This review of “Crysis 2” focuses on the single-player portion of the game because the PlayStation Network was offline as of press time. I played portions of the online multiplayer at a media event shortly before launch, but I plan to post a more detailed assessment at gamewit.blogs.pressdemocrat.com as soon as possible. When I do so, I’ll devote a separate post to the multiplayer as well as update this review.
When the next “Halo” comes along, I want its hero to play like Alcatraz, the protagonist in “Crysis 2.” The Marine-turned-supersoldier’s experimental nanosuit lets him run ridiculously fast, absorb crazy amounts of damage, cloaked himself like the aliens in “Predator” and send cars flying through the air with a kick. Yet, like the heroes in virtually every modern shooter but “Halo,” he’s also capable of firing from cover.
This gameplay makes for a fun, if not especially innovative, multiplayer experience. Soldiers sneak around in stealth mode, bound over the environment and emerge unscathed from huge explosions, thanks to the many capabilities of the nanosuit, whose powers deplete an energy meter to prevent you from abusing them.
Yet as much fun as it is to control Alcatraz, the story and level design in “Crysis 2” (rated M, $60 on PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3) frequently fail to match its tight controls and diverse weapon set.
The underlying story is actually quite good; it’s just that the telling is convoluted. The plot concerns itself with Alcatraz, a Marine who, at the beginning of the game, is placed into an experimental piece of technology called the nanosuit. But the nanosuit has an owner, a private military corporation that wants its technology back. It thinks the suit will help humanity win a war against an invading alien army. Also in play are a good-guy fugitive scientist, who sees the suit as the key to a vaccination against an alien plague, the U.S. government and the aliens.
The entire story plays out in New York City, which takes a beating as the alien forces expand their presence. Now that it’s been almost a decade since Sept. 11, 2001, images of that city being destroyed, particularly in a sci-fi game, don’t particularly faze me. But one scene in the game, in which you drive by a man trying to pull his wife out of some rubble as a skyscraper starts to come down in the distance, felt crass and unnecessary.
Like a summer blockbuster film that had much of its exposition left on the cutting room floor, “Crysis 2” jumps from explosion-filled scene to explosion-filled scene without slowing down to explain what’s happening off-camera. Story lines or themes emerge, only to be dropped entirely or de-emphasized. The middle act, in which I suddenly found Alcatraz back with a squad of Marines dragged on for several chapters with few updates about where the overall story arc was going.
The game’s biggest sin, though, is not in its narration, but in its single-player level design. While the game is marketed around the idea that you’re a superhuman weapon that can do almost anything, Alcatraz is frequently hamstrung by arbitrary constraints. Instead of saying, “Here’s what our guy can do; let’s build levels to contain him,” developer Crytek built levels like those found in other shooters, even though they’re at odds with Alcatraz’s abilities.
For example, Alcatraz can kick a car so hard that it flies into enemies and kills them. Why, then, is his path frequently blocked by ordinary locked doors someone with superhuman strength should easily be able to kick down?
The answer, of course, is that “Crysis 2” is for the most part a linear game, and Crytek wants to funnel the player along a path. But there had to have been a better way than to create scenarios like the one that occurred when I unsuccessfully tried to kick down a door, only to have non-superhuman soldiers break down the exact same door and start shooting at me the second I turned my back.
“Crysis 2” is filled with such moments. Just before that thing with the door, Alcatraz and a civilian come under fire from snipers. Yet, even though you can see the snipers opposite the window you’re standing at, and even point Alcatraz’s weapon at them, you can’t take the obvious clear shot because the game wants you to go outside and fight them from a less advantageous position.
Like putting a shock-collar on Superman, this “because we said you have to do it this way” design butts up against the fundamental concept of being a high-powered supersoldier, and it’s the main factor holding back a game with fantastic visuals and smooth controls.
The game does occasionally tease players with opened-up, outdoor levels that allow you to explore the nanosuit’s capabilities and tackle problems with multiple strategies, but these levels make up only about a third of the “Crysis 2” experience. Every time I had to head inside or underground after completing an outdoor level, my heart sank a bit.
I desperately want Master Chief, or whoever ends up being the hero of the first “Halo” shooter not made by Bungie Studios, to control like “Crysis 2’s” Alcatraz. I just hope he ends up in a better game.