Crysis has long been a mantlepiece on the fireplace of PC gamer pride. For four years, it’s been the un-portable game and a symbol of PC superiority – both for its graphical sophistication and because it features the kind of freedom-filled gameplay the PC gaming demographic admires. Then Crysis 2 was released multiplatform, and the gameplay felt it. Though still not as linear as the average console FPS, Crysis 2 could no longer be spoken of as a “sandbox-shooter”. Which is why console-only gamers ought to be interested in a re-release of the original Crysis’ single-player in this mostly unaltered form.
The game’s un-thrilling storyline is mostly context for you to hunt gun-toting soldiers in jungle environments, but let me synopsize it nonetheless: A group of American archeologists discover some Mysterious Stuff (TM) on an island near the Philippines. Soon after, the North-Korean military invade the island and the archeologists send out a distress signal. You are a member of the US Delta Force team (strangely including a member with a London accent) sent in to recover the archeologists. But shortly after parachuting onto the island, your squadmates start getting killed off by what’s best described as flying robotic squid. Your rapidly decreasing number of living squad members casually shrug this off as something that’s just a bit weird, and deem it better to focus on the mission at hand than bother with the petty discovery of extraterrestrial creatures. The game drops hints so obvious it’s barely a spoiler to reveal these squids turn out to be aliens, which is the game’s primary plot-twist and what sets off its eventual decline in gameplay quality.
Brief history lesson:
With Far Cry in 2004, German developer Crytek showed the FPS genre the way forward in the same year Doom 3 showed it the way backwards. Where Id’s game was set in restrictive metallic corridors, Far Cry’s levels were ultra-wide paths with confrontations happening across hundreds of square meters. And while it’s true that it eventually deteriorated into a series of corridor-crawls with flesh-colored mutants charging towards you, Far Cry had made its point: Freedom was the way forward for first-person shooters.
Crysis, the spiritual successor, was released three years later to great hype about it being the most graphically advanced game of all time and subsequently impossible to port to consoles. But more importantly, it was positioned to expand on the ideas of Far Cry and offer even more open combat goodness. And for three fifths of the game, it does. It’s a serious shame the last 90 minutes are such a deterioration.
See, when Crysis is good, it’s astonishingly good. Even four years on, the game (that is, the good part) leaves contemporary shooters looking like antiques. You’ll carefully navigate down jungle roads, hear the rumble of a patrol car, dive into roadside bushes and “tag” the vehicle passing by. You’ll examine military bases from hilltops and contemplate, “from which side of this gigantic valley do I strike?”. You’ll creep into shanty-towns and silently murder everyone inside. Or you wont. Maybe you’ll climb the highest mountain in range, get out a rocket launcher, and level the whole town from range. Maybe, instead of hiding from the previously mentioned patrol car, you’ll shoot its driver and get behind the wheel yourself.
“Enabled but under constant threat“ would be a good way to summarize the Crysis’ experience. Your ability comes both from the massive environments and from the SUIT OF KEVLAR MUSCLE your character is wearing. The so-called Nanosuit enables you to sprint, power-jump, power-punch, increase damage resistance and turn invisible, all governed by a recharging meter. Extra abilities in FPS games were nothing new even in 2007, but Crysis sets itself apart in how elegantly they complement the gameplay. Far from the gimmicks they tend to be elsewhere, Crysis’ suit powers encourage experimental play, rather than being win buttons.
But being highly enabled is no fun if you don’t have an opposing force to test yourself against, and Crysis delivers here too. Your enemies are armed to the teeth, and often holed up in defensible locations surrounded by machinegun-bunkers, sniper-towers, patrolling helicopters, tanks, humvees and minefields. Not to mention the soldiers outside the bases, who frequently catch you unawares and subsequently fill your behind with lead. Their AI, while experiencing the odd “senior citizen moment”, performs adequately too.
The sense of being extremely capable and being faced against mighty opposition is nothing short of thrilling and is a cornerstone of Crysis’ appeal. You have to constantly be wary of your surroundings and think three steps ahead, and this makes moment-to-moment gameplay very rewarding.
After around five-six hours of this greatness, the game suddenly falls apart. Over the remaining 90-120 minutes, Crysis manages to commit every cardinal sin possible by a first person shooter. There’s a terrible mini-boss fight. There’s a frustratingly long zero-gravity section where you fly about gunning down gelatinous mermaids. There’s an escort mission through a linear environment that is spent shooting hovering drones and the aforementioned flying robo-squid. There’s a Doom 3-esque corridor level set aboard an aircraft carrier. And, as the game’s finale, there’s a glitchy and frustrating boss fight against a colossal crab-like bullet sponge. What happened?
Where the game’s earlier scenarios are brilliant, forward-thinking game design, the final 30-40% feel like long-irrelevant leftovers from mid-90’s FPS philosophy. The foes you fight in these parts have no interesting AI patterns to figure out, are always aware of your location, and are fought in restrictive environments not allowing flanking techniques. Tragically, Crysis repeats Far Cry’s mistake in a big way.
So how does the Xbox port of this Greek tragedy perform in comparison to the PC original? Patchily. It’s still visually impressive but suffers from unacceptable amounts of slowdown and framerate drop during intense combat. It can get near-unplayable. Luckily, you’ll seldom be subject to these issues if you play stealthily, but more aggressive tactics will yield firefights that hamper the performance to varying degrees, depending on the amount of vehicular and infantry units involved. There’s also a very prevalent glitch with the music: It would near-infallibly stop mid-track in a very jarring fashion instead of smoothly ending. This occurred during the final cutscene, butchering the mood. Closing out the differences between console and PC versions, there’s a gunship-piloting level which has been cut from this version, but I can’t attest to its quality or importance.
The dramatic dip in quality seen in the last levels of Crysis lowers it from the status of “must-play” to that of “worth trying”. The technical problems of the Xbox version decrease that status even further, making it a dubious recommendation, especially at a price tag above XBLA/PSN titles of a higher quality.
Pros: Forward-thinking and well executed FPS gameplay during the majority of the game, great visuals.
Cons: Horrible quality dip in final two fifths, reoccurring technical issues, unexciting storyline.
3 out of 5