The trajectory of the Crysis series has been bizarre. The first game in the series, Crysis, was released as a PC-only title in 2007. Its claim to fame was more for its visual fidelity than its gameplay, but it is still an iconic title among the PC-gaming crowd.
Crysis 2 was announced a few years later, but news around the game was scarce for a few years until its eventual release in 2011, on both consoles and PCs. The gameplay was upgraded, and it was one of the better shooters released that year. The turnaround on Crysis 3 was much quicker than previous iterations and there was some trepidation surrounding the game, with the primary worry being that series’ developer Crytek was rushing the project.
Ultimately, these worries are well-founded, as an otherwise gorgeous game is marred by a lack of imagination and a dopey narrative that does a disservice to the ideas established in Crysis 2.
When I say that Crysis 3 is gorgeous, it’s actually a bit of an understatement. On high-end PC hardware, it eclipses anything ever produced in a videogame.
The New York the game re-imagines is lush, with beautiful vegetation and wonderfully-rendered dilapidated buildings. The art direction is stellar, with bright colors contrasting beautifully with the cityscapes. There are some situations in which the game uses light sources to render environments in breathtaking fashion, especially when encountering the alien Ceph.
Unfortunately, all of this beautiful visual presentation comes at a tremendous cost. The game isn’t well-optimized, and it suffers from an inconsistent framerate and some texture pop-in issues that distract players and pull them out of the experienced. Developer Crytek went on-record before the game’s release to say that Crysis 3 would “melt” even new PCs, and it’s true, but I wonder how much of it is artificially manufactured by poor optimization.
The focus on the graphical prowess of the game also seems to have constricted the level design robbed the encounters of imagination. Crysis 2 offered numerous options for approaching combat, and the areas had a verticality to them that just isn’t present here. The geography is flat, and the combat doesn’t feel as full of options as it used to. The game actively discourages you from directly approaching your enemies, but it feels as though that’s the point where the game opens up and stretches its legs. The gunplay is genuinely fun, but the design never gives players any reason to use anything other than the stock weapons. I never ran out of ammunition for them, and I never had to use the different types of ammunition. The options present in Crysis 2 are here, but their necessity is underbaked to the point of being near-useless.
Additionally, the AI is woefully under-developed. Enemies will investigate dead bodies and stand right over them, seemingly begging you to shoot them. They don’t have a good sense of environmental awareness, never investigating where shots are coming from, and they quickly forget their comrades’ recent demise. It makes the game a lot easier when you’re facing humans, but the Ceph work together with an interesting pack mentality, and the sections where you face them are tense and exciting. They’re unpredictable and fun to fight, unlike human enemy combatants, pouncing on you from thick underbrush or from areas above and beneath you. The encounters featuring them aren’t as well-developed as in Crysis 2 (notice a theme here?), but they’re still fun enemies to fight.
When utilizing a stealthy approach, enemies are able to quickly spot you and suss you out. Often, an enemy that shouldn’t be able to see you will, calling his cohorts over to fight you. However, due to the lunkheadedness of the AI, it’s easy to slip into cloak and get behind them, either to flank and fight or to just sneak away, leaving them never the wiser.
The suit’s powers are similar to those highlighted in Crysis 2, and the cloak remains one of the best-balanced abilities in gaming.
Using the cloak forces players to make decisions, as there’s a time/speed balance that is perfectly tuned. A skilled player can just make it to objectives while under cloak, while those less familiar with the speed at which energy drains will find themselves decloaking in the middle of a pack of enemies, which induces panic and forces them to readjust.
One new addition to the game is the bow, and it’s a joy to use. It’s perhaps too much of a joy to use. If the cloak is perfectly balanced, the bow is quite the opposite. Sure, ammunition for the bow is limited, but it’s reusable, giving a player who plans out his or her encounters an easy path to unlimited ammo. You remain cloaked while using it, making it easy to snipe enemies from far away, provided your aim is good enough.
The narrative in Crysis 3 is its biggest disappointment. Crysis 2‘s narrative touched on themes of transhumanism, the melding of human and machine and the nature of humanity. Crysis 3 discards all of the thematic heft of Crysis 2, opting instead for a silly set of “OMG the world is ending!” scenarios which bookend an unnecessary and telegraphed “twist.” From the beginning, the nonsense the game throws at the player in the hopes of putting him or her off-center is silly and will cause most players to stop caring about the narrative almost immediately. There’s a reconciliation with a supporting character midway through the game that comes out of nowhere, which is emblematic of how thrown together it is. None of the characters are sympathetic or relatable, and the game focuses instead on creating shallow archetypes: the hardened veteran, the wary commander, etc. The plot twists and turns on itself to the point where even those with an intimate knowledge of the series will be completely lost. I’ve played all three games to completion now, and I’m still not exactly sure what exactly happened.
Crysis 3 has a complete suite of multiplayer options, including an interesting new addition: Hunter Mode. It’s an asymmetrical mode in which two players start as hunters (who have unlimited cloaking and bows) whose sole objective is to hunt down the other fourteen players, systematically taking them down until none remain. It’s an interesting game of hide-and-seek, and it’s thrilling to be the last survivor left, hiding best you can from the hunters until they eventually find you.
There are also deathmatch, team deathmatch and objective-based modes. Generally, it’s fun, but it doesn’t seem like it’s going to stick. In multiplayer, the cloak’s balance gets thrown off, as players typically aren’t forced to actually move around in a multiplayer match. Since the cloak’s energy drain is mostly tied to movement, it works in single-player mode because players must move in order to progress. However, in a multiplayer match, it’s pretty easy to find a perch and survey nearly the entire map while cloaked. This encourages camping and sniping with the bow, which almost always produces a one-hit kill. Even in the early stages of multiplayer, many in the community are wary of those that camp and snipe from up above, with many of the PC servers having a strict “no-camping” policy. It’s discouraging to see such restrictions so soon after release, and it brings into question the long-term viability of the game as a multiplayer platform.
Ultimately, Crysis 3 fails because the implementation of its strong mechanics isn’t well thought-out.
It has the tools to again be a fantastic game, but the pieces never come together in a coherent enough way to raise it to the levels of its predecessors. A little more time to allow the ideas to gel and the creation of a smarter narrative would have pushed Crysis 3 ahead. As it stands, it’s worth playing for the visual prowess, but little else.
A copy of Crysis 3 for the PC was provided to us by EA for the purposes of this review.