Much like our own world, the Crysis universe changed irreversibly in 2020. We had the coronavirus pandemic, Crytek’s trilogy had an invasion of squid-like aliens called the Ceph. As depressing as it is to think the first Crysis represented 2020 as a far-flung future, it’s a wonder the series hasn’t been treated to a remaster until now. Remastered games mean improved graphics, so where better to start than three CryEngine-powered titles lauded for their technical prowess?

Crytek treated the first instalment to its own remaster last year, which we had mixed feelings about. A year later, the German developer has re-released all three titles — without their multiplayer modes — as the Crysis Remastered Trilogy, with 4K and 60 frames-per-second support when playing on PlayStation 5.

Even on PS4, the first Crysis looks pretty from afar. Light filters spectacularly through palm leaves on the fictional Lingshan Islands, while the clear blue water looks jaw-dropping for a 14-year-old game. Things get uglier up close, though — textures can be low-quality, and characters look too uncanny to take seriously.

There’s a reason Crysis is remembered chiefly for its graphical achievements. Pretty much everything else is either forgettable or absolute dreck — especially its writing. Gameplay falls mostly into the former category. The nanosuit may have been a somewhat novel idea in 2007 — enabling player-character Nomad to boost his armour or go invisible in exchange for rechargeable energy points — but now it just feels clunky and dated. The near-future Call of Dutys of the PS4 era feel far more fluid in comparison, and that’s a hard thing to forget.

The first game’s strengths lie in its comedic physics aspects. Bonking an enemy on the head with a box never gets old, while destructible buildings make for chaotic fights when explosives get involved. Unfortunately, Crytek seems intent on shepherding you into playing stealthily, which is both boring and nigh-on impossible, as enemies can spot you through even the thickest forest. There isn’t even an option for melee stealth kills.

We did experience a number of glitches, including far-away objects popping in and out — though this was before the game’s launch patch released. AI is also questionable, going from eagle-eyed to sometimes not even noticing if you’ve shot someone behind them with a shotgun.

Crysis doesn’t really come into its own until about four missions in, when the stifling forest gives way to wide-open bases to tackle in signature sandbox style. At the halfway mark, things take an interesting and weird turn, with a genuinely fascinating zero-gravity mission set inside a trippy Ceph ship before the game funnels you into a final mission of corridor shooting and disorienting boss fights by way of a helicopter pilot section.

The first game’s biggest curse is it spends its first few hours reminding you of a far better game. Everything from the tropical setting to cinematic black bars separating missions seems designed to jog memories of the first Halo. Strip it to its bare parts and Crysis seems like a tech demo without any developed ideas.

Which is why Crysis 2 seems like an almost different prospect entirely: it feels as if more thought was put into every area. Though the 2011 sequel is more linear, swapping tropical islands for a New York City crumbling under Ceph invasion and martial law, it feels more expansive by opening up the player’s tactical toolkit. Stealth is improved by allowing new protagonist Alcatraz to tag enemies with his binoculars and execute stealth kills. Crucially, though, you become temporarily uncloaked when stabbing, so you need to time attacks correctly to avoid detection.

Gunplay also feels more smooth, while the addition of infrared “nanovision” helps set up some tense set pieces. Generally it’s more fun to take on enemies guns blazing, but the more streamlined level design means it’s also a lot easier to just cloak and simply saunter to your objective. Stealthing around the Ceph is genuinely terrifying at first, but soon enough you’ll figure out you can avoid fighting them at all by just walking past them in cloak mode.

Crytek seems to have done a much better job of remastering Crysis 2; New York City looks pretty stunning, especially at night, though again, textures can be a little grainy when viewed up close. Unfortunately, we did encounter a number of glitches, including falling through floors and being stuck in a T-pose, unable to attack enemies, but these were experienced before the patch was released.

Crysis 2 ultimately benefits from increased ambition and a willingness to get a little weird, even if the ability isn’t quite there. The story takes an interesting turn at the end, even if gameplay-wise the final level is an anti-climax, and the writing is still pretty awful (“I’m just a geeky conspiracy theorist”). Hans Zimmer even helped compose the main theme.

The third game is when Crytek’s execution matches its ideas. Intelligently balancing the first two games by setting the title in an overgrown, post-apocalyptic New York two decades after Crysis 2, it feels a lot more lonely.

This time the protagonist is Prophet, the series mainstay with a great foundation to explore some interesting themes. He’s the world’s last nanosuit soldier, arousing suspicions among allies and jealousy from Psycho, his former comrade from the first game who was brutally “skinned” of his own nanosuit. Both characters feel fleshed out: Prophet struggles with his lack of humanity, while Psycho seems genuinely disturbed at his own vulnerability. Considering the atrocious story of the first game, it’s a miracle.

Crysis 3’s missions are much longer than previous games, giving the gameplay some breathing room and the story time to develop. Prophet’s new compound bow feels a little overpowered — it’s a one-hit kill and doesn’t drain any energy when fired in stealth mode — but it makes stealth the most attractive way to play. Battlefields are more open-ended and enemies can now summon reinforcements, so it’s not without consequence either.

It’s a lot less challenging than previous Crysis games, but the stunning setting — leafy New York is beautiful and the game runs smoothly — and interesting story more than make up for it. It’s easily aged the best of any game in the series, even if it’s a little easy.

The paradox with the Crysis Remastered Trilogy is that the series gets better as it goes on, but jumping in at Crysis 3 is the least rewarding way to play it. Seeing how Prophet’s character evolves over the series and Crytek fine-tunes the gameplay is an interesting example of the trials and tribulations of creating a blockbuster IP from scratch. Whether that’s worth £45 is up to you.

Conclusion

Three ten-hour games in one package might seem good value, but the truth is the Crysis series only hits its stride in fits and spurts until the third game. On PS4 the remastered graphics get better as the series goes on, so there’s no real reason to play the first game unless you’re already a fan or you’re interested to see how Crysis started. Crytek’s series is certainly interesting to dissect as you go through. Consistently fun to play, though? That’s a different story.