Crysis "Ice" Hands-On Impressions

After months of Crytek showing off Crysis' war-torn island paradise locations--undeniably gorgeous but also geographically reminiscent of the studio's previous game Far Cry--the studio has fully unveiled a later level depecting a vast, flash-frozen rocky landcape. Crysis boss Cevat Yerli demonstrated the level, to which he referred simply as "Ice," during Electronic Arts' recent studio showcase event.

We've seen glimpses of the large-scale cryogenic tied into Crysis' alien invaders, but with Ice I was able to see an expansive example of it in real time. Everything in Ice's massive valley is frozen with a slight semi-transparent sheen, an effect that is applied universally with an ice shader, according to Yerli.

The effect is impressive, particularly because towards the beginning of the level, the environment is devoid of apparent life or movement--it looks not only like a valley frozen over in a crystalline glaze, but like a valley frozen in time. Soft snowflakes fall from the sky, and a fine icy mist swirls throughout the air.

It is impressive and enjoyable simply to look around and take in the magnificent sights. Sheer cliff faces extend to dizzying heights, complex root systems jut out from semi-frozen dirt, visible texture tiling appears to be nonexistent, your suit's visor has intricate tinges of frost in a Metroid Prime-esque effect--and, for the first time among the many instances I have seen Crysis, everything ran at a smooth framerate.

Yerli noted that this was the DirectX 9 version of the game--and it still looked incredible. "People have been criticizing us for always showing DX10, so we wanted to show DX9 to prove it still looks good enough," he explained. "Good enough" is an understatement.

Of course, the aliens are slowly emerging from their deep freeze, and it is not long before this frigid peace is disturbed. Soon, your character encounters robotic octopus-like scouts that float through the air, looking and moving like the sentinels from the Matrix films.

As always in Crysis, you can access your slate of nanosuit-provided abilities to fight your foes--boosted armor, enhanced speed, great strength, or cloaking, as well as firearm modifications. Most of them work as you'd expect, but the enemy AI kicks up a notch once you cloak.

While the automated octopi can't visually detect you while cloaked unless you are within a range of about a meter, they will home in on your last known location once you go invisible, then listen for sounds and track newly-created footsteps to try and pin you down.

In a nice touch, you can actually physically grab the enemies by their "tentacles" in the same way you would grab an inert object if close enough, after which you proceed to punch it in its cold, unfeeling, mechanical face with your nano-enhanced fist. Just as picking up crates, weapons, and ammo is fully animated, with your arm actually reaching out and grabbing items, so do you literally pluck the slithery robots out of the air to dispense some five-fingered fury. Of course, your enemies anticipate this as well--hang on too long without administering a killing blow, and it will self-detonate.

While I wasn't able to see the entire level, I certainly saw enough of Ice to be blown away, and glad to see some more variety in the game after having had plenty of hands-on time in the past with jungle environments that. Check back a week from now for more impressions of another non-jungle Crysis environment.