Microsoft are promising the most powerful console of all time, but is the Scorpio really worth getting excited over?
Crysis 3 Review
The Crysis franchise immediately evokes glee in those seeking to play a visually stunning game. In this regard, Crysis 3 doesn’t disappoint, as it moves away from the all to common brown and grey color palette of most shooters this generations, its predecessor included. Taking place in the greened over remains of New York City the setting allows for sweeping contrast between dark cramped sewers, wide open plains of grass and various scientific facilities, all spectacularly presented with an overwhelming attention to detail. Just as varying as the environments, is the musical composition which complements rather than dictates the mood. The soundtrack is fantastic in its own right, but in the setting of the game it thrives, never overwhelming the atmosphere, instead subtly highlighting it.
Fortunately, you have the stunning visuals and music to distract you from the less than desirable writing and overly predictable plot. You begin your adventure being awakened from cryostasis aboard a ship by former squadmate Michael “Psycho” Sykes. The series protagonist Prophet returns to the fray 23 years after the events of Crysis 2, and a large portion of the game is spent trying to convince Prophet the Ceph, the alien invaders from previous games, are truly gone and the real enemy is the human paramilitary group Cell. They try their hardest to convince you Cell is the true enemy, but you know better. While Crysis might be subtle with its music selection, it is quite blunt when it comes to delivering plot. Prophet sounds like a crotchety old man stuck in the past always falling back on “It’s the alpha Ceph!!!” as the root of every problem. Whether it be Prophet, or your de facto mission giver, Commander Claire the plot delivery is very heavy-handed.
For the purpose of purging Cell from New York, Crysis 3 provides a diverse array of guns for the player to mess around with. Made even more expansive with the ability to swap ammo types, scopes and barrel attachments for any given gun. Along with the extensive customization options for the guns, Prophet’s bow can be altered by changing the draw speed and swapping tips. Additionally, the nanosuit can be customized with up to four perks. In exchange for nanosuit upgrades scattered throughout the campaign, players can invest in perks to better tailor the suit to their prospective play style. Unfortunately, all this choice and variable customization options are squandered by the difficulty of the game. Even on the higher difficulty levels as soon as you gain access to the bow, and the “Assassin” nanosuit perk, which allows you to perform melee take-downs without breaking stealth, the game becomes depressingly easy. You can take out an entire room without ever being seen by simply taking note of hiding spots and being patient. This is unfortunate, because it doesn’t encourage you to change your weapons. Once you find what you like, ammo is abundant so you never have to worry about swapping, and sparing a few circumstances the bow will suffice as your primary means of dishing out pain.
One of the exceptions to this are the couple of boss fights you will experience. All the best parts of Crysis are distilled into the game’s two main boss fights. They will have you running around an arena, switching from stealth to armor, dodging and weaving from cover to cover as you frantically take note of how much ammo you have left. Certain phases of the boss fights call for specific types of weapons, most of which are spread about the arena waiting to be picked up at the right moment. The boss fights are very much trial-and-error, not calling for you to endlessly pelt the boss with bullets, but instead wanting you to discern when to use the right gun at the right place. The boss fights so well exemplify what the whole campaign could have been the rest of the game’s combat pales in comparison. Crysis frequently struggles between the balance of overpowering the player and presenting them with a challenge, but the boss fights strike this balance perfectly.
A welcome addition to the game are ceph weapons, courtesy of some ceph upgrades which enable Prophet to interface with them. While there are only five of them, the Pinch Rifle, Bolt Sniper, X-PAC Mortar, Incinerator and Reaper Cannon, each offer such interesting firing mechanics and power, it’s almost impossible to pass them up for the mere factor of enjoyment. While watching a group of Stalkers fall victim to a well placed thermite-tipped arrow is interesting, it is infinitely more fun to rain down fire or plasma on them and watch them scurry away from their inevitable demise.
A problem with video games at large that plagues Crysis 3 is the false sense of urgency. People are frequently telling you there will be “Total. Orbital. Annihilation.” and “There’ll be no Earth left” if you don’t flip switch A in two minutes. But it is quite common to take your time and slowly take out enemy one by one via stealth. Even if you do subscribe to the urgent atmosphere you are on the battle field alone. There are no ancillary troops rushing head first to their own doom, no timers, no collapsing floor panels, just you and the 30 guys between you and your objective waiting to be taken down by the one man army, Prophet. You are allowed to go as fast or slow as you see fit, annihilating the enemy by the handful with thermite tipped arrows and submachine guns that spew lightning, or picking them off one by one from the safety and comfort of invisibility.
The game’s campaign is almost exclusively from Prophet’s perspective inside the suit. This strict adherence to the first person perspective hurts the game’s many set pieces. Instead of transferring to a third person cinematic camera, or maintaining the first person player control, the game adopts a noncommittal state of first person spectator mode. In one instance as the player crests a hill, control is suddenly stripped as an outfit of Cell agent are talking below. What follows is a perfectly ordinary stealth take down and a bit of eaves dropping. The entire time you are stuck a spectator as the game carries out a series of perfectly ordinary task, with no player input at all. I would have rather been subjected to some manner of quick-time event, or even just a button prompt than relinquish control. In nearly every scenario the player is relegated to first person spectator mode, the scene could have been more grand, the fight more epic, and the plunge more dangerous if presented in a different style.
The first person spectator mode isn’t the only area of the game suffering from being an awkward hybrid. As games like Far Cry 3, Mark of the Ninja and Dishonored proved, it is very possible to make a game that complements a variety of play styles from guns blazing to silent assassin or a ghost that gets in and out without murdering a soul. Crysis allows for the two extremes, but gets a little murky in the middle. The game has a full array of suit upgrades tailored to stealth most of which extend the length of time the nanosuit’s cloak can be used. Unfortunately, it is missing a key ingredient to the silent assassin play style: the ability to move bodies. This is especially damning because the enemy field of vision expands well across the map in most levels. This leads to an embarrassing enemy AI response incredibly easy to exploit. As sure as the sun rises each day, the enemy will walk one at a time to investigate the body, resulting in an increasingly large pile of dead Cell agents. Further adding to the game’s relative ease and cheapening the experience.
Among the many tools at the service of the player is a visor mode which allows you to mark enemy with icons, as to better keep track of their positions. This has been featured in several other games, most recently Far Cry 3, but this is to the disadvantage of Crysis 3. This is one of the few, but very obvious circumstances where you can see the seams of the game. A common occurrence is where you know a group of enemies are on the other side of a door and yet the visor cannot mark them until you cross a certain threshold. It isn’t a line of sight issue either, because once you cross the threshold you can mark enemy well across the map and out of sight.
Lastly, it would a mistake to not talk about the multiplayer. Compared to the campaign, multiplayer is where the game can spread its wings and differentiate its self from other shooters. The multiplayer not only gives you access to all the suit powers and weapons, but frequently calls upon you to use all of them as you face off against fellow nanosuit clad players. It manages to feel familiar while fresh as it overlays futuristic abilities on an otherwise average class based shooter, if all abilities were unlocked at the same time.
This is reinforced by the addition of a new multiplayer mode Hunter mode which is similar to Halo’s Flood mode, featuring a pair of Hunters against the rest, and upon death you join the other team slowly tipping the tables till only one remains. This is marred by the easy availability of riot shields, and most games turn into a match of attrition with all the Cell soldiers backed into a corner behind the safety of a shield. On the other hand, should a player on the Cell side drop their guard for more than a moment they’ll frequently be met with an arrow to the face from a lurking hunter.
The the Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch variant suffer from a different, but equally annoying predicament. Because of the nanosuit’s preference to camping courtesy of invisibility, modes rarely reach their kill cap and almost always time out. However, where it fails in the traditional deathmatch mode the objective based modes shine. Modes like Spear, Crashsite, and Assault (Capture the Flag, King of the Hill, and Bomb Assault respectively) thrive because they force player attention onto singular objectives. To keep the player invested the multiplayer features a leveling system which allows players to unlock custom classes and additional weapons and attachments. Also should you chose to accept, the game offers dynamic meta challenges which task the player with an optional objective like “kill five enemy with a riot shield.” The catch is you only have two or three matches to complete the challenges.
While Crysis 3’s multiplayer is far from original, the marriage between nanosuit and your run of the mill shooter mechanics will provide you with hours of competitive fun. This is important as the campaign will only run you about 5-7 hours even on the higher difficulty levels. In spite of the campaign’s brevity, Crysis 3 expands upon the successes of Crysis 2 while trying to attain that perfect blend of stealth and action. It still has its kinks to workout, but if your willing to forgive the occasional corny line of dialogue, and some wonky game design decisions Crysis 3 promises to provide you with the epitome of a power fantasy: the lone hero saving the world because he’s the only one who can.[Disclaimer: The game was reviewed on the Xbox 360 version on Veteran difficulty and was purchased by the reviewer. It is also available on the PC and PlayStation 3.]