single player experience. Let's just say that it's probably not bound for the tournaments any time soon.
On my first attempt at playing Crysis, as well, a technical issue arose, which I pinned down to the latest game patch that I had installed. What this technical issue caused was exceptionally long save/load times, to the point where my computer just gave up. You'd think if there was something that a big gaming conglomerate like EA could do right, it would be maintaining proper technical care of their games, but apparently, that's just another thing which we're allowed to hate them for. It also points to a worrying trend in PC gaming, something which may be a contributor to the poor sales of PC games as of late - developers shipping products before they are actually ready, leaving the customer to download a gigantic and strictly unnecessary patch just after they buy the game.
Overall, however, I've come out with a positive experience of Crysis, despite how long my "cons" section is versus other reviews that I've played. A polished game, full of professional detail, outstanding and spectacular graphics which fulfill their brief perfectly, a sort of refinement on the whole first-person experience, without any real innovation or strong deviations to a formula that clearly works. It's one of the superior modern first-person shooters, and I would suggest it as a purchase within the genre for the hardcore PC technology enthusiast. I considered it worthy of my money, and I consider it mostly worthy of yours also.