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Review: Crysis 2

It has been four years since its release and Crysis is still being held up as the machine-killer of all PC games. Whenever you buy a new rig, chances are you will hear the inevitable, "Well, yeah, but can it run Crysis on the highest settings?" As a game, however, it had a number of faults, including unintuitive suit usage, hilariously idiotic AI, and a lack of focus in many of the massive levels. Crysis 2, as strange as it seems, feels like a direct response to these criticisms. A developer redressing a game's flaws in said game's sequel? No way! That's not to say, however, that Crysis 2 is without its own flaws. While it's a fantastic game worthy of picking up, it's also currently suffering from one of the worst launches we have ever experienced. This is the gist of Crytek's latest effort: an excellent game, but one filled to the brim with experience-altering issues.

Crysis 2, as the many commercials and trailers have shown, depicts a Manhattan under siege. The alien Ceph, the non-human antagonists from the first game, have unleashed an extraterrestrial bio-virus which is killing off the human population and melting them down into fleshy goo. You play as Alcatraz, a marine who was wounded and rescued by Prophet, the team leader from the first game. The story is pretty cheesy and makes some vague allusions which are never supported, but it's somehow entertaining. Like a good pulp science fiction novel, Crysis 2 isn't there to deal with the morality and nuance of futuristic warfare. It's there to blow things apart with a badass suit that makes you into a total superhuman. In this sense, it succeeds with what it set out to do. Crysis 2 just oozes style, and even though it's not the smartest of stories, it's also a far more coherent and tightly-written narrative than the original game was.

Unsurprisingly, Crysis 2 does not look like (in terms of texture resolution or model detail) a big step up from Crysis at first glance. While this may have to do with the PC version not being compatible with DirectX 11 at launch, chances are that it has more to do with Crysis still being on the cutting edge of technical development. What Crysis 2 does is turn the generic, plasticine art style of the first game into a sleek, gleaming, technologically impressive future. Models are much more interesting this time around, especially the Nanosuit, and the overall style has shifted away from pseudo-realism. We love the style change, as it makes the game so much more satisfying to play. This includes the excellent, chill-inducing soundtrack and delightfully appropriate sound effects, each of which adds greatly to the already slick visual presentation.

What surprised us most, though, is how smoothly all of this ran. With identical settings to Crysis, Crysis 2 ran smoother (an increase of over 15 FPS and with minimal stuttering) and had a much nicer visual feel than its predecessor. Crytek has, for the first time in its history, created an engine which looks good while running excellently. No sacrifices needed to be made to the technical gods of PC gaming to get Crysis 2 to run on our rig, which is more than we could say about Crysis.

More than anything, Crysis 2 is a game that has weight. One could ignore the suit effects and focus entirely on the presentation (something which, surprise surprise, a mutator in multiplayer does), and it would still be an experience worth having. The character doesn't feel weightless, and everything done - both to you and by you - has a smooth, purposeful air about it. Jumping is heavy and weighed down, even when leaping. Sprinting is fast, but the screen shakes with every clunking step you take. Armor mode makes your movement sound like the stomping of a bipedal mech, while stealth reduces all nearby sound to a tinny whisper. Firing is smooth, sighting the guns is satisfying, and there are several reload animations for each weapon, both normal and on the move variety. It's the small effects like these that make Crysis 2 impressive, and we're happy to report that Crytek has really stepped up to the challenge of improving Crysis' style with excellent form.

As for the core mechanics, Crysis 2 plays much like Crysis did. You run around, shoot guys, sneak past large groups of enemies, and make yourself known to be a superhuman badass. However, the suit mechanics have changed. Rather than switching modes with the mouse and then being able to perform certain actions while in said mode, the suit now perform everything more fluidly. Armor and stealth mode are Q and E, respectively, putting the two most important modes next to your fingertips. Sprinting and jumping are the same as in most games, but instead of turning on a mode and then doing the action, it simply does it automatically. For example, you tap spacebar for a short, unpowered hop, and hold it for a massive leap, with the longer the hold determining the height of your leap. There is also an infrared (sorry, "nanovision") mode that marks enemies out more clearly, but it's not used nearly as much. The general idea behind all of these changes is a suit which feels like a natural extension of the user, and not a suit that one has to control. Surprisingly enough, it works exactly as planned. It was far easier for use to learn and apply the suit functions on the fly in Crysis 2 than it was in the first game.

Single-player in Crysis 2 takes a distinct turn in a different direction compared to its predecessors. Levels are far more linear, with the general feel being that of arenas separated by corridors. Each level has roughly four or five different open areas where you see "tactical opportunities." Each area is much like an arena: you are free to tackle the objective in whatever fashion you please, but there is a definitely goal in mind. In-between the arenas are sections of corridor sprinting which tackle every emotion between mind-numbingly boring to pulse-pounding. There's also some progression in terms of unlocking weapon attachments and suit modules, and as these persist between playthroughs (and make harder playthroughs much easier), they encourage you to play multiple times.

The most irritating part of the single-player is the scripted sequences. Scripted sequences are boring after you've seen them one time, and every single cutscene in Crysis 2, with the exception of loading screens, is an unskippable scripted sequence. Do not put unskippable cutscenes in a game that encourages multiple playthroughs. It's just plain bad design. There's also issues with balance, as you can play through almost the entire game without dying with Deflection, Stealth Enhance, and a silenced pistol you grab at the beginning. However, the single-player really picks up in the latter half, with the game shifting from a pure stealth viewpoint to much more varied tactics. In other words, there are plentiful pacing issues. While there are stealth-encouraged sections in the latter part of the game, they feel rewarding to sneak around in, rather than the early game avoidance that we did in all three of our single-player completions.

Multiplayer will be a familiar beast to those that play modern shooters. You run around and shoot other people. Weapons, attachments, perks, challenges, and killstreaks are all present. However, there are twists to this. Killstreaks are only obtained by picking up the dogtags of defeated players (unless you have a certain perk that auto-collects dogtags), which encourages lots of close-quarters combat. While a good sniper can definitely do a lot, the dogtag system avoids the Call of Duty problem of a camping sniper simply racking up the kills and getting a dominant killstreak reward. We love it. Weapon attachments are unlocked through purchase via tokens earned by completing weapon challenges, and you can decide which attachments you want when. We went for the sight attachments first. Perks upgrade with use, much like Call of Duty, but they have three levels and avoid being ridiculously overpowered. All of this is stacked on the weight we mentioned earlier, which turns Crysis 2 into a game which is somehow familiar but much more satisfying. You feel like you actually have a chance, especially since you don't die in one to two hits.

Alongside the commonality of the weapons and classes, Crysis 2 includes some interesting game modes and mutators. The most interesting game mode is easily Assault, which pits a team of normal soldiers with superior weapons against a team of nano-soldiers with pistols. Extraction and Crash Site are also nice twists on Capture the Flag and King of the Hill, respectively, Crash Site involves taking and holding an unstable pod until is explodes, while Extraction has operatives stealing bio-ticks which give increased suit performance when held or captured. The mutations change these game modes in significant ways too, which means that you might see a server running Extraction (Solo) or Team Instant Action (Fast Rounds). Each mutation alters how the player behaves and what options they have access to, which completely alters strategies. Our favorite is Classic, which removes the nanosuit functions completely while retaining the player damage resistance, turning your soldiers into normal human beings that happen to be tough enough to offer reaction times. Our least favorite is Pro, which plays much like Hardcore in other modern shooters. It runs completely contrary to what we love about Crysis 2: weight, damage resistance, and plenty of information. Instead, it is replaced with a game where you die in one to two shots to people either sprinting around the map at super speeds or camping while cloaked. While we're sure some will enjoy this mode, we certainly didn't.

The most glaring fault of Crysis 2 is its technical issues. Single-player is relatively bug free, with the exception of some goofy collision issues. There is, however, a bug which puts your nano catalyst in the negative whenever you start single-player after your first time running the game, making you unable to gain any catalyst for use until you absorb a massive amount to offset the negative. It's a game-breaking bug that could potentially ruin the experience for you. All we can say to avoid it is to complete the game on your first playthrough so that you have enough catalyst to get all of the modules without having to try and deal with the massively irritating disappearing catalyst.

Alongside this one major single-player bug is a slew of multiplayer problems that completely ruin what would otherwise be an ideal multiplayer experience. Lobbies are borderline non-functional, with the majority of dedicated servers being stuck at the countdown screen. The only way to work around it is to find a new server. If your connection is dropped in the middle of a game, all of your hard work since you started playing that session (not that game, but your entire time playing on that server) will be rolled back. Chances are you don't even need to do that, as sometimes your stats will simply roll back on their own. It's so frustrating that we haven't played more than a few sessions as we wait for a fix. We sincerely hope that Crytek fixes the multiplayer soon, because it's one of the more enjoyable modern shooters we have played.

Crysis 2 is the game that Crytek needed to make. It's a finely-designed game that manages to refine their experience with Far Cry and Crysis into a cohesive, enjoyable experience far superior to their previous efforts. Unfortunately, it's also plagued with such massive technical issues that we can not recommend this game until they get fixed. In short, wait on it. Either a significant price drop ($40 would be our consideration) or a massive patch is needed to turn Crysis 2 around. The technical issues are just too much to overcome or work around. When your game has a multiplayer that is more broken than Bad Company 2 was at launch, there's a problem.

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