A Totally Biased Review: Crysis

Despite being four years old, Crysis still offers a unique, interpetive experience that should not be missed.

He's being attacked by the world's smallest terrorist.

A simple idea. No one seems to be able to, or even want to, stop at times and just appreciate some of the simpler things in life. In a busy world where the internet and mobile devices keep everything constantly interconnected and updated, where everything is immediate and urgent, the simplicity of some ideas can be, and generally is, lost. Take for instance, one simple idea, a moment of genuine discovery: what would it be like to walk through a frozen jungle? Everything perfectly still, glimmering and glistening, everything perfectly encapsulated in the exact moment it was frozen? A barren, white wasteland devoid of live, save for the flora and fauna turned into lifeless, crystalline statues, perfect mockeries of their formerly living selves. This simple idea, a frozen jungle, came to Game Director Cevat Yerli, in a moment of genuine discovery. That discovery led to the creation of this game: Crysis, an online-only rerelease of the critically acclaimed 2007 first-person shooter. And I’m happy to say that that simple idea has lived on and made a wonderful transition to consoles, for all of us who never got to experience it the first time.

As previously stated, the original game debuted in 2007 and was immensely hyped and anticipated, not only for it’s exotic setting and locales (frozen jungle, hello!), but also for the outrageously demanding specs needed for consoles to run the game as intended. The game launched, both a critical and (more importantly) commercial success, despite those demands on PCs. A planned trilogy, just like everything else is these days, the sequel has already been launched for consoles and PCs simultaneously, but we’ll get to that later. Unfortunately, however, due to that this review is colored by my initial experience with the sequel prior to my enjoyment of the original. So, beware the bias! But, you already knew that, ;)

Water runs off the visor after a quick dip. Attention to Detail = WINNING!!!

The game takes place nearly 10 years into the future, in 2020, almost entirely on a fictional island near the Phillipines, called Lingshan. Strange heat signatures and occurences have drawn the attention of a small group of American archaeologists. Unfortunately, those same disturbances also drew the attention of the North Korean army. Upon successful occupation of the island by the North Koreans, the archaeologists send out a distress call, and Special Forces Team Raptor, who all wear experimental, augmenting cybernetic armor called “Nanosuits,” is dispatched to both rescue and evacuate the civilians, as well as gather intel on the strange occurences. Those occurences, of course, turn out to be the doing of some extra-terrestrial invaders. You play exclusively as a member of Team Raptor, call sign “Nomad.” The gameplay and story borrows heavily from the Half-Life playbook by keeping the entire game, save for loading screens, in the perspective of Nomad, which works to great effect in achieving immersion into the game’s world.

And it’s quite an interesting world at that. The decision to keep the forced perspective works wonders for the story, as the developers very early on spoke about “show vs. tell.” And true-to-form, the game and story is told through exciting, action-packed, sometimes tense moments that never pull you out of the experience, working instead to SHOW you what’s going on without spoon-feeding you the story through texts or long, boring exposition. The game goes to great lengths to even consciously avoid this, by keeping things other games would relegate to a menu as on-screen prompt: you can add customizations to your weapon by holding down Back, which makes Nomad hold up his weapon, letting you pick different options using the controller’s face buttons. The constant radio chatter is another aspect that helps enhance the ambiance as well as push the story and gameplay forward: you’ll hear fellow soldiers and teammates struggle and perish, you’ll hear about how the fight fares elsewhere, and so on. It’s also a convenient gameplay device: your CO will provide you with both your next objective, and more importantly, WHY it’s your next objective. The story very early on grabs your attention as well as begins building a little bit of emotional investment, and even just a little bit goes a long way when adding in all the other details of the presentation.

You can even open beer bottles with the asscheeks!

From the get-go, before the game even loads, the versatility and usefulness of the nanosuit is on full-display: a cinematic plays before the title screen appears that shows how it augments both the wearer’s speed and strength to superhuman levels, it acts as nearly bulletproof armor that deflects incoming ballistics fire, the visor can be used to “tag” and track enemies, and the suit can even make it’s user almost completely invisible. Fucking. Rad. The application of these features is mapped quite intuitively to the controller, where the LB and RB buttons turn on Armor and Cloak, respectively. Aside from that, the controls are quite standard for shooters these days, although the game does have that “PC-port” feel where you just feel like you’ve gotten the short end of the stick by aiming without a mouse. Luckily, it’s not too distracting and the well-balanced, open-ended gameplay doesn’t suffer from it, and traversing the different levels is fluid and smooth, with an especially inspired environment without gravity in the middle being particularly enjoyable, albeit awkward, to pass through. The game only occasionally stumbles when a particular sequence is made more frustrating by sparse, or nonexistent, checkpoints.

As stated before, the nanosuit grants both Armor (enhanced damage resistance) and Cloak (invisibility) modes, both of which offer completely different play styles. This open-endedness is further amplified by the setup of the missions and levels themselves. Each area is wide-open enough, and well-balanced enough to cater to someone who wants to tackle the objectives either way: I never felt punished for choosing to go in guns blazing instead of sneaking, and slipping past enemy emplacements felt constantly rewarding. Many games champion themselves as vehicles that give players TRUE choice, but very few of them deliver in spades as abundantly as Crysis does. Those choices sometimes have consequences, however, as the nanosuit’s energy doesn’t last forever. Energy is depleted as any suit power is active, and drains rapidly while taking any excessive damage or while moving, in either Armor or Cloak, respectively. Sprinting also depletes the meter, which replenishes itself after after a few seconds once you deactivate whatever mode you had turned on. It’s a good way to reign-in players who would otherwise waltz around the entire game with one of the modes active, but I couldn’t help feeling like the energy depleted just a hair too quickly. I sometimes felt I couldn’t move from hiding spot to hiding spot with Cloak active, something I found I could routinely do in the sequel. A minor knock, to be sure.

Welcome to Lingshan! Where the beautiful views are puncutated by North Korean soldiers trying to shoot you and aliens freezing you to death! Book your flight now!

As I had previously mentioned, the game sold quite a few graphics cards and processors for the PC industry: building up to its release, it was touted as having the most photorealistic graphics ever, up to that point. Obviously, in the four years since it’s release, graphics have improved well past where they were, but they’ve still aged quite gracefully. The lighting and particle effects are absolutely topnotch, many of the textures, and especially the layout for the levels, almost always look believable. The subtle effects also add a sense of sci-fi stylings as well as a quality, polished finish to the look of the game. The nanosuit’s visor and HUD crackles and malfunctions when you take damage, the visible parts of Nomad’s nanosuit glow red with energy when you sprint, and the creature design is wonderful and imaginitive. In fact, almost everything pertaining to the game’s aliens is unique and inspired looking, as they don’t look quite like any other creature design I’ve ever seen, and the huge, expansive structures and mechanical monstrosities they inhabit look truly otherworldly. The only real gripes I have is a bizarre artifacting that occurs when distant objects slowly “appear” onscreen, and the stiffness of some facial animations, the latter of which was quite good for when it originally debuted.

I had to do a double-take when I saw the caption up top...

There was also a lot of extensive work done in making many parts of the environment destructible, another aspect of the production design that lends itself to believability and immersion. Small, patchwork huts can be blown apart with a grenade, trees can be cut down by concentrated fire, and all of the various crates and barrels that occupy space can be broken. It’s a shame they didn’t also include the ability to shoot through thin walls, a la Modern Warfare, but the huge amount of attention to detail they clearly put into the destructibility certainly goes a long way.

Seriously?! Why me?! Isn't there every anyone ELSE around that can deal with this shit?! God!

That level of detail translates across to very nearly every aspect of the game, particularly one of the most important parts: the sound design. As you may have noticed in my previous review, for me, sound design can make or break a game. It’s just one of those things most people don’t notice. Great sound design is almost always harder to notice, because you aren’t necessarily listening for it if it’s already there; you simply play the game and take it for granted. When good sound design isn’t there, however, the glaring holes in the soundscape are quite apparent, and sometimes even abrasive. Such is not the case here, as almost everything that occurs within the game’s camera is accompanied by a well-implemented sound. Every reload’s sound matches the animation perfectly. Bullets have a believable sound no matter what surface they impact. Sound travels, becomes muffled and echoes realistically across both open, outdoor areas and small, enclosed ones alike. You just don’t notice great sound design in the moment, unless it isn’t there. On the topic of sound, the voicework is generally good, but the game gives you the option of hearing enemy soldiers speak either English or Korean. Based on the difficulty. Kind of an odd design choice, and not one I exactly agree with. The forced english accents sound a little out of place admist the otherwise impeccable sound, and one high ranking North Korean officer in particular approaches the it’s-just-too-much boundary, but doesn’t quite cross it.

The game also features a multiplayer component, which as of this writing I have not tried, and do not plan on trying. I’m sure it features the same, aging leveling up system that every shooter comes with these days, where higher levels unlock more useless bonuses to the gameplay and so on. Frankly, I’m a little tired of multiplayer shooters these days, as the joy to be had from sitting down after playing through the single-player game and jumping into the multiplayer, is nearly nonexistant anymore. The legions of douche bags who sit around and do nothing but play their respective game in their free-time, becoming completely machine-like and ruthless in their immense ability, spoil and ruin the fun when they’re thrown into games with people who like to casually enjoy a little bit of stiff competition, rather than get fuckin’ slaughtered every time we turn around. Jeff Gerstmann said it best in his own Gears 3 review: it’s frustrating in an “I think I’ll just put this up now” sort of way, instead of a “Gee, I’m going to try and get better at this so it doesn’t happen so often” kind of way. That being said, fuck the multiplayer, because I’m not playing it.

A unique experience that no shooter fan should miss.

A simple idea. If you stop for a moment to think about it, a simple idea, born of genuine discovery, can lead to some pretty incredible things. Take this game, for instance. Almost every facet of the game, the story, the gameplay, the design choices, originated from that one, simple idea: what would it be like to walk through a frozen jungle? If you’d really like to find out, Crysis is available on both XBox Live and PSN for $20, a pretty goddamned good bargain, if you ask me. Especially considering none of the Achievements of Trophies are multiplayer based and are earned through playing the single player campaign. SHWING!!! SHWING!!! So, despite being four years old, most of the game has held up and aged quite well, delivering an open-ended, play-it-your-own-way, almost always thrilling experience. And even though there’s a couple of very minor rough edges, there’s still plenty to enjoy throughout the game, courtesy of one simple idea.

If you’ve got any comments, questions or concerns, feel free to leave a comment in the comment box, like you do, and check back for my full review on Crysis 2!

One Response to “A Totally Biased Review: Crysis”
  1. would you rather…

    rex ryans feet

    ben watson’s feet for hands

    lloyd christmas’ pre-ball feet

    or eli manning’s facial expression?

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