This review contains elements of spoilers. I have left most major plot elements out, however if you prefer to know nothing about the game, proceed at your own peril.
Oh, and this is a wall of Text. You were warned.
Firstly, let me just say why I’m reviewing Crysis 2, as I don’t post reviews that often. I honestly feel that it needs someone to say something nice for it, because it’s getting a lot of bad air. And, yes, I’m reviewing the PC Edition.
It’s difficult to review Crysis 2 without talking a lot about Crysis. The original Crysis is still the graphical benchmark. On top of this, it also refined Crytek’s brand of FPS sandbox to near perfection. Crysis put you in a situation, and let you figure our way out of it. The combination of this with industry leading visuals and truly kinetic gunplay made Crysis a real winner. Hell, I was even tempted to buy it despite the fact that it has ‘EA’ on the box – and that’s saying something. Crysis 2, then, has some pretty big shoes to fill.
So, does Crysis 2 live up to its predecessor? Ultimately no, but it does come pretty damn close.
We’ll get the big stuff out of the way first, and the stuff a lot of people are going to want to know about: the technology.
Crysis was built on the CryEngine 2, and requires a top of the line rig to see the visuals maxed. Crysis 2 is built on the CryEngine 3, which was designed from the ground up to be a multiplatform engine capable of looking the same, and running on the consoles and PC with little to no sacrifices. Sounds impossible? Unfortunately it is; there are a few compromises made here that detract from the overall experience.
Crysis featured vast island levels covered in lush vegetation that used DX10 to create near photorealistic environments. On top of this, each level was a self contained sandbox that was open and featured a bevy of tactical options. This enabled the player to pick their path and, when combined with the Nano-suit’s powers, Crysis became a game that each person was going to experience differently.
Crysis 2, on the other hand, is far more linear. How does this tie into the visuals? Simple; smaller levels mean a smaller memory footprint, accommodating to the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3’s inferior memory capabilities. To compensate for this, however, each level packs a superior amount of intricate detail compared to the original Crysis. The vast cityscape of New York that you play through is truly awe-inspiring. From the vast skyline to the intricate debris, there’s simply more here than trees and bushes. The lighting in particular is possibly the best I’ve ever seen running with my own two eyes; the nighttime battle around Grand Central Station is a particular “wow” moment, with enemy mortar fire lighting up the sky and bullets and explosions acting like strobe lights around you. It’s truly incredible work.
However, the package isn’t all roses. The frankly amazing texture work in the original Crysis is absent here; Crysis 2’s textures – while still leagues ahead of the gritty shader covered crap we see in the Unreal Engine 3 – are noticeably less sharp and a touch blurry. They’re still utterly fantastic, though it’s simply not quite as good as Crysis’.
Another area that was clearly compromised is enemy A.I. This is obviously to accommodate the lowest common denominator of the somewhat lacking processing power of the Xbox 360, as I imagine the PS3’s Cell Processor would be more than up to the task of handling Crysis’ A.I. I’ll cover this better further down, but it’s worth noting that the A.I. is noticeably worse.
Yet another point of compromise is the physics system. Crysis enabled procedural destruction; you could quite literally throw people threw shacks and watch as they collapsed in a convincing fashion. Many YouTube movies show off the power of Crysis’ physics in some pretty incredible displays; Crysis 2 features absolutely none of that. The physics here is the basic physics system we see in all modern FPSs; it’s there to make explosions feel more powerful – like when you take down an enemy chopper - and to provide ragdoll effects. Apart from that, the physics system is basically absent, which is a massive shame. While small sections of the environment are destructible, it’s mostly limited to corners of pillars and small chunks coming off of cover; the physics here doesn’t actually affect the gameplay and it’s mostly handled via the admirably powerful particle system. Things break off and then disappear. Weak stuff, really, when compared to the original, but still good.
A big point of mention is that Crysis 2 only supports Direct X9, regardless of what was said prior to launch. There are no DX10 or DX11 features of any kind, and the game doesn’t acknowledge those versions at all.
Now, some of this might sound like nit-picking – and frankly some of it is – however all of these items were things Crysis absolutely nailed, and these features were stripped down, or removed entirely, to accommodate the console versions of the title. Considering its lineage, it’s hard not to feel disappointed or even insulted that PC Gamers get the shaft this time around. Graphics options, for example. There are literally zero. You can select “High” or “Extreme”, but it lacks anyway to further customize. A massive oversight and it’s frankly unacceptable.
Having said that, it all has one major benefit: performance. Crysis 2 runs on a wider range of systems, and looks better than any DX9 game before it. Unreal Engine 3, this generation’s most overused engine, can’t hold a candle to the CryEngine 3 and its technical wizardry. From the subtle way that light moves through tree leaves as you make your way through a collapsed and dust choked freeway, to the sheer spectacle of shooting down an enemey helicopter and watching it fall several stories onto damaged cars below, all as debris and bodies cascade about, Crysis 2 looks absolutely fantastic. I played through the entirety of the game with settings completely maxed, including forcing maximum AA through my ATI Control Center, with barely a hint of slowdown. Impressive, to say the least.
Overall, Crysis is still better visually, and it’s simply far more impressive. Maybe that’s due to the incredible vegetation, DX10’s superior shaders, or the sheer scale offered in Crysis. Or maybe it’s simply because Crysis was the first time I’d ever seen that level of visual presentation. Who knows. Still, Crysis 2 sure is pretty, and leaves everything else on the market behind.
So, with the diminished visual prowess, does the gameplay of Crysis 2 rise to the challenge of carrying the slack? Mostly yes, and some no. The core of Crysis 2 is still as rock solid as the original and it features some pretty awesome running battles. Much like the original, it begins with you fighting soldiers – or Private Military Contractors, as the case may be - and progresses towards you fighting better soldiers with bigger guns. Their tactics don’t overly change, however the environments and situations are different enough that you never feel like you’re simply doing the same thing over and over again. The verticality of the environments makes everything feel different to the original, however it doesn’t add quite as much depth to the levels as the Developers had said prior to release. The levels both look and feel significantly smaller than Crysis’ levels. The verticality promotes sniping and stealth more so than a full frontal assault, however both options are readily available at basically any point in the game, and this brand of gameplay has lost none of its incredible appeal.
One memorable encounter began with me high above the street in a parking garage. After surveying the situation, I kicked a car down as the patrol on the road below moved by, and followed it by throwing an explosive barrel down to remove some of the soldiers who had responded to their fallen comrades. I spotted a nearby pillar and formulated a basic plan; I shot the barrel, sending bodies flying, before jumping down behind the burning wreckage. I then cloaked and ducked around behind the enclosing enemy before stealth killing one, and running behind the pillar to recharge suit energy and reload under a hail of gunfire. I activated armour, leant out and downed two guys closing in on my position before leaning back in. I crouched and took a better look at my environment, formulating another basic plan. I activated cloak and swiftly flanked my opponents, before dropping a grenade under the nearby truck mounted machine gun, before sprinting back behind the nearby wreckage as it erupted behind me. I once again activated armour and stood up, engaging the last two remaining guys front on. As I stood victorious and reloaded, I heard yelling coming from the distance; my opponents had managed to get a flair off and had called in a bevy of reinforcements.
This type of encounter is very common, and forms the basis of Crysis 2. And it absolutely bloody rocks.
After a number of encounters, you eventually come face to face with the alien invaders from Crysis. However, they’ve undergone a significant transformation since the original, and not for the better – which is one of my major issues with Crysis 2. Instead of squid-like monsters flying too and froe, catching you off guard and forcing you to change up your tactics from those you used against the human opponents, they’re more humanoid like in their appearance and behaviour. Instead of tentacle monstrosities from beyond the stars (or under the ground, as it might be) we get aliens that wouldn’t look too out of place in Halo. Instead of freezing the environment for terraforming purposes, they now recycle human bodies to form bio-matter. What this means is that the feeling of originality that the aliens brought to Crysis is lost. Nearly entirely. They behave much like the human opponents, and although they jump around a bit more, it results in far too similar firefights for my liking. None of these changes are explained, I might add.
Considering that the squids in Crysis were capable of self-propulsion and able to fly around the environment, it seems illogical that the aliens would then deploy units that can’t fly as the focus of their invading force into the urban environment of New York City; flight would be an incredible tactical advantage or at the very least a terrific supplement to their ground forces. Furthermore, it was explained in Crysis that the alien’s suits enabled them to survive the different conditions of Earth, and that the freezing was apart of their colonization efforts. However, the aliens in Crysis 2 are mostly uncovered and exposed to the environmental conditions of our planet. It simply doesn’t make sense. Now, if they wanted more human-like aliens, that’s fine; include the alien’s from Crysis in tangent with the aliens in Crysis 2 and make them feel like a big, multi-tiered invasion force. Instead, the aliens now look, act and simply feel like an entirely different enemy than the first game; it hurts the overall experience quite a bit considering it’s supposed to be a direct sequel.
Coupled with this failing, or perhaps derivative from it, is the story – another major issue. Now, Crysis didn’t exactly have a masterful, rounded and expertly told story. It was basically an excuse to shoot things. However, it was layered, developed, and told a story that went from cliché to downright interesting over the course of the game. It developed quite a lot of momentum in the second and third acts, and by the time the finale rolled around on the Air Craft carrier, Crysis felt like a truly epic experience. The ending completely crapped out however, and felt incredibly weak, however the journey to that point was worth the asking price.
Crysis 2 captures some of that same magic, and the momentum build up is still present, however it just feels so horribly disconnected. The protagonist of the first game, Nomad, is entirely absent. Without any explanation. Prophet, a secondary character from the first game, is kicked into centre-stage and forms a core component of the story, while you play as a Marine called ‘Alcatraz’. Last name? Code name? Who knows. How Profit got from the island in the cliff hanger ending of the original game to New York City is never properly explained, though from the flashback videos it seems that he moved through an alien structure on the island, and came out in the waters around New York City. Which makes no sense, considering the geological positions of both. How he managed to get an entirely different Nano-suit in the process – which is acknowledged as being different – is also never addressed. In fact, so little is explained and so little information is given, that it’s hard to really call Crysis 2 a proper sequel. It feels like an in-between story, or a side story. It also feels that the writers didn’t have any idea how to develop Crysis 2 from the ending of Crysis, and so opted to simply ignore it where needed. Furthermore, it feels like someone played the Half-Life series and realised that sometimes “less is more” and then assumed that critics and gamers would make up the plot holes with “lore”, much in the same way as we apparently did for the Half-Life series. Unlike Half-Life, however, there isn’t a G-Man here. There isn’t an inter-dimensional portal, or technology bordering on magic, that helps to explain the lapses and holes. And, most importantly, unlike Half-Life we’re simply not playing the same character. And we’re never told why. Changing protagonists is fine, however at least bloody acknowledge that it’s happened, and support it with the story. It really hurts the overall experience quite a bit, and drags the game down far more notches than it should have. What ultimately saves it is that the series of events that unfold while you play – as in, within Crysis 2’s own narrative arc – snowball momentum, much like the first game. By the time the end rolls around, Crysis 2 feels like a truly epic experience. It’s just one that doesn’t really make as much sense as I’d hoped, which disappoints. Within that narrative arcs is a particular series of developments that I feel really elevates the material; your character is basically broken, and the suit is all that is keeping them alive. At numerous points in the game, your character actually dies and the suit has to revive them via in-built systems. This might not sound like something worth special attention, however I think it’s a masterstroke. Your character is fighting tooth and nail through some of these encounters, like the one I mentioned above, and it feels like that is acknowledged as the game progresses. Instead of the super-human-invincible-near-god-like-warriors from Call of Duty, who walk away when the credits role and with a fist bump as they crack open a beer, we have a real human character who’s taking some serious bloody damage. It’s ironic; in a game where your inside of a super suit that is nearly impervious to damage, I felt more vulnerable than as a “normal soldier” in most of the crap FPS that clutter the shelves today. Gold star Crytek.
Now, it might sound like I didn’t have that much fun with Crysis 2, however that’s untrue. Unlike some FPSs released over the last year or so, Crysis 2 differentiates itself from the rest of the crowd as opposed to attempting to better blend in. With most publishers chasing the ‘Military FPS’ subgenre to snag a bit of the Call of Duty profit pie, Crysis 2 does as much as it can to make itself feel like a unique experience. And it’s certainly welcome. Chiefly evident of this is the Nano-suit, which actually saves the game from many of it’s failing. The tactical options it opens up at any given moment really expand the game, and truly make it a thinking man’s FPS. Some of the biggest complaints leveled at Crysis 2 on the official forums come from console players complaining that the game is too complicated, and that a lot of the visual cues aren’t explained – like when the alien weapons blur your screen, evidence that they’re affecting your suit’s internal systems. One particular rant literally wanted the Nano-suit shit removed and smaller levels. I kid you not. PC players actually argue it’s not complicated or big enough. I’m happy to sit in the middle area that Crysis 2 occupies. You’re never overwhelmed, and yet you’re never without options. You’re never confused as to what to do or where to go, and you’re only occasionally placed in a completely linear, no-options-just-shoot-shit-COD-style-baby-America-Fuck-Yeah! situation that causes my eyes to glisten over and my brain to turn off.
Ultimately, Crysis 2 tries to have its cake and eat it too. It’s not open enough to compete with Crysis and not linear enough to compete with Call of Duty, and normally a game that tries this tight rope walk, between complicated and simple, fails so hard that it ruins the franchise *cough*Supreme Commander 2*cough*. Crysis 2 actually, almost unbelievably, does it. It’s open enough that it’s better than Call of Duty and linear enough that it gets it spectacle across sufficiently. I won’t lie and say I didn’t want bigger, more open environments at times. However, I can’t say I was utterly displeased with what I got, either. This is a game that walks the tight rope and doesn’t fall.
Now, having said that, it’s not without its bad points, either. The game lists the second lowest difficulty level of four as the one for “experienced FPS players”. Ignore this; it’s there to make console-tards feel like real men. On anything other than the third and forth difficulty levels, the game is a cake walk. Luckily, you can alter the difficult on the fly – a smart move, which saved me having to repeat a large chunk of the game. Another gold star to Crytek for that one. Cranked up, the A.I. is actually smarter, though still not on the same level as the first game, and you’re really pushed to use the Nano-suit to survive, which creates some incredibly tense moments. However, the A.I. ultimately is the weak link here. One particular moment that I remember, was where I was able to take out a squad of enemies simply by standing a bit back from them and taking the time to aim for their heads one by one. They didn’t react a whole lot to this, either. The aliens suffer from the same problem, and react in a similar brain dead manner. At times, the A.I. gave me a real run for my money, and yet at times I had to wonder if it was even turned on. If Crytek can patch it and make it work consistently, the single player campaign is something I’ll happily revisit more than once.
Now, to the single biggest issue I have with Crysis 2: multiplayer. I’m not going to dress this up, so brace yourself: it’s the most pathetic fucking shit I’ve seen in a long time. And I was there for Demigod’s launch. Crysis 2’s multiplayer simply doesn’t work. It won’t accept my CD Key, despite having to register it to activate the game. When it does accept my Key – at random, I might add – it’ll often forget it and I’ll have to re-enter it. Time and again. Assuming the stars have aligned and the game lets me actually get into the multiplayer screen, the filter system doesn’t actually filter the games searches, rather it only filters what it displays. As such, it can take some ten full minutes for it to get around to locating local servers for me. Oh and there’s no quick refresh. On top of this, each time it adds a server to the list, which is a handful every second, it resets the list’s position. If you’re scrolling through, it’ll send you back to the top of the list each and every time. This means you can’t highlight an acceptable server and then click join; you have to wait for the entire list to populate before you’re even physically able to select a server to join. Disgraceful. It only gets worse from here. Joining a server, you’ll often be told your key is already in use and be booted back to the menu, or due to the terrible population time of the server list, the server has filled up while you waited. On top of this, the lowest reported ping time from any server regardless of location has been 109ms. This renders the “ping” filter worthless. If you somehow manage to get into a server – which I’ve done a grand total of twice – your ping is actually less; mine was 56ms - however you can be randomly booted out, disconnected, frozen in place randomly, or banned as the protection server has registered your CD Key as “in use” and thinks your hacking. Oh, and thanks to the limited attention the PC release got prior to launch, there have been reports that pirates are actually able to play online.
On top of this, Crytek have stated they’re working on a patch already. Things listed for the patch they’ve confirmed they want to address so far? Glad you asked:
Add DX10 and DX11 support and features to the entirety of the game.
Revamp the entire multiplayer interface and code.
Revamp the online authentication experience from the ground up.
Patch the A.I. to make it competent.
Complete and release modding and map making tools.
Address the bugs and glitches being reported.
Now, remember: this is an EA Game. After 30 days from launch, no more support will be given, and the development team will move full-scale onto their next title. This happened with DICE and Battlefield: Bad Company 2, despite promises to the contrary. It’s also happened for every Sims expansion pack and – of course – SPORE. This means that the multiplayer component of Crysis 2 doesn’t work, and most likely never will. Period.
Does Crysis 2’s single player game carry the entire experience for the asking price? Yes, actually. I’d happily recommend it at around the AU$80.00 price mark or less. It’ll certainly be worth snagging if/when it comes up for a sale. If – and I believe it won’t happen – Crytek get the multiplayer experience working, then the whole package only gets better. If Crytek patch the A.I. it make it consistently good – and I believe it won’t happen – then Crysis 2’s excellent single player campaign only gets even better. And if both things happen, and I believe that it won’t, then it’d be hard not to recommend the game for anyone who enjoys FPS and don’t consider whichever the most recently released Call of Duty game is the best game in the world.
Ultimately, I’m giving Crysis 2 four stars. I so badly want to give it five stars, but the weak A.I. and completely broken multiplayer simply prevent it. If these issues both get addressed, and the multiplayer turns out to be fun, then I’d happily bump Crysis 2 into the five star category. At the end of the day, Crysis 2 is simply a great game that could have been utterly amazing if wasn’t held back by the console focus that prevented the A.I. and multiplayer from getting the attention it so clearly needed. Buy it.