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Gaming Review

'Crysis 2' (Xbox 360)

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Released on Friday, Mar 25 2011

Gaming Review: Crysis 2

Also available on: PS3, PC
Developer: Crytek
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Genre: First-person shooter

Following up on the original Crysis is certainly a daunting task. The first-person shooter received almost universal critical acclaim after its release on PC in 2007, and the game is also often held up as the benchmark of PC hardware performance due its system-sapping requirements. The stakes are further ramped up for developer Crytek in that Crysis 2 is being released on the consoles, as well as the PC, raising fears of a watered down experience that pleases nobody. Thankfully, Crysis 2 delivers one of the most beautiful, exhilarating and immersive first-person shooter campaigns of recent years, mixing jaw-dropping visuals with engaging gameplay gilded by the Nano-suit special abilities. The story loses its way at times and the multiplayer component is not quite so much of a slam dunk, but FPS fans of all persuasions are strongly recommended to jump into battle with Crysis 2.

The sequel shifts the action from the fictional Lingshan Islands in Crysis 1 to New York in the year 2023, besieging one of the world's most famous cities with an alien invasion. Over the lengthy single-player campaign, the player becomes a mysterious marine called Alcatraz, who is saved from a near-fatal submarine attack by Prophet, who featured in the first game. Alcatraz and his snazzy new Nano-suit is the key to the human fight back against an invasion by the alien Cephaloids on the island of Manhattan. However, his journey is complicated by the outbreak of a virus devastating New York's inhabitants, along with the presence of a private military forced called CELL, tasked by the Crynet Corporation to bring order, whatever the cost.

Crysis 2 mixes battle sequences against CELL soldiers and alien fighters to always keep the action fresh. All the usual range of sniper rifles, shotguns, assault rifles and more explosive weapons are available, with a few tweaks and variations. But the biggest differentiator about Crysis 2 comes with the Nano-suit. Essentially, the suit unlocks a series of powers that can give a combat advantage, including a cloaking ability and an armoured skin, along with fast running and super jumping abilities. Using these powers is really where the tactics come into play, as fights can be approached in a number of different ways. For example, armour can be activated for a full frontal assault, or the cloak can enable sneaky stealth kills, or to avoid a fight entirely.

The suit also has a Nanovision feature giving an infrared view and a tactical ops screen, which is possibly the most interesting aspect. Working similarly to Batman: Arkham Asylum's Detective Vision, the tactical ops screen allows the player to survey enemy-heavy areas from afar, marking targets and finding strategic options to navigate the fight. For example, cars can be power kicked to crush enemies below, or ammo dumps tagged for urgent restocks. This is all part of Crytek's efforts to make Crysis 2 burst out of its linear confines to make the player feel more in control; and largely the studio does a pretty good job of this. The action always unfurls in a totally linear box, but the game offers a variety of different routes of attack. For example, subways and drains can be used as ways to flank enemies, while some shops fronts are open to dig in and fight.

One of Crysis 2's greatest achievements, though, is that the suit always makes the player feel like a total badass, but never so much that the game feels like a total breeze. The human and alien enemies feature smart AI that requires the player to move quickly and watch out for flanking moves. There is also a good mix of heavier and lighter enemies that tests the suits abilities to their limit in later stages, requiring careful tactical planning before taking the plunge into battle. Due to the nanotechnology in Alcatraz's suit, he can also pick up cell samples from downed alien enemies, opening up a range of suit upgrades. The upgrade interface is handled in-game by Alcatraz holding up his hand to access a range of abilities on each finger, such as amplifying the movements of enemies, or marking their steps with day-glow green paint.

The single-player campaign is easily one of the longest seen in recent FPS games, taking around eight to ten hours to complete and even longer on harder difficulties. The story, penned by sci-fi novelist Richard K. Morgan, is mostly told through in-game sequences, meaning the player is only taken out of the action for the loading films queuing up another chapter. Beyond the usual 'man versus alien horde' clichés, the story also throws up some interesting ideas, particularly the concept of sacrifice and the Nano-suit's relationship with Prophet and Alcatraz. The story even manages to deliver an air-punching ending without it feeling cheesy, which is no mean feat.

However, there are other moments where the narrative rather loses its way, making the game feel a bit episodic. The juxtaposition of the alien invasion and the human story is a tad disjointed, as though the narrative threads have not quite been pulled together properly. The story certainly has many affecting moments to frame the action set pieces, but its strangely as though quite a few of the vital narrative ideas have ended up on the cutting room floor. The problems are eased, though, by a first rate script delivered by an excellent voice cast, always carefully keeping a lid on the macho soldier bravado. What's more, the keen sense of atmosphere always keeps the player engaged, backed up by a visual presentation that meets and indeed sets the standard for modern shooters.

It's an understatement to say that Crysis 2 is a good looking game. The destruction of famous New York landmarks, such as the Statue of Liberty, Wall Street and Central Park, always feels mind-boggling real. All the usual incredible and jaw dropping vistas are in full effect, but what actually makes Crytek's creation so beautiful is the details. Not since Half-Life 2 has so much attention been lavished on an FPS world, from the individually different missing persons notes pinned on noticeboards to warning stickers slapped on maintenance equipment. Just like Half-Life 2, there is also a fair amount of interaction in the world, such as turning on a shower or using a microwave, which all adds to the sense of immersion. Add in a rousing score and the sense of presentation never falls short of top notch.

The game always stays within New York, yet there is a good deal of diversity; from the sun soaked skyscraper rooftops to the dark quarantine camps, piled high with biohazard tubs and corpses ringed by flies. Even stacks of bin bags in the street are beautiful to look at, making Cysis 2's version of New York a joy to explore, even if that is on a purely linear basis. Despite the range of tactical options, the game always tracks a pretty straightforward line between the action set pieces. The action is always fun and immersive, but there is certainly not the same breadth of non-linear options compared to Crysis 1, beyond the core Nano-suit abilities.

Other issues also surface with the game, such as the checkpoint system being a bit off, sometimes chucking the player back far too far after dying, leading to the odd moment of frustration. Another problem is the AI, which on the whole provides a good challenge for the player, including flanking and rushing if you stay static for too long. However, there are also moments when enemies run around in circles, stand out in the open, stare at walls or throw grenades at themselves. Not clever. So, Crysis 2 has its issues, but they are certainly not even close to ruining the experience. Single player aside, the game also offers the usual suite of online multiplayer modes in six versus six team battles. Online players can advance through 50 ranks and access up to 100 unlocks, including weapons and suit upgrades.

All players get access to the standard Nano-suit abilities, meaning they can take their chosen playing style online. The abilities open up some interesting battles, with cloaking powers increasing the chance for stealth kills and armour allowing the bold to be even bolder. However, even at this early stage there appear to be a few balancing issues that rather take the edge off proceedings. With cloak, nanovision and high powered rifles, sniper-orientated players seem to have the edge; meaning it can be a bit frustrating for more physical players. For some gamers, the Crysis 2 multiplayer will click and prove their de facto online shooter. However, it's far from clear whether the vast majority of players will feel similarly compelled to take the leap from other shooters.

Crysis 2 is a beautifully realised, superbly designed and thoroughly immersive first-person shooter that lingers long in the memory after its closing credits roll. During the lengthy campaign, the destruction of New York never fails to grip the attention, despite the story losing its way at times. The gameplay packs all the usual FPS mechanics, but gives a new dimension with the Nano-suit tactical options that make the player feel like the ultimate weapon. The multiplayer does not prove quite such a clear cut success, as the Nano-suit powers create a few balancing issues. There is replayability in the single player from the extra tactical choices and suit upgrades, meaning all FPS fans should pull on the Nano-suit and experience the battle for New York in Crysis 2.



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