Crysis Full Version Preview

As the single-player demo of Crytek's Crysis was nearing release, I was able to play through the first several hours of the game for some quick impressions. Though I have long been anticipating Crysis, particularly as a great fan of Crytek's debut effort Far Cry, my substantial playtime today, the longest unbroken period I have yet spent with the single-player component, cemented its position in my mind as easily one of the most impressively ambitious upcoming action games.

She Blinded Me with Science
Crysis opens in a transport aircraft flying above a small island in the South China Sea, where a science team studying some extraordinarily bizarre artifacts is being held by North Korean troops. You and the rest of your squad of nanosuit-equipped super-soldiers is being sent in to extricate them and deal with any North Korean resistance. It is billed as a routine mission, but, unsurprisingly, things don't go exactly as planned. For one thing, there seem to be a lot more North Koreans than anyone expected, and on top of that, some third force seems to be killing friend and foe alike, as well as doing odd things such as freezing large research ships and putting them in the middle of the jungle.

It is clear that Crytek has taken the widespread complaints about Far Cry's story and dialogue to heart. While Crysis does not appear to be breaking any narrative ground, is it considerably more convincing simply by way of being less ostentatious, and by having its plot delivered with fairly well-acted characters and a plot that actually has an element of pacing to it.

That's the Way I Like It
Still, the story is hardly the star of the show here. Those who enjoyed Far Cry's wide-open take on first person shooter gameplay will feel right at home in Crysis' even more extreme take on it. While I am not a particular fan of ultra-realistic gameplay that requires one to take the same kinds of precautions one would if genuinely living in the game, I do appreciate gameplay that is still rewarding if played carefully. Crysis, with its enormous environments and ability-boosting nanosuit, does not overly penalize risky behavior but also cannot be completed simply by running in without a plan.

The nanosuit--which as you probably have read by now confers you either great speed, enhanced strength, tougher armor, or near-invisibility at any given time--serves basically as an extension of your gameplay choices. If you want to take out a cluster of enemes at mid-range, throw on speed to rush into their midst, then switch to armor and equip a shotgun. If you want to hang back and pick them off, equip strength to steady your aim. If you want to grab and strangle them, it might be best to cloak yourself as you approach. You are likely to gravitate towards some methods overall--as in Far Cry, I preferred playing as a sniper as often as possible, whereas PR rep Andrew Wong of publisher Electronic Arts noted he often takes the gung-ho Rambo approach.

Happiness is a Warm Gun
Crucial to being able to arm yourself properly is the on-the-fly gun modification menu, which allows you to equip weapons with all sorts of scopes and attachments. Pistols can be armed with laser pointers, rifles with silencers and under-barrel grenade launchers, and so on. A John Woo aficionado might arm himself with dual pistols, whereas a more careful player who is out of rifle ammo might drop one of the pistols and attach a laser pointer for better precision. That same sniper might also stick a sniper scope onto his assault rifle and steady his aim with enhanced strength--it won't have the same accuracy as a true sniper rifle, but it'll do.

Most weapons also have at least two firing modes corresponding to intended range. Rifles generally switch between single-shot and burst fire mode, with one attachment allowing them to fire quiet, high-powered tranquilizer darts. Even a shotgun can be turned into a vaguely precise weapon by fitting it with a reflex sight and switching it to its narrow band fire mode.

I Can See for Miles
Like Far Cry, Crysis features ridiculously massive environments separated by fairly infrequent load times. As you complete your objectives, new ones will be given, both essential and nonessential. You can nearly always take any number of routes to reach your chosen destination, involving foot travel, swimming, and machine gun-armed trucks and boats. A map displays your primary and secondary objectives and allows you to figure out your basic path of travel. Though I still feel that PC shooters have some room to improve in the area of vehicle controls, vehicle control here works well for the most part, particularly in the optional third person driving mode, and I feel it is noticeable more solid than in Far Cry.

You really do have a great deal of freedom in your exploration. For variety's sake, I tried several different approaches to one outpost, all of which seemed to work fine. The most obvious path was to steal a jeep and drive along the main road, shooting my way in through the front. I also tried coming in by foot through the underbrush, making less noise as I approached. For an even stealthier entrance, I grabbed a boat and went around behind the outpost, only to find it guarded there by a minefield; I shot out the mines with my pistol. Finally, I took the boat even farther, past the minefield, and found an area that seemed safer to dock, but which was guarded by no shortage of troops. Despite being the most out of the way, the last entry point was also closest to my objective, making the various points of entry all feasible for different reasons. Most likely, players will end up playing the game instinctively according to their own preferences for stealth or all-out assault.

Break My Body
Crysis' impressive physics system leads to all kinds of unusual situations, some of which can be unexpectedly dangerous. Though the game has not been billed as "fully destructible" or anything to that effect--because it is not--there is a fairly impressive amount of potential destruction to be had. Large solid concrete buildings are, well, solid, but more flimsily constructed shacks of sheet metal and wood can be blown apart with grenades or even punched apart with the aid of enhanced strength. This can happen to your benefit--dropping in on a surprised enemy through a new hole in the ceiling--or to your detriment--many enemies now having line of sight to you.

There are numerous situations that will result in you losing your cover entirely. Trees, even thick-trunked ones, can be splintered and broken, so they may not be as reliable for protection as they seem. In a few instances, I thought I had found solace in an ammo-filled makeshift command center, only to have three of its four walls blown away by an enemy grenade, leaving me face to face with a whole squad of enemies who wasted no time in opening fire.

This physics modeling can be more directly deadly as well--a falling tree may cause you to lose your cover, but it will also cause you to lose your life if it lands on top of you. Of course, laying waste to an enemy-infested jungle might net you some tree-induced kills of your own.

As far as the visuals themselves--Crysis looks great. It seems largely unnecessary to point that out further at this stage, and the videos and screenshots speak for themselves. That's how the game actually looks, at least on an expensive enough PC. I was running the game on an Intel Core 2 Extreme quad-core processor at 3.0GHz, with a GeForce 8800GTX and 4GB of RAM, at a resolution of 1680x1050. The framerate was smooth for the most part, and appeared to be around 30fps with occasional dips. It never chugged, except for during a few particularly intricate scripted sequences.

Everyone knows by now that Crysis is a looker. Fortunately, it is no slouch in the gameplay department either, despite the cynical assumptions of some that it would be a braindead beauty. Crysis builds on the gameplay principles of its predecessor and pushes them further, while reasonably upping the narrative elements and wrapping them in best-in-industry technical graphics.