Review: Crysis 2 (PC)

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Crysis 2 won’t bring your reasonably aged system to its knees. At least it spared my dual-core from humiliation.

I remember playing the first Crysis on my PC and hearing the hardware cry out in pain as it crushed circuits and drivers together in an atomic reaction of splitting zeroes and ones. Okay, maybe it didn’t turn my PC into a sun, but it did make most every hardware setup out at the time feel obsolete at the highest settings.

It wasn’t without reason, though. Visually, the sandbox jungle of the game looked incredible and the alien areas towards the end were awe inspiring. This was something that couldn’t be ported to consoles without sacrificing its reason for being. It would be like forcing Leonardo da Vinci to do Sunday comics for the local paper with only stick figures.

Whether it was a case of poor optimization or technology too far ahead of its time is still debatable, but a few years later, we now have Crysis 2 for both PCs and consoles. And the good news is that it runs pretty well – and looks really good – on less-than-cutting-edge hardware.

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You play as Alcatraz, a US Marine being sent to New York City with a squad to retrieve a scientist. The reason for calling these guys out is because New York City is currently under siege by an alien invasion – the same aliens that had been awakened in the first game. Apparently they’ve been busy since then. Not only have they been wrecking everything in their path, but a plague has also begun wiping out the population. So actually, sending the Marines might not be enough.

And it isn’t. After an attack leaves you as the only survivor, a key character from the first game arrives to make sure you live through the experience – and give you the tools for the job with a state-of-the-art nanosuit that will be all that stands between you and a fast death.

Crytek went all out when it came to the story for the second game. The first had one that was just merely okay – the gameplay and vast, open sandbox that it gave players made it pretty forgettable aside from the fact that we accidentally awakened sleeping aliens who aren’t too happy to see us. Now, plenty of in-game cuts and voiced dialogue are crammed into Crysis 2′s action-packed narrative to try and provide as much entertainment as the action. For the most part, it works, especially when it all ends in an explosive climax that makes watching all of it worth the effort. This, after an incredible twelve or so hours of fighting making it one of the longer FPS games out there.

New York City’s vivid destruction is captured with plenty of eye-bleeding detail, whether it’s a sewer or standing in front of the New York Public Library thanks to a new and improved version of CryEngine. Curiously, though, the PC version has had the finer options for tuning performance gutted by providing generic categories instead. Setting your PC’s graphical settings to “Gamer” or “Advanced” (though a recent patch had reworded these into “High” and “Very High” for no apparent reason) is all that PC players will get. Yet even on the lowest setting, New York City looks exceptional, sparing some of us from having to upgrade anything.

All of this also creates the illusion of being a vertical game, though quite not to the degree that Bad Company does with its freeform take on buildings and destructible sets. It certainly doesn’t feel as open as the first game due to the setting, but at the same time, it does pepper every area with as many vantage points as possible. Sneaking or fighting is still up to the player, though whether it’s done from across a rooftop or from behind a newspaper kiosk on the street is up to you.

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The big thing that Crysis 2′s action has going for it is the new and improved nanosuit from the first game though fans will definitely note the changes. Strength, which was used for jumps, vehicle killing kicks, is now active all the time under a general “Power” mode. Armor still gives you added protection by deflecting damage to energy reserves while at the cost of mobility. Cloak has been renamed “Stealth” and, like Armor, is a separate function. Speed is also active power under “Power”. All of these draw on the suit’s regenerating power supply. The suit even has a “tactical” view that can pick out suggested routes in a level, weapons lying in the rubble, and caches of ammo.

Experienced veterans from the first game might find the starting action a little underwhelming. Later, fighting through the concrete canyons, smashed rooms, and car crowded streets while taking cover from bullet rain against the backdrop of iconic New York City sights made it clear that rushing in is often the fastest way to get killed – much like in the first game.

But with the suit, players can opt to sneak by enemies entirely bypassing fights – or duke it out from inside an armored shell and lay waste to everything in their path. Though given the spotty nature of its checkpoint system, dying isn’t so much of an inconvenience as it is something to be avoided at all costs. It’s not unusual to take several minutes in clearing out enemy forces from an area and then die, only to realize that the game hasn’t saved your progress.

The AI can also get a little wonky, especially when I used Stealth. I watched soldiers question a corpse whether it was okay or run in circles as soon as it forgot about me. Instead of investigating where I might be at, most of these ‘professional soldiers’ were more than willing to forget about me as soon as I hit that Stealth function.

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When alien grunts starting hitting the ground in greater numbers, that’s when things start getting a lot more interesting. The nice twist to this is that killing aliens also forces them to drop catalysts that can be absorbed by your suit for upgrade points that can be used to unlock special enhancements. Though you can only have one power active from each of the four categories the upgrades fall under, the upgrades can often help your odds for survival. Faster regen, better bullet deflection, or even adding an air stomp to your jumps to clear the area when you land are only a few of the options that you can purchase turning alien encounters into more than simple firefights. There’s gold in those corpses.

Multiplayer is something of a mixed bag depending on how good your connection is and how well your rig can handle the action. It’s also hooked into EA’s system of passwords and accounts to verify your copy of Crysis 2, a buggy system that can often be as frustrating to work with as when it crashes out and loses your stats in the last game. I managed to get it to remember my serial number after following a workaround on Crytek’s Crysis 2 support site, but the fact is that no one should have to jump through this many hoops today.

Most every game is eight vs. eight so anyone looking for large battles will need to look elsewhere, though they will miss out one some exciting action when you can cloak, armor, and perform super jumps to get the drop on the other team or each other. The usual deathmatch types are included along with control points (Crash Site), capture the flag (Capture the Relay), and a mode called Assault in which players must download data from terminals in the field but are only given one life each. There’s also Extraction where teams try to collect as many alien ticks as possible in order to upgrade their suits and win the game.

It also heavily cribs from Call of Duty’s experience point system – as long as you play ranked games – to unlock kits, dog tag emblems, and additional equipment including customization options. Kill streaks allow for special abilities to be called in such as activating radar to calling down a beam weapon to fry foes. It’s almost a mirror copy of the same system. The thing is, that’s only if you participate in ranked matches. Playing on unranked servers basically nets you little else other than practice since none of the stats earned there carry over.

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Still, if anything, the suit adds an interesting dimension to the often fast and brutal action. The maps are cluttered with plenty of obstacles, hiding spots, and ambush zones and look just as good as the main campaign does. Still, veterans from the first game will probably wonder why the maps feel a lot smaller given the colossal battles in the first game which actually had vehicle support and larger numbers. It’s a much more claustrophobic battle scenario in comparison, but that’s also not to say that it isn’t without players. That is, if you can get into a game and stay in it.

I’m not sure why, but automatching often connected me to servers in Europe. Even when connected to servers here, I had experienced drops that wipe out my stats earned from the last game. That’s even if I can actually get into a server to play using the browser. Whether it’s the netcode or something else, I’m not sure why it’s harder to consistently play multiplayer in Crysis 2 on the PC than it is a random multiplayer mod on Steam.

But perhaps the more worrisome aspect to Crysis 2 for PC users lie in some of the console-like changes made in order to make it uniform across platforms. Though the checkpoints aren’t the best, they’re not the worst – yet the first game had quicksaves in case you had to step away from the PC for longer than just a few minutes. The smaller multiplayer matches were also a surprise to see and the draconian measures taken to simply log in and report my serial number made me almost wish I had gotten this for the console instead. Perhaps most jarring was the atrophied menu of graphics options, now bundled into generic headings where the first game had a slew of tweaks to work with.

It’s hard not to ignore how much console development may have played a part in Crysis 2, or how broken the multiplayer can often feel. At the same time, I can’t deny the fun I had blasting through the single-player: tearing through the streets and shattered shops of New York City, hiding in subway tunnels, and crawling over and through sinkholes filled with cars and trees all the way up to the incredible endgame made that half of the game exciting.

The lavish production values are still far better served than the action, yet it does fall short of the first game in other areas. But if you chew carefully around the worms, it’s still an entertaining, and explosive, bite out of the Big Apple.

Crysis 2
EA / Crytek
Xbox 360 / PS3 / Microsoft Windows (reviewed on Microsoft Windows)
Rated: M for Mature