Monday, June 6, 2011

Crysis 2 Review: A Nanosuit-Powered Shrug

Article first published as "Xbox 360 Review: Crysis 2" on Blogcritics.

Crysis 2So here it is.

After all the furor over Crysis 2 featuring “dumbed down” graphics and gameplay in order to make the game playable on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3—including one wonderful complaint that the game will not "stress your new AMD or NVIDIA GPUs”—there comes the game itself.

That sound you don’t hear is me shrugging my shoulders.

I chose to play Crysis 2 on the Xbox 360. It may be blasphemy to some, but I prefer the console controls for first-person shooters to the keyboard and mouse method. I was much more interested in this game for the gameplay than for the cutting-edge graphics.

In the end, I don’t think the choice to play on console was significant. The graphics and gameplay are both fine, but not exceptional.

In Crysis 2, you play “Alcatraz,” part of an elite marine unit sent into Manhattan to retrieve a scientist named Gould. Why would you need special forces to do such a thing? Because most of the population of New York City has been killed by a mysterious disease, and the survivors are hounded by the Ceph, the alien invaders behind the plague. To make matters worse, Dr. Gould is being stalked by mercenaries working for a private corporation that is brutally attempting to contain the infection.

Along the way, you inherit the amazing nanosuit from a marine named Prophet (whom you may remember from Crysis).

The nanosuit is what sets Crysis 2 apart from other first-person shooters. As the game progresses, you unlock its various powers, such as invisibility, shields, infrared vision, power jumps, and so on. You can only use one ability at a time, and they drain the suit’s battery. Once you run out of power, you may find yourself scrambling for cover until your battery recharges.

You’ll find that judicious application of the various nanosuit abilities is necessary to get past the game’s many obstacles. Occasionally, it tips the balance too much in your favor—on more than one occasion I simply cloaked up and sauntered right past my enemies. But mostly it helps you get out of jams or get the upper hand against a swarm of enemy soldiers.

Unfortunately, the suit and its powers are plopped down in an uninspired environment with repetitive enemies.

It’s strange to call this carefully rendered version of Manhattan “uninspired.” It was obviously crafted with an eye for detail and a great deal of graphical skill, but it never really awed me the way, say, Liberty City of Grand Theft Auto IV did. All the landmarks are there in Crysis 2, but the streets and rooftops to which you are confined could have been from any generic city.

Maybe it’s because the game does not let you roam freely. Crysis (and the Far Cry games as well) were distinguished by their openness, which was both fun and a source of trouble. You could easily wander into encounters that were above your ability to handle. Here, you are always restricted to a few blocks or a few rooms at a time. You have to clear them in order to advance, and you cannot return to them later, unless you replay the level entirely.

Or maybe it’s because the city seems inert and empty, like a movie set after the crew has gone home. There is evidence of battle here and there, but almost no people except for mercenaries. I know that the population has been decimated by disease, but aside from one subway scene, no survivors are evident. Even stranger: No dead bodies. I would expect there would be a lot more evidence of such a massive human tragedy. Instead, there’s evidence of battle here and there, but no indication of where all those millions of bodies have gone.

I'd freak out if I saw this in real life, though.
Likewise, the enemies are uninspired. Manhattan seems to be solely populated by mercenaries and aliens. The soldiers are run-of-the mill war shooter enemies: not terribly challenging, but possessing the annoying ability to spot you and begin firing the microsecond you break cover. Their challenge comes largely from clever positioning or numbers.

I was most disappointed by the aliens. They’ve received a nice facelift and overhaul from the first game, and they are certainly more challenging opponents than the soldiers, but they are startlingly generic aliens. Predators without the dreadlocks.

One final nit: This game does not allow you to save when you choose. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t bother me, but the save points in this game are few and far between. That’s a pet peeve of mine.

One save point loaded up with two soldiers directly in front of me, their rifles trained on me. Not cool.

Pros: Decent FPS action; fun nanosuit powers add variety to the gameplay

Cons: Tedious enemies, inert environment, linear

Recommendation: Play it if you need an FPS fix, but don’t expect innovation on the level of Far Cry or even Crysis.

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Check out more Shame Pile reviews, if you're so inclined.

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