Reviews

Crysis 3

April 10, 2013, Author: Neil Hickton

What exactly is the crisis in Crysis? If you remove the ‘aliens have aggressively invaded our planet from inside and outside’ element from it, the Crysis story still has a lot more left to tell.  Given there have been four single-player campaign games including the latest installment of Crysis 3, this makes for a rich lore for a first-person shooter. To confuse matters yet further, the back story has been expanded by a novel based on the story elements from Crysis 2, and there is even a comic book series that tells the story between Crysis and Crysis 2.

The available history provides all the main characters that you have some interaction with (and many that you don’t) the opportunity to have ‘deep’ back stories of their own. What all this wealth of back story means, is that I can’t really do the story any favours here, without perhaps spoiling it for you just a little. If  you’ve not played it, I recommend you go and play Crysis 2 first and just skip the first section of the review. If you’re not really bothered about all that and just need a new futuristic first-person shooter to play, read on.

“Dillon, you son-of-a-bitch!”
In the first Crysis game,  set in the year 2020, you play as First Lieutenant Jake Dunn, otherwise known as ‘Nomad’. Part of a military team called Raptor Squad, his teammates include Laurence ‘Prophet’ Barnes, Aztec, Jester and another important character: the wise-cracking Londoner, Michael ‘Psycho’ Sykes who only really makes a brief appearance here, but is quite integral to the rounding of the plot.

The nanosuit-wearing Raptor team are sent to the Ling Shan Islands (fictional islands just off the Philippines), to rescue a group of civilian archaeologists that have unearthed an artifact a few million years old that turns out to be of alien origin. With some rather topical involvement with North Korea, it is here we welcome the ‘phone home’ aliens known as the Ceph.

Crysis Warhead covers the same period of time featured in the first Crysis game but from the viewpoint of Michael Sykes (Psycho). He disappears for a fair portion of the first game and Warhead explains what he got up to, rounding out his character on the way.

Crysis 2 is set three years after Crysis and Crysis Warhead in the year 2023, confusing matters somewhat further by introducing another protagonist called ‘Alcatraz’. The Navy submarine that he’s on is destroyed by the alien Ceph. The Ceph have brought the conflict to New York City, and it’s not pretty.

Alcatraz manages to escape, but is badly injured whilst doing so. Prophet appears (very handy) and before you know it Alcatraz has his very own nanosuit on, as it’s the only way he can be saved from his injuries. Effectively becoming a reincarnation (I won’t explain further) of Prophet, Alcatraz then takes on the might of the Ceph.

Given some plot complications, Alcatraz is also targeted by the human element of the story known as CELL, so now he has to fight off humans and aliens while trying to complete his original mission, that was to find a doctor and get him back to the US Military, as he has some important information. Confused? If I explain any more, I’ll ruin the story for you.

In the year 2047, a mere twenty-four years after Crysis 2 (the year before Wipeout 2048, coincidence?) in Crysis 3 the Ceph are no more; they’re all gone (pah, don’t believe it).   CELL has taken over what appears to be the whole world, but the main folly surrounds New York City; a war-ruined, heavily overgrown CELL-run version covered by a massive ‘nanotech’ dome. The CELL have found ways to utilise leftover Ceph technology and are providing power for ‘free’. By doing so now they now own and run everything and everyone. This dystopian civilisation leaves people in terrible debt, a debt they are never able to pay, leaving them entirely in the hands of the CELL.

The opening level sees a nanosuit-less Psycho rescuing Alcatraz, no, Prophet, no, oh I don’t know, from a rather low security area of what appears to be an oil rig-like sea platform. This rescue is required to prevent CELL from using the nanosuit for their own devious technological needs and to give the resistance a much-needed weapon against the CELL. There is story aplenty, and if you really pay attention while playing it’s worth it, honest.

Using the bow when you've been spotted might be pointless, but it's fun all the same

Using the bow when you’ve been spotted might be pointless, but it’s fun all the same

“He’s dug in there like an Alabama tick”
Given the wonderful visuals of the game, it can sometimes be difficult to spot the enemy or work out from which direction you’ve been hit from. However, before you fully enter a new area, you should open up your visor and scan for enemy units, ammo, mine fields and upgrades.

By hovering your crosshair over each visible enemy unit, the nanosuit will continue to track their whereabouts with a triangle, even if you break line of sight. This makes it simple to sneak up on your foe and take them out quietly. Crysis 3 features a minor tweak over Crysis 2 in this department; you no longer have to press a button to lock it in, instead only having to hover over them.

Hacking happens in real-time and is simple enough to do. Highlight a ‘hackable’ object, and press X when your hacking frequency meets the object’s frequency. It feels fairly pointless initially; however, it soon becomes apparent that it’s just there to distract you while the enemy close in on your position. You wont have any problems though; it’s nothing you can’t handle.

In story mode, most of the weapons are fully customisable. The problem is that you do have to earn the right to unlock add-ons and upgrades for them as you play the game. Switching ammo types, changing sights and choosing firing modes are the main things you can play with, and there are some interesting combinations to experiment with. The simplicity of making a tweak is actually very good and I enjoyed being able to make instant changes to suit the current threat.

Vehicle sections are nothing like I remember from the original Crysis. For a start you only get full control over one single vehicle in the entire of Crysis 3, that being a Half Life 2-style buggy. Given the history of Crysis and Crysis Warhead’s open world, do-anything approach, it’s now become even more narrow than it was in Crysis 2. The buggy appears a handful of times, simply to give you the feeling of travelling longer distances. I didn’t really feel very involved in these sections and got little reward out of them.

The rest of the vehicle sections are sadly even simpler, giving you very limited control in a on-the-rails shooter form. They are there to move the story on in a set way and don’t give you any room to explore. While the pretense of keeping things moving is appreciated, ultimately you may as well have been on foot to get to the next waypoint. I felt these vehicle sections were secondary thoughts and did little to expand on the gameplay available. Perhaps they shouldn’t have bothered at all.

The level design can sometimes feel a little sloppy, though it can be forgiven. At times you will see off the edges of the playable area, where try as you might you wont be able to jump over the ‘jumpable’ heights that blocked your path. This helped me lose all sense of being in the huge broken down city. It felt most unlike Crysis 2 on this front;/ in the previous game there’s a real sense of being a tiny (albeit nanosuit-clad) soldier, in a huge city full of skyscrapers and alien behemoths.

I’ve not had the pleasure of actually visiting New York City; however, I’m vaguely familiar with many of its popular and some of its not so well-known landmarks. At no point in Crysis 3 did I feel I was in a broken-down New York City. Of course, as it’s been bombed and destroyed perhaps I was expecting too much, but at least one recognisable landmark, something, anything, would have helped me feel involved.

Even with all the Crytek trademarked (it must be?) grass, trees and shrubbery, it didn’t feel how I’d hoped it would. Rarely can you use the cover of trees, bushes or long grass without the cloak engaged in fear of being spotted immediately. Unsurprising perhaps, given the size of Major Barnes/Alcatraz/Prophet and his not-so-nanosuit.  Though it would have been nice to have been able to use the cover in a more traditional sense of other stealth-based shooters, without the need to utilise the toys. For one thing, you can’t lie down, only crouch, but that’s standard in Crysis.

Its cut-scene chapter briefing sections are something very familiar indeed. It’s the hard-hitting, globe-spinning, coordinate and number-crunching death-by-PowerPoint you’ve come to expect from the likes of Call of Duty and Battlefield games. I’m happy with a bit of character-driven cut-scene action, but these cost more money I guess.

There was one really annoying thing I noticed, which I initially thought was due to the aging Xbox controller I was using at the time. Your character will move involuntarily, when you’re not touching the movement controls. I tried three other controllers and they each did the same thing; it’s as if there is a need to calibrate your controller, something other shooters do automatically and would be expected here too. What this movement results in is that your character moves out of solid cover and into the line of sight of the enemy, just when you didn’t want him to.

“If it bleeds, we can kill it!”
If you’ve played any of the Crysis series you will expect a high level of graphical prowess. Something you may not have realised is that Crysis 3 uses the same graphical engine used in Crysis 2, that being Cryengine 3. The concern here is that the Xbox 360 just isn’t up to the job that the high-end PCs can achieve now, and this latest installment has had much criticism on this front from fans of the series about the Xbox 360 version.

There is no doubt that Crysis 3 is pretty, and coupled with its fluid character motion and facial animation, you are still hard-pressed to find a prettier looking game on the Xbox 360.  Straight up. There are some problems though, and I think it’s clear that if you want to get the most out of this game you have to play Crysis 3 on a well spec’d PC.

Some of the glitches are things I don’t remember seeing in comparable games on the Xbox 360. For instance, there are some occasions when out-of-place lines appear where scenery is stitched together; this is rare but it appears early in the game. Compare this to the similarly high-end shooter Far Cry 3, with its open world that rarely misses a beat, and you have to wonder what is going on in this instance. One of the crazy things that is used to free up a GPU thread or two is that no-one on the opening level casts a shadow; this is fine if you’re expecting vampires, but it’s the opening level.

As this is a Crytek game you can expect lots of special effects, many I don’t even know the names of. Explosions are satisfyingly detailed. Motion blur is managed so it’s not sickening and adds to the action. Shadows and lighting are dynamically generated over you and your environment. Reflections of the environment are mirrored in water. Sunlight catching the visor obscures your vision the way you would expect it should, flares occur and scratches become more obvious on the visor itself. Fire is fabulously rendered with sources of gas ending up as flamethrowers when sparked, though there are no spreading fires that haven’t been scripted.

Water effects are numerous and detailed, with swelling and rippling when you walk through it, spraying and splashing when you shoot into it. Mist, fog and smoke help to enclose you in and gently obscure all the other effects to make everything more subtle and real-looking. There’s even HDR to round it all off, a technique we were first introduced to by the specially-released Lost Coast level using the Half Life 2 engine. After all that, the Xbox 360 seems to manage to keep up with it all, on the whole.

I couldn’t help overlook that the nanosuit’s visor doesn’t get watery when you look up at the sky into the rain. Occasionally you will get droplets on your visor but these don’t seem to be because you’re looking up; they are just randomly added. Much like Crysis 2 there are times where there is water pouring through holes or waterfalls and if you walk under these and look up your visor is covered by water. On the other hand, Crysis 3 does have some of the best water effects I’ve ever seen in a game. The varying bodies of water you stumble upon seem to have the consistency of jelly at times, but it’s still impressive.

Plants and vegetation are meant to be a big thing in this episode of Crysis. You’re meant to have a feeling that the jungle has taken over the city’s remains, but I never really had that feeling personally. The reason for this is the vegetation is a little static and while some of the thicker vegetation can be shot down, a signature of the CryEngine of old, there is limited interaction with it and I had expected a little more plot involving plants.

Oddly the cut-scenes were a bit disappointing in the delivery, as they have a little judder every other second. It’s as if it doesn’t buffer as a normal video would and it appears to read it directly from the disc a few seconds at a time. Even installing the game to the Xbox’s hard disk doesn’t do away with this problem. I tried a second Xbox 360 and still this minor problem was apparent.

Textures appear to be quite low resolution; it’s the colouration and stippling used that makes the textures look good from a distance, but they’re not so great close up. It’s the only option they have to throw more at you using the current architecture. This coupled with the limiting resolution somewhere between 480p and 720p (I would guess it’s running at about 560p but I don’t know for certain what Crytek have optimised on),and the fact that anti-aliasing is switched off means there are times it can look a bit jagged and rough. I can imagine the same game running at a higher resolution would look stunning at what ever angle you looked at it. Roll on the next generation of consoles!

If you’ve got a 3D TV or monitor you can play Crysis 3 in 3D as you could with Crysis 2. I tried this out and I can say it’s not too bad, though I’ve not been amazed by the experience. To be clear, I welcome 3D in games, but there are still some mathematics the graphical boffins need to work out before the experience really helps to immerse you into the environment as you’d hope and limit the eye and head trauma it brings with it when playing for long periods. The main issue with playing Crysis 3 in 3D is that you lose some of the definition of the distant objects and this unfortunately affects the overall quality and polish that is on show.

I'm Alcatraz... umm... I'm Prophet... errm I'm Optimus Prime... no that's not it... I'm a little tea-pot!

I’m Alcatraz… umm… I’m Prophet… errm I’m Optimus Prime… no that’s not it… I’m a little tea-pot!

“Knock knock!”
The sound is simply amazing. Background and incidental noises are suitably clear and help to envelop you in the environment.  Massive sound effects bring the world alive, with rain hitting the floor, waves crashing and bashing the creak of steel and countless other metals twisting and turning in the yaw and crash of the ocean’s power. The voice-acting is pretty cool at times, cliché perhaps but it is an action game after all, and Crytek have managed their actors well to give the characters the necessary intensity. I played the game through a Turtle Beach headset and have to say the soundscape is nearly on par with Battlefield 3.

Gunfire is impressive and you feel a connection with most of the weapons that will leave you potentially favouring certain guns just for the sound alone. The ring and echo of small arms fire can be heard throughout play, giving you the sense that something else is happening elsewhere, but you never get the feeling you’re part of something bigger going on.

While I will not profess to be familiar with their other work, it’s worth mentioning that the original music is scored by two composers, Peter Antovski and Borislav Slavov, that have both previously worked on the series. The main themes take their tones from gentle piano music mixed with heavy guitars and less traditional synthetic sounds. It gives the game an earthy but technologically damaged ambience that is very fitting, blending perfectly with the story and the action. Initially I wasn’t sure about it, but it grows on you.

'ello Guvner!  I'm Psy are you ready to do Gangnam style?

‘Ello guv’nor! I’m ‘ere doin’ my best Soap impression ain’t I? People call me Psy; are you ready to do Gangnam style?

“I’m gonna have me some fun…”
The multiplayer option is an unsurprisingly (perhaps) well-featured affair and includes a levelling system for upgrading your character and tracking your progress. There are eight different game modes that include the typical deathmatch and team deathmatch modes. There’s a capture the flag mode cunningly called ‘Capture The Relay’ and a variant called ‘Crash Site’ that sees you racing towards and fending off attacks over small pods that land in varying places on the map.

One of the new modes, called ‘Hunter’, is a futuristic game of hide-and-seek. It will be of immediate interest to the campers out there, that like to sit in one place and not move for the entire game. Starting off as a CELL operative (therefore no nanosuit skills), you have to fend off the hunters (those wearing nanosuits and permanently cloaked). If and when you are killed you respawn as one of the hunters and go around picking off your original team. It works for a short time, but I got a little bored once I worked out where people didn’t go and look and I just hid, rarely moving for five minutes at a time, perhaps missing some of the point of the game. It’s worth a go, but it’s not a game-seller.

There are some other modes that I just couldn’t get to try out (Spears,  Assault and Extraction) as no one else seemed to playing them.  What this says about these modes I dont know, but it’s a shame I couldn’t play them if it’s just lack of interest by the Crysis gaming community. Given there are eight different game types, this should mean there is plenty to keep you occupied going forward as long as you’ve got other like-minded friends to play with.

There’s an odd mode where both teams are humans and no one has the nanosuit technology, so there’s no cloaking or shielding available. It results in a rather bland and fairly standard multiplayer experience.

On the whole I found movement in the multiplayer game to be very fast, with twelve fairly small maps based on missions from the single-player campaign. The speed doesn’t necessarily make for a more intense experience, making it frantic instead and perhaps a little less enjoyable than other established multiplayer titles.

“Get to the chopper!”
On the whole, Crysis 3 gives the impression of a solid shooter, and many of my gripes with it are partly due to the Xbox 360 seemingly being too old now to do the Cryengine 3 the full justice it deserves. If I get the chance I would play it all over again, but on PC, to really enjoy the graphical capabilities that Crysis 3 sports. To be fair, there were a few times I felt that the Xbox still had something to give, or that Crytek held back for reasons unknown to me as a mere gamer.

The timing of the first glimpse of the city taken over by the jungle comes after some dark and damp opening scenes. To suddenly have bright and sunny greenery, interspersed with the broken-down buildings, should have been as good as say Oblivion, Fallout 3 or the still impressive Red Dead Redemption. I’m not sure they really nailed it, as some of the fine detail I expected was missing.

A major problem is that Crysis 3 for the most part could be any other future-based shooter where you play a super-soldier. It’s been done before and in my opinion it’s been executed better, particularly by Crysis 2.

Level architecture-wise I can’t help but think someone wasn’t paying attention when they finalised the level design of Crysis 3. It is here where you will notice that you are playing levels, not really exploring them the way you might in other titles that use a mix of stealth and fighting, like Dishonored or Deus Ex: Human Revolution. There are times where the play options open up in the larger areas, but I just felt it forces you to use the nanosuit for everything; you don’t really feel the need to go ‘old-school’.

With all my moaning and to be honest, picky comments, Crysis 3 still makes for an enjoyable game that any fan of the series will immediately feel at home with and should thoroughly enjoy. As a sequel, it’s almost too comfortable with its heritage and sometimes forgets it needs to push on the gameplay elements like its forebears did. This unfortunately makes it difficult to recommend to those new to the series.

One gripe is the story gets in the way of the shooting towards the end, as it limits your options as to the targets and enemy you take on. Now I don’t mean it’s all story and cut-scenes; I mean there’s a lack of variety.

The amazing bow, that lets you fire while remaining cloaked, is certainly a nice addition to an already fun-filled arsenal of weaponry.  It’s just not enough to push Crysis 3 into the must-buy category for me. I can only recommend you try it out for yourself and see what you think before throwing your hard-earned Ceph power at it.

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