With the exception of cooperative efforts like Valve’s “Left 4 Dead” games, it’s impossible to talk about online multiplayer in first-person shooters without comparing them to either Activision’s “Call of Duty” or Bungie Studios’ “Halo” franchises. Having spent an hour or so playing “Crysis 2” at a media event last week in San Francisco, I’m going to talk about elephant in the room right away: Crytek’s “Crysis 2” plays a lot like a calculated blend of console gaming’s two most popular shooters.
If you game on the Xbox 360, you’ll be able to try out “Crysis 2” for yourself starting Tuesday, when a console-exclusive demo is available for Xbox Live Gold members. The demo will feature “Crash Site” and “Team Instant Action,” two of the three modes I saw on display last week. (“Crysis 2” will also be available on the PC and PlayStation 3.)
“Crysis 2’s” hook is the nanosuit, a futuristic piece of armor that allows all sorts of special abilities and tricks. But players don’t get to use all of the ability-bestowing modules from the get-go. You’ll be earning experience points in multiplayer and unlocking new modules as you go.
The modules function a lot like the armor abilities in “Halo: Reach.” Their use depletes an energy meter that recharges over time once it’s exhausted. Unlike the armor abilities in “Reach,” though, you can equip more than one module at a time, with all of them sharing a common energy pool.
Because all of us at the preview started off at Level 1, I didn’t unlock much beyond the basic loadouts, though I did manage to unlock a handful of different multiplayer classes, as well as a custom class.
From the start, players will have access to a stealth module, which confers a “Predator”-like active camouflage that effectively renders them invisible. Based on my preview, “Crysis 2’s” stealth mode seemed a lot closer to actual invisibility than what you’ll find in the “Halo” games. I was able to use it effectively to insert myself in the middle of a group of human enemies nearly every time I tried. It’s possible some of my success might have been because everyone I was playing against was still getting acclimated to the gameplay, but the difference seemed pretty severe.
The second major ability in play was a temporary boost in the resiliency of your Marine’s armor. With the default control configuration, the armor boost was mapped to the left bumper button, while stealth was on right side. Grenades, which are commonly mapped to a bumper or trigger, instead required a double tap of the Y button to equip, then were thrown with the right trigger normally used to fire weapons. Requiring players to switch from gun to grenade is one solution to the problem of people who spam grenades endlessly in multiplayer, and I hope the customizable controls for the game don’t provide a loophole to get around it.
Other armor abilities include a slide and an air stomp, both of which are mapped to the B button. The “air stomp” reminded me a lot of Microsoft’s “Crackdown” games. You hold down the B button as you’re jumping or falling to pound whatever’s below you and deliver a devastating melee attack. The attack leaves you immobile and vulnerable in a crouch for a short time afterward, though, so you’ll want to make sure not to miss.
In my short play time, I just couldn’t get the hang of the slide. On paper, it seems like a cool move you can use to occasionally slide in and get the drop on a whole roomful of dudes. In practice, I found that I needed a fairly large open area to try to pull it off, and while getting in position for a totally awesome devastating slide, I was a sitting duck and got ripped apart by gunfire. Some of this might be due to my being a novice with the move — and multiplayer may not be the best place to experiment with it — but of the various armor abilities on display, this was the one that failed to float my boat.
While the nanosuit powers and enhanced jumping ability reminded me a lot of the “Halo” games, Crysis 2’s” guns and leveling system seemed straight out of the “Modern Warfare” universe. This is a great thing as far as the perks/leveling system is concerned, but as someone who prefers sci-fi shooters to more realistic, modern-military fare, I was a little disappointed at the starting weaponry’s blandness when compared to the superpower-bestowing nanosuit. Clearly the armies of the future spend all their R&D money on armor, rather than weaponry.
When it ships, “Crysis 2” will have 12 different multiplayer maps set at a dozen different New York City locales. (“Crysis 2’s” single-player campaign takes place in a besieged, futuristic version of the Big Apple.) On those maps, you’ll be able to play six multiplayer modes, with eight variants.
Two of these multiplayer modes, Instant Action and Team Instant Action, are the standard deathmatch and team deathmatch you’ll find in every multiplayer shooter. At the media preview, we had access to Team Instant Action as well as modes called Extraction and Crash Site.
Extraction plays like a variation on the ever-popular Capture the Flag. Teams take turns trying to capture two “Bio-ticks” from the other team. Basically, you bust into your rival team’s headquarters and try to steal the two Bio-ticks, But there’s a catch. Each Bio-tick governs a nanosuit ability. One Bio-tick confers a boost to the armor-enhancing module, while the other bestows a bonus to the stealth module, allowing players to stay invisible for longer. If you’re able to control a Bio-tick, you get its boost effect. This boost takes effect as soon as you grab the module and becomes permanent once you get the module back to your team’s helicopter.
I didn’t get to play Crash Site, because my group always seemed to vote for other game types, but I saw it in action and it looks a lot like a standard territory-control/king of the hill mode. Both teams compete to try to control a crashed alien pod, which becomes unstable and explodes after a certain amount of time.
Details on most of the other modes were scant, but “Crysis 2” executive producer Nathan Camarillo described a mode called Assault, which features a group of nanosuit-free players trying to defend a base from nanosuit-clad supersoldiers. This mode sounded like something different from what we usually see in multiplayer shooters, but it wasn’t on display last week.
The first “Crysis” was famous for its stunning visuals and cutting-edge technology, and on this front, “Crysis 2’s” multiplayer maps didn’t disappoint. Skyline, in particular, looked fantastic. The map, featured in Tuesday’s demo, takes place on Manhattan rooftops, replete with helicopter landing pads and greenhouses. We also played Pier 17 and Parking Deck, whose names pretty much describe what you get, as well as another map set in a re-creation of a landmark New York City church. I’m not New York-savvy enough to have recognized the church myself, but another journalist I overheard speculated that it might have been based on St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
During the presentation we watched before we tried the demo, Camarillo talked a bit about “Crysis 2’s” verticality. The nanosuit allows the game’s Marines to run pretty fast and jump pretty high, furthering the “Halo” feel. Many of the multiplayer maps are designed to be vertical, so players can scale a short building or platform to get the drop on their enemies.
Though Camarillo pitched this verticality as if it were something new to “Crysis 2,” I thought back to Capcom’s “Lost Planet.” For all its flaws, the early 2006 blockbuster made excellent use of characters’ grappling hooks, and the multiplayer maps were designed to take advantage of that piece of equipment. Few things were more satisfying than using the grappling hook to zoom up to a platform 25 feet off the ground to get a drop on an opponent.
I didn’t see anything on par with “Lost Planet’s” maps in my limited time with the demo, but I’ll explore them further when the game launches March 22 in North America.