(PC Review) Crysis 3

Developer: Crytek
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Players: 1-16
ESRB: Mature
Reviewer: George Damidas

Overall: 7 = Good

Minimum Requirements:
Intel Core 2 Duo / 2.7 GHz AMD Athlon 64X2, 2 GB RAM (3 GB for Vista), NVidia GTS 450 or AMD Radeon HD5770 (DirectX 11 comp. card with 1 GB RAM)

The original Crysis initially made its mark as a system crusher, toppling even the mightiest of rigs with its lush jungle environments and dazzling effects. Amidst all of the cloaked ambushes and firefights, it didn’t take long for gamers to realize that the game had some serious chops. Not only were the shooting mechanics solid, but Crysis also featured a level of customization beyond most of its contemporaries, with numerous weapon add-ons and the modifiable, versatile alien-tech-infused Nanosuit. Crysis 2 moved the fight from the jungle to the city by setting the new chapter in a besieged New York, while also expanding the Nanosuit’s powers and providing a more scripted campaign. That was two years ago. Now, the suit is sleeker, New York has literally become an urban jungle, and the campaign has broadened. The most surprising twist isn’t the new environs or grand finale, however, but that Prophet’s journey ends with multiplayer as the real star.

As I played through Crysis 3, I was struck by how much of the campaign design seemed to be a confused reaction to feedback from the sequel. Crysis was something of an odd duck in its day in that it provided more leeway for experimentation than most of its contemporaries; the player didn’t have complete freedom, but they could approach situations in a number of ways that were often unavailable in other shooters. By the time Crysis 2 came to the market in 2011, a lot had changed since 2007. The same year as the series debuted, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare exploded onto the market, and in the interim between Crysis’ expansion Warhead‘s release in 2008 and Crysis 2’s in 2011, gamers were hit with two more from the Call of Duty  line, Modern Warfare and the original Black Ops. To say that Infinity Ward had set a trend is an understatement. Where shooters had once featured only a handful of cutscenes and some basic dialog to set the background of the impending linear mission, Modern Warfare provided a spectacle of scripted events that kept the action high throughout and felt more cinematic than anything before it. The influence was felt in other interim releases as well, such as Battlefield: Bad Company 2, Killzone 2 and Medal of Honor. The dramatic shift that took place in those years offers a good explanation as to why developer Crytek took a more regimented and scripted approach with Crysis 2. The change was noticed by fans of the original, and their comments heard, with their desire for more freedom resulting in the half-answer that is Crysis 3’s campaign.

Although the mission areas are certainly bigger this time around, they still somehow fail to offer much in the way of freedom.  As Prophet, players are once again back in the super-powered Nanosuit to take on the nefarious Cell organization and the invading aliens known as the Ceph. Manhattan is now completely overgrown and encased in the Liberty Dome, with skyscrapers half destroyed, streets broken up by emergent trees, and its infrastructure in shambles. Cell soldiers patrol through shoulder-high grass and Ceph scurry about dilapidated train yards.

Amidst this urban wilderness, players stalk their prey like a hunter. Much of that feeling comes from the abilities available through the use of the Nanosuit. Adapted from Ceph technology, the Nanosuit in Crysis 3 has been revamped, and is upgradeable through the use of modules that are spread throughout the mission areas. Unlocks allow for the suit to engage special upgrades from one of four columns, and those can then be saved to one of four custom sets that allow players to take on situations as they evolve; some can be focused on stealth, with faster cloaking and highlighted footprints, or strength, with more resilient shields and stronger throws. The suit’s visors also helps to keep tabs on enemies. The view, also handily available in infrared, highlights all objects, be they aliens, man, or ammo, and downloads stats about them as well as keeps them marked for whenever the visor is removed. One of the more useful functions is its ability to hack turrets, mines, and even Ceph. As long as a clear line of sight is available for a nearby target, Prophet can engage a hacking module that requires players to hit the action button whenever a small icon is inside one of several target areas that are placed on lines that run along the top and bottom of the screen. The icons fling up and down, as if on a rubber band, with the more difficult objects requiring additional successful hits. The signal to the object is constantly degrading, so it becomes important to hack quickly, though not too quickly, as missing a mark will inflict damage. What really sets the in-the-hunt tone is the new Predator Bow. This is by far the most powerful weapon in the game, as it not only fells most enemies with a single shot but also allows Prophet to stay cloaked when fired. As with the more traditional armament, ammo types can be modified to send off arrowheads packing anything from an explosive punch to an electrical charge. When you’re cloaked and squatting on a vined, rusted, hanging stoplight, with bow drawn after getting a bead on a lone Cell soldier after following his footprints, it’s hard not to feel like a badass.

While the campaign provides plenty of eye candy and some truly interesting environments, it fails to do much with them. Those moments where I was skulking around the perimeter in search of enemies to pick off were a nice change of pace, but so often the game didn’t give itself the time or space to take advantage of them. For as large as the levels seem, and they are certainly more open than those in Crysis 2, they are still very confined, with reachable ledges impervious to Prophet’s grip and areas blocked by concrete foliage. The stealth elements are also unrefined, based almost solely on the cloaking ability. Enemies have an almost uncanny prescience about them, able to detect a suddenly uncloaked Prophet, tucked away behind cover in the shell of a building, from half a map away; despite numerous flooded areas spotted with patches of thigh-high water grass and scattered rubble littering nearly every area, there isn’t much use in sneaking around when uncloaked.

Rubble is useful in that it can be used as cover from enemy fire, and most of the time it’s destructible, which is always a plus. Cover will be needed, too, because failing to down an enemy with an arrow will require the use of the human- or alien-made firearms, which aren’t as lethal. The other weapons will come into play as backup weapons, due to some arrows proving to be irretrievable and an overall limited count. Ignoring the strangeness of a bow and arrow downing so many advanced aliens and enhanced soldiers, it’s a shame that the bow is so dominant because the weapons are sleek, and the human ones highly customizable. All of the manmade armaments can be modified with a variety of add-ons. In the case of the assault rifle, it can be equipped with numerous scopes, barrels, under-barrels, and ammunition types to improve and alter performance.

In addition to underutilizing many of its more promising elements, the campaign also suffers from poor pacing and a lackluster story. Some areas are nearly ghost towns, with extended sequences where there is little to do other than wander around the numerous environmental objects. There were several times when the action kicked into high gear or a situation became incredibly tense, but then the game abruptly shuffled along, quickly rushing to the next sequence. The moment when the Ceph first appear and stalk terrified Cell soldiers through a forest of tall grass is great, a scenario on par with horror movies, with the soldiers visibly agitated as patches of grass suddenly sway here and there, a sign of the approaching stalkers and their own impending death. But a few minutes later, it’s over. That is how it is throughout the game, even with the story. While shooters aren’t known for their narratives, the one in Crysis 3 is made downright painful by the cringe-worthy dialog. The droll conversations are made worse by the characters changing their attitude to fit the scene rather than undergoing a natural transition that reflects the progression of the story; the result is an uneven sequence of events where a chummy atmosphere born of shared history and hardship suddenly and unexpectedly turns sour for no discernible reason. The characters are never given the time for their relationships with one another to evolve beyond superficial gruff retorts and sudden changes of heart, which causes the dramatic reveals to fall flat. By the end, it comes as no surprise to discover that the grand finale is the definition of anticlimactic. From the gameplay to the storyline, everything feels way too compressed.

I do admit to making one mistake while playing Crysis 3, and that was trying multiplayer before finishing the campaign. Once I got the knack of online play, my desire to see through Prophet’s journey plummeted. Having to go back to feeling restricted rather than liberated by the Nanosuit’s powers was done only reluctantly. The hyperaware enemies of the campaign were replaced by players who could be fooled by a clever hiding spot, and who did more than make halfhearted attempts to storm my position when my location was pinpointed. Everything was more exciting and more engaging when playing online. In short, multiplayer provided me the exhilarating firefights that were so rare during the story.

Much of the multiplayer component will be familiar to fans of shooters. There are a handful of ready-made classes available to start—Assault, Gunner, Scout, and Sniper—with the ability to access customized loadouts after attaining a few levels. The unlock system is similar to that in Modern Warfare, where experience gained from completing objectives, kills, and skill takedowns (e.g., headshots) leads to new weapons, gear, and perks. Weapons level as they are used, with attachments becoming available once a certain amount of kills has been achieved with that particular weapon. The three perks that can be assigned vary from lessening recoil, increasing accuracy when firing from the hip, and faster reloading. The Nanosuit itself provides two enhancements, Cloak and Armor Mode (a shield), and the ability to super jump and slide. As with single player, using the suit drains an energy meter that requires a cooldown time before refilling once depleted, but bearing its status in mind is much more important when playing against others—unexpectedly popping into view right by an enemy is always embarrassing. The sliding technique is similar to the one in Brink, but here, it’s less of an offensive move and more for increased maneuverability. Weapons can be fired while sliding, making it both a surprising means of escape and approach. Its inclusion is only fully appreciated whenever it helps to make a last-minute save, like when I slid down a slope and took out a flustered enemy who was seconds away from capturing a spear.

The supported modes are mostly standard fare, though there are a few that are unique. Capture the Relay (capture the flag), Crash Site (King of the Hill), Deathmatch, Spears (conquest), and Team Deathmatch are all available. Two other modes, Assault and Hacking, are similar to hacking and extract modes in other titles. Assault is a single-life mode where even teams of Cell troops and Nanosuited players battle for control of consoles and downloaded data, while Extraction gives each team a chance to play as attackers and defenders as one tries to protect the other from gathering scattered devices. A new mode called Hunter has joined the line-up. Hunter fits in with the game’s larger theme of stalking prey an eluding detection as two cloaked Hunters take down a team of Cell soldiers with only the Power Bow. The Cell soldiers receive experience in intervals as long as they are alive, but once they are killed, they respawn as a Hunter and must kill the remaining operatives to level. Hunter has a short time limit that keeps up the momentum, and makes for some tense sessions, but it also suffers from diminishing returns because there are only so many places to hide in each level. So while it might not stay in players’ rotation as long as the other modes, it does offer plenty of bang while it’s new and makes for a great way to get a jump in experience points.

The weaknesses of multiplayer are also its greatest strengths: speed and variety. There is no way getting around it: new players will have to take their lumps when starting out. The most frustrating moments during the beginning are the brutal defeats suffered not because of lack of skill but a mismatch in gear. While no shooter is perfectly balanced, most try to keep things fairly level by providing weapon unlocks that offer greater tactical possibilities rather than full-on firepower, but that is not the case with Crysis 3. The starting weapons can certainly get the job done, but after picking up a defeat enemy’s augmented weapon, the differences become clear. Many of the unlocked weapons and attachments do little more than add raw firepower, greater accuracy, and increased spread, and by careful augmentation, a weapon can have all three. The result is painful for newcomers, with ambushed veterans shaking off the damage and returning fire with explosive shells that cause splash damage and death. The game is also incredibly fast, and some perks take it beyond anything released in recent years as players zip around and super jump all over the place.

The fun in multiplayer comes from, of course, unlocking all of these things and getting to unleash them on other players. Practicing the use of the slide mechanic in conjunction with shooting, air stomping, and melee attacks, varied as they are with the numerous suit perks, is just one of the additional facets that make Crysis 3’s multiplayer stand out. As with single player, the bow feels overpowered and is a pain to deal with, but the feeling of justice after air stomping a cloaked bow-armed sniper is worth it. Unranked matches can be played for practice, but unlocks are only attained through ranked play. It can be frustrating, and there might be some furious cursing after receiving the shameful nine-count death streak bonus (again), but it pays off once a few items have been unlocked and the field leveled. Some longtime fans might not appreciate the faster, more arcade-like approach, but I found it a nice change of pace and a great reason to keep the game on my hard drive.

Crysis 3 is all about the multiplayer. The short, forgettable campaign pales in comparison to the hours of fun I had with the fast and furious multiplayer component. A familiar unlock system so popular for the genre is augmented by the Nanosuit’s powers and a host of perks that ramp up the action to a speed not seen since Quake 3. The power of the mid- to high-end weaponry makes it brutal for newcomers to get their bearings, but once they do, it becomes an addictive experience that is like little else on the market.

(This review is based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.)

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