Initially, the game assumes far too much from the player. It presents you with a catalogue of mechanics but never gives you a detailed explanation on how to use them. It also throws you in at the deep end from a narrative perspective, filling the screen with black-outs, explosions and plot-twists that never really seem to go anywhere.
You learn to cope with the fiction. Crysis 2 depicts a convoluted, ostentatious story about aliens and a dude in a suit... We'd love to tell you more, but short of copying the synopsis from Wikipedia, we just wouldn't know where to begin. It's cluttered, complicated and poorly written. All you really need to know is that you play as a super-soldier named "Alcatraz" and there are aliens all over New York. Presuming you can cope with Crytek's narrative self-indulgence, you'll be fine.
Unfortunately, its harder to forgive Crytek's butchered presentation of the game mechanics. Crysis 2 is a fantastic game once you know how to play it, but Crytek is so concerned with throwing the player in and out of consciousness over the first couple of hours (really!) that the developer forgets to explain how any of the gameplay actually works. And its a catastrophic omission, because Crysis 2 is unlike virtually every other first-person shooter on PlayStation 3. It relies on sandbox combat, giving you a gigantic battlefield to see off the enemy in any tactical regard you see fit. This type of gameplay will be nothing new to XBOX 360 owners — the Halo series has been closely associated with this style of gameplay for years — but its largely uncharted territory for PlayStation 3. Crytek give you a number of tools to deal with its sandbox environments — your protagonist can turn invisible with a quick flick of the R2 button, and coat himself in bullet-proof armour with L2. Both of these mechanics are key to the experience, allowing you to quickly switch between direct combat and stealth, but the game never even attempts to explain their merits. Crytek's inability to effectively communicate make Crysis 2's opening hours feel like an exercise in patience. Thankfully the game's use of Crytek's new game engine fare stronger from the off-set.
We're certain more has been said about Crysis 2's engine than the game itself. Utilising CryEngine 3, Crysis 2 is undoubtedly one of the best looking games on the PlayStation 3. Comparisons will be drawn to Killzone 3, and while Crysis 2 doesn't always reach the dizzying heights of Guerrilla's first-person shooter, it comes startlingly close for a multiplatform release. What's most impressive about Crysis 2 is the sheer amount of detail on screen at any particular moment. There's a cinematic tone to the image quality that's visually unlike anything else on PS3. It's hard to justify with words, but when you walk through the game's recreations of downtown New York, it captures a cinematic feel that's closer to a movie than a video game. There are some aliasing and brightness issues that hinder the visual clarity slightly, but it's still a stunning achievement for a multiplatform game. Personally, we're crossing everything in hope that the CryEngine 3 supersedes Epic's Unreal Engine as the de-facto multiplatform game engine. Crytek's tech is in a whole different league.
Crysis 2's single-player campaign will take you around eight hours to complete on the game's standard difficulty, with online multiplayer included to extend the experience. We'll take a look an in-depth look at Crysis 2's multiplayer in a future article. The game also includes support for 3D televisions if you have the compatible technology.
The build-up to Crysis 2 has largely swirled around the furore attached to the game's CryEngine technology. Crytek previously promised to set the graphical bar across all three platforms: PlayStation 3, XBOX 360 and PC. While the developer hasn't quite managed to topple the likes of Killzone 3 and Uncharted 2, Crysis 2 comes frighteningly close for a multiplatform game. The developer can at least feel satisfied in the knowledge that it absolutely has crafted the best looking multiplatform title we've ever seen. There's a real natural look to Crysis 2, that does away with the superficial saturation of other games. Crysis 2 looks almost photographic in places, particularly in scenes where you're looking down a desecrated New York commercial district. The level of detail is staggering, with Crytek taking the time to render each scene with obsessive detail. It's even more impressive when you take into consideration the sandbox nature of Crysis 2. While the game is not "truly" open, it is certainly much larger in scope than other corridor shooters such as Killzone 3 and Call Of Duty: Black Ops. By that margin, Crytek deserve a tremendous amount of credit for setting the graphical benchmark so high with a game that's much more open-ended than its immediate peers. In addition to the overall visual composition, Crytek's got some crazy technology running under the hood. Crysis 2 has some of the best water we've ever seen in a video game, and the lighting too, with slight colour separation, is absolutely gorgeous. One mission in the middle of Times Square is a real highlight that showcases the strengths of CryEngine 3's lighting model.
Crytek does a terrible job explaining the mechanics of Crysis 2's gameplay, but once you get a grasp on the game's unique play-style it's instantly gratifying. The game is constantly providing you with tactical options, but it leaves play-style decisions very much down to you. You can choose to tackle an encounter with stealth, using the protagonist's invisibility cloak to pick off enemies one-by-one. Alternatively you can utilise armour, to command shootouts with aggression. Both mechanics drain your energy bar, which falls quicker whilst you are moving. The trick is to plan each encounter appropriately and have contingencies for when things go bad. The AI is pretty solid throughout, though its not necessarily outstanding on the standard difficulty setting. It's the set-up of the battles that makes the gameplay tense. Crytek piles a lot of enemies on screen and it forces you to make use of the environments and mechanics made available. It's also part of the reason Crysis 2 takes such a long time to get into. If you try to play the game like a traditional shooter, you'll quickly get obliterated by the AI characters. You need to play slowly and smartly. It'd be nice if Crytek did more to help establish the mechanics, but you will get used to them over the course of the campaign.
While Crysis 2 gives you the tools to play how you choose, we had the most fun playing stealth. Using the game's cloaking mechanic, you're able to easily pass between enemy characters, picking them off with silent melee attacks as you move. It's cool watching the enemies get more confused as their numbers dwindle, despite there being no visible threat in the area. Crysis 2 does a great job of making you feel like a bad-ass once you understand how to work within the confines of its toolset.
Set-pieces. While the story never really makes sense — partly because of the amount of crazy action Crytek throws on the screen — Crysis 2 is littered with amazing set-pieces. These range from falling buildings, to boss fights with enormous two-legged mechs and, well, the entirety of Central Park lifting out of the ground. Our favourite set-piece comes after a shootout in Times Square though. Suddenly there's a blackout, and you're plunged into darkness. It's such a simple effect, but the sudden, abrupt cut of lighting creates a great feeling of isolation.
With input from legendary composer Hans Zimmer, Crysis 2's soundtrack has a moving orchestral body with a quirky science-fiction twist. The audio drives the gameplay well, and while it's nothing particularly original, is totally befitting of the fiction.
While Crysis 2's gameplay is a lot of fun, it can take a while before you begin to scratch the surface. This is partly because of Crytek's desire to not hold the player's hand. While we enjoyed the open nature of Crysis 2's gameplay, we felt a bit more direction in the game's opening hours would have improved our experience with the game dramatically. Ultimately we learned the mechanics through trial-and-error, which doesn't seem like the optimal method of teaching players how to play a pretty unique game.
Crysis 2 is a pretty self-indulgent game. Beyond all the science-fiction terminology and nonsensical plot-twists, there just doesn't seem to be any structure to what's happening in the game's fiction. Even after reading about the fiction for the previous games, we really struggled to get a grasp of what's going on in Crysis 2. Our advice? Enjoy the cut-scenes for the graphics and don't try to comprehend the plot.
Because Crysis 2's plot makes so little sense, the game quickly gets repetitive as you're constantly ordered by an array of irritating commanders to "go here, and do this". There doesn't seem to be any structure to what's happening, you're just following way-points. The issues are emphasised by the fact that you play as an unstoppable war machine who supposedly believes everything that he's told. You're still forced to take orders after being double-crossed goodness knows how many times.
We're going to keep criticising it until developers start to pay attention. What's the point in crafting gorgeous cut-scenes if you're going to compress them to hell and back before putting them on the screen? Crysis 2 has some of the worst cut-scene compression we've seen in recent years. It's a real travesty for a game that looks so darn good.
Crysis 2 takes a long time to get going, but the game eventually hooks you with its sandbox combat and stunning visuals.