Crysis 3 preview: knowing its niche

By Kat Bailey, Dec 07, 2012 12:00pm PST

At an Electronic Arts holiday showcase dominated by shooters this week, Crysis 3 stood out as being the most polished and impressive of the bunch. Of course, polish has never really been an issue for the Crysis series. It remains famous for being The Benchmark--the kind of game that can push even a dedicated gaming rig to its limits. That tradition looks to continue with Crysis 3. At the event, the demo was running on $5,000 computers, and my, did it ever look fine.

Crysis 3 has more going for it than just great graphics though. At this early stage, it also looks like a very challenging shooter. Possibly the most challenging shooter of 2013.

Crytek offered a taste of that difficulty in their latest demo, which is set in a derelict New York City train station overrun by aliens and totalitarian CELL operatives. Wearing your powersuit, which is capable of cloaking and other technological tricks, your only goal is to get from Point A to Point B. Easier said than done.

Wielding a high-powered bow and arrow, the enemies stationed both above and below will open up with some serious firepower the moment they spot you. You are more powerful by far, but CELL can quickly overwhelm you with sheer firepower. It's difficult enough that number of journalists found themselves struggling just to get past the first area. There is a strategy though: run.

Using your suit's cloaking device, which is governed by an energy meter that quickly recharges, it's possible to scout out the waypoint before making a break for it. Assuming you keep to the edges of the dilapidated station and only attack when you need to, it's possible to make it up the stairs and out of the station without too much trouble. But, of course, the main event is still to come.

The next section takes place in a field dominated by tall grass. Do you remember the only good scene in Lost World: Jurassic Park? The one where the dinosaurs are grabbing people as they try to sprint through the tall grass? Replace the dinosaurs with aliens, and you've got Crysis 3.

Stalkers are vicious. You will see them only seconds before they bounce and attack with a powerful melee strike, giving you bare moments to activate your armored shielding. They're fast too, making it that much more difficult to actually shoot them. Unless you're a really good shot, the bow and arrow is pretty much out here.

While all this is going on, it's actually really easy to get distracted by the scenery. Running at what one would assume are max settings, the grass textures in Crysis 3 are simply gorgeous. Each stalk--blade isn't quite the right word here--waves individually as the Stalkers hop around looking for prey. As usual, if you want to know what the next-generation will look like, you need only look as far as Crysis 3.

The final sequence offers Crysis 3 one last opportunity to flex its graphical muscles. Riding atop a railroad car, your fellow rebel operative Psycho snipes both Stalkers and passing CELL operators as you rush down a tunnel like a bat out of hell. Some very nice looking explosions soon follow.

What's interesting about Crysis 3 is the niche that it fills. Out of all the shooters on display at last night's event, it was clear that EA was positioning Crysis 3 as the choice for the most dedicated gamers. The kind of gamers, in other words, who might drop $4000 or $5000 on a gaming rig (or spend $800 on the components to custom build something nearly as powerful). The ones who want both a beautiful game and a really good challenge.

Crysis 3 would seem to have both of those elements so far. What's striking in particular about the gunplay is how heavy it feels. This is definitely not Call of Duty, where speed and reflexes are paramount. Moreso even than Battlefield, raw aim is what gets the job done in Crysis. At times, it can be unforgiving in that regard, especially when using the bow and arrow. It's deadly, but it seems like the bow would be the province of only the most skilled players. It's just that hard to aim and shoot. In this case, however, the difficulty is welcome. It's the one element, besides the graphics (and the recognizable title), that will help Crysis 3 stand out from the field when it arrives on February 19 of next year.

As for the graphics, Crysis 3 is meant to be pure, unadulterated eye candy, which means its best played on max settings (though it'll probably look amazing regardless). One side effect of that, unfortunately, is that it falls back to the pack a bit on Xbox 360. It still looks very good, but the muddier visuals and somewhat choppier framerate are two elements that definitely stand out. The feeling is that Crytek is putting Crysis 3 on consoles to wring a few extra sales out of the franchise; but in general, their primary focus is on the PC version.

Despite their decision to embrace consoles a few years back (the game is also coming to PlayStation 3), Crytek is still very much a PC developer, and Crysis is still very much a PC franchise. It's a shooter made for the kind of early adopters who pick up new video cards day and date of release, and who have been playing multiplayer since the days of Quake. This is their game. And out of all the shooters on display last night, Crysis 3 seems the most prepared to cater to its chosen audience.

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