Crysis 2 PC Review
It's been a few years since EA and Crytek released their stunning-looking first person shooter, Crysis, and the quick 12-month follow-up, Crysis Wahead. Since then, we've heard the developers talk many times about switching from a PC-only strategy over to a multiplatform system, and they have revamped their engine to deliver some pretty impressive visuals on the 360 and PS3. Most of their sales will likely go to these platforms, but this review is not about Crysis making its way to consoles for the first time. It's about the PC, the place where Crytek started and where they insist their heart still lies. After spending many hours with Crysis 2, I have my doubts, even if what I think doesn't really matter all that much.
This sequel takes place in New York City, in the middle of an overload of chaos as the US government tries to enforce martial law and aliens have infected the human populace. Within minutes of you firing up the game, they begin the real invasion. You play as a regular old soldier nicknamed Alcatraz, but due to some extenuating circumstances, Alcatraz winds up with the nanosuit that Prophet, the leader of the team from the first game, was originally wearing. You'll have plenty of enemies to stand against here, as even though you're pretty much the only dude that can survive against the aliens coming after you, everyone wants to kill you anyway.
Alcatraz is a silent character in the style of Gordon Freeman, and it's not just because they wanted to give players a generic, fresh grunt-soldier type to imagine themselves as. With Crysis 2, the creators have pretty much raised the nanosuit to be the star of the show, and they have done a fantastic job in-game of not only training the player on how to use its super-human functions, but they've also designed nearly the whole game specifically to enable you to use the suit in creative ways. (Sometimes it's a bit too over-designed, though, as you'll rarely find a tactic, hiding spot, or flanking path that wasn't put there by the developers; the creativity is nearly always limited to a particular few parameters.)
Eventually the nanosuit and its origins conflate the story a bit too much, but it's still fun to get into the fictional history of this technology. Once the action behinds, you'll find that the suit works differently than it did in the first game, but it makes pretty much perfect sense why it's done this way. Fewer keys are required to use the suit's four modes, as you only specifically turn on two of them now (armor and stealth); the other two (speed and power) are used whenever you use melee swings, pick up heavy objects, or hit your sprint key. There have been some gripes about this change, but I found it serves as a welcome improvement in usability.
On paper, the PC version of Crysis 2 looks like a slapped-together port. Compare the back-of-the-box features to those of many other games, and you might be wondering what the hell happened. Open level design has been almost entirely scrapped; the game only supports DirectX 9; the many visual tweaks Crytek is famous for have been obscured into the console; there is only a developer-forced checkpoint system and no manual saving at all; and multiplayer only supports 16 player modes.
That would make this game seem horrible for any serious PC FPS veteran, but at least some of these issues aren't nearly as bad as they seem. For one, despite only supporting DirectX 9, Crysis 2 on PC will feed you some of the best visuals you've seen on your PC, even if you're running multiple GTX580s with a three-monitor setup. The thing is, even in the first Crysis, most of the DX10 eye candy was just slower versions of features that you could enable on the console in DX9 mode anyway. On top of this, I'd argue that DX11 features (and hardware) are still in their infancy, as the modest increase in image quality is rarely worth the massive hit to frame rates. With that said, let me be clear here: even only supporting DX9, Crysis 2 looks significantly better than its predecessor. The engine is more scalable too, as even my little Alienware M11X netbook, weighing a mere four pounds and equipped with a modest 1.6GHz Core 2 Duo CPU, 4GB DDR3 RAM, and an Nvidia GTX330M GPU, played the game at 25-30fps with visuals that blow away everything else I've played on the M11X so far.
The multiplayer only supports 16 players, true, but the Call of Duty-style leveling/unlocking system Crytek has added works nicely. The nanosuits' stealth and speed modes become a key element to how most of the multiplayer action plays out; they make for some very unique cat-and-mouse action, and I'm pretty sure that upping the player count to 32 would kind of ruin it. Crysis 2's online mode isn't going to keep you playing for many months, but it should provide a damn solid distraction - even on the PC, and yes, even with a 16-player limit.
Back to the campaign: the move away from open-ended level design is a pretty big issue, and I think there was a step backwards here both in the design of how each level plays out, and in the implementation of AI as well. It was fun seeing the enemy adapt to your movements and then flank you in Crysis, but the narrow pathways you sometimes get in this sequel, or linear "hallway" of closed-off city streets, often leads to the AI being unable to show off any kind of similar ability. I was mostly unable to really tell if the AI was as good in Crysis 2 as it was in the first game, and that's kind of sad because it seems a lot like Crytek specifically worked on level designs that happen to cripple one of the best features of their last game.
One of the most fun things to do in Crysis, at least for a good chunk of people on forums, was to tweak the game to ridiculous levels, trying to eke out maximum visual quality on their systems - especially for a game that was so demanding. Here, you can turn on stereoscopic 3D, change your resolution, brightness, and key/mouse bindings, and then you have a grand total of three detail settings: High, Very High, and Extreme. (Maybe Crytek thought we'd all be too insecure to be able to handle a "low" setting. Reminds me of Starbucks' coffee sizes.) Crysis 2 does include a developer console, though, and this has already proven to allow for some pretty serious tweaking, but it'd have been nice to throw at least a few extra detail options into the menus.
Finally, the lack of any ability to manually save your game means that experimentation for fun has been drastically reduced for all the reasons that I'm sure a seasoned Crysis player will remember. It was fun to experiment with your enemies, to hit the same compound multiple times just for fun, and when the game (rather than the player) gets to decide when to save, then at least some level of control has been taken away from the player. For a game that should be begging players to experiment, I can't think of one good reason to do this.
Despite all these complaints, the Crysis 2 campaign still delivers the great FPS moments and jaw-dropping visuals that you'd expect from anything bearing this name. It doesn't give hardcore PC gamers every little feature they want, and that might be enough to sink the game entirely in many people's eyes, but Crysis 2 is still one of the biggest and most ambitious PC shooter releases in quite a while and it should prove to be well worth the purchase for most. Crytek will almost surely sell many more copies on consoles than on PC, but this game is best experienced, by far, on a solid gaming PC. As long as you don't find yourself getting angry over things like DirectX 11 support or having to go to the console to tweak settings, you'll very likely have a great time.