Let’s kick off with the bad news: Crysis 2 is flawed. It has been streamlined and dumbed down in its transition to consoles, and the results will inevitably disappoint some fans of the PC-only original. The vast open jungles, swamps and icy wastes of Crysis and Crysis: Warhead have been rejected in favour of the tighter urban spaces of New York. There’s less in the way of fully-interactive, fully-destructible scenery, and the AI oscillates between ingenious, dumb and downright buggy. The storyline is over-complicated, and will make virtually no sense to newcomers (and probably not a whole lot more to existing fans). The characters are less vibrant and less interesting this time around.
Everyone clear? Now let’s get real. By any yardstick, this is a phenomenally exciting FPS. Crytek has made some sacrifices bring Crysis to the console platforms, but the team has still done a miraculous job of making one of the most demanding games on a PC work on platforms with a lot less processing horsepower. Crysis 2 is an incredible-looking game, often matching Killzone 3 as the best-looking console FPS, and it’s an absolute blast to play. While all the flaws mentioned above are very real, they only mar rather than wreck the blockbuster experience.
The game’s change of tack is obvious from the start. First of all, the action moves from the islands of South-East Asia to a near-future New York, where a dodgy private military forces, known as Cell, patrol the streets of a city ravaged by an alien virus, and under attack from Crysis’s extra-terrestrial menace, the vaguely octopoid Ceph. You are Alcatraz, a US marine sent on a mission to rescue a renegade scientist, but within the opening minutes you’ll find yourself meeting Prophet, the squad leader from the first game, and donning Crysis’s signature nanosuit. And that’s where the fun begins.
As before, the nanosuit augments your already formidable physical and combat skills. You can boost the armour to repel bullets or survive huge falls, run at inhuman speeds and leap vast distances, grab massive objects or punch and throw foes for dozens of metres using superhuman strength. You can even cloak yourself in near-invisible camouflage.
These powers haven’t changed that much since Crysis: Warhead, but the way that you use them has. Crysis used separate modes for each core power, meaning you could use super-strength, armour, stealth or agility, but not two at the same time. Crysis 2 effectively gives you just two of these basic modes - stealth and armour - but you can use the strength and agility powers in conjunction with them, just by holding the action buttons or clicking down the thumbsticks. It’s a more flexible system, and one that encourages you to mix and match abilities instead of favouring one mode over the rest.
And you will need all of them, because the basic level plan of Crysis 2 is to place you in what amounts to an arena packed with Cell goons or Ceph marauders, with the odds stacked severely in their favour. Your task then becomes finding some way to get from point A to point B in one piece, destroying anyone and anything in your way. While old-hands will miss the massive jungle areas of Crysis and the wider range of blast-able, wreck-able and chuck-able scenery, it has to be said that some of these areas are still pretty big, with multiple floors and rooftop levels or sections of street and plaza, and that the game discretely pushes hit and run tactics over straight out assaults. Sometimes you’re the predator, dropping out of camouflage to notch up a few quick kills, then racing back into hiding while you rest and recharge. At other times you’re a terminator, switching up the armour, blasting everything that moves, then retreating into cover to recuperate. Your suit’s charge is relatively short and your enemies, en-masse, are lethal, so you need to think, plan and move decisively at every turn. And the more dynamic your solution to each problem is, the more interesting and exciting Crysis 2 gets.
This is the best thing about the Crysis sequel; it makes you work. For too long we’ve been playing FPS games full of narrow corridors, scripted sequences and predictable duck, peek and fire combat. Crysis 2 opens things up, pushing you to make your own way through each encounter and try out a range of tactics. The more you play, the more the excellent and reconfigurable weapon set and a system of ability upgrades expands your toolbox and adds new tactical options to the mix. When Crysis 2 is running at full tilt, it feels dangerous, unpredictable and incredibly exciting - and that’s exactly what you should want from an FPS.
Things are spoilt occasionally by the interface and the AI. At first it’s hard to locate where shots are coming from, and throughout the game you’ll find yourself amazed by the eagle-eye markmanship and suspiciously uncanny perception of some foes. You’ll also find the occasional Cell troop jogging on the spot while faced into a corner, or a whole squad struggling to navigate a simple barrier. Let’s not go crazy here. On balance, the AI is mostly pretty sharp, but you can’t help wishing that Crysis 2’s AI was consistently as good as that of Crysis 1, or of Halo: Reach or Killzone 3, now we come to mention it.
One thing that isn’t in doubt is the slickness of the presentation. While Crysis 2’s visuals don’t look quite as clean as Killzone 3’s, it’s a worthy rival. Superb natural lighting and some excellent texture and particle effects combine to create a New York that looks like a living, battle-torn Big Apple, and it comes crammed with enough heavily armed ETs and epic explosions to fill a major blockbuster action movie. Much as we miss the lush jungle scenery and tropical beaches of Crysis and Crysis: Warhead, Crysis 2 still looks like an urban Crysis. It’s a dazzling achievement, though there’s one thing we should make clear: having reviewed the Xbox 360 code, we’ve yet to see it running on the PS3, and there are mixed reports about how well this version holds up.
The action movie comparisons hold a lot of water. Cinematic moments are tossed in from time to time, but they’re used well, and the surging orchestral score helps bring it all to life. Yet, every time, what hits you about Crysis 2 is that it isn’t an interactive action movie where you simply go through the motions, shooting the right people as directed - it’s an interactive action movie where you’re helping to create the action as you go along. While there are big set-pieces, vehicle sections and massive showdowns, there are also plenty of big moments that you can create for yourself.
That’s the single-player campaign, but what about the multiplayer mode? Well, Crysis’s multiplayer options have got better with each new version, and Crysis 2’s - developed the ex-Timesplitters team at Crytek UK - are no exception. It’s fast paced, the nanosuit abilities are well-integrated, and there’s a good working structure, with new classes and play modes unlocking as you go up the ranks, ensuring that players will have a reasonable idea of what’s going on by the time they tackle the more complex objective based game modes. It’s good, but we’re not sure that it’s great. There’s still something about Crysis 2’s multiplayer that doesn’t 100% gel in the way that Halo: Reach or Killzone 3’s multiplayer modes do, and that’s before we start talking about Bad Company 2 or Black Ops. It’s enjoyable and addictive, and curiously old-fashioned in its speed and furious pacing, but it’s missing a distinctive character - and you can guarantee that there will be moans about the opportunities for cheap kills and camping that the nanosuit provides.
Crysis 2 isn’t perfect, and despite Crytek’s claims there has been a reduction in scale to cram it onto the console formats. All the same, it’s a game that rises above its flaws, for the simple reason that there aren’t many shooters of recent years that can match Crysis 2’s fast-flowing, freeform FPS gameplay. It might not come together instantly, but once it does it remains compelling until the end. With a little more tightening this could have been a classic, but as it is it’s a must-have for action gaming fans.